Nicknamed “the Big Ticket”, Kevin Garnett is without a doubt one of the most unique and polarizing basketball players we’ve ever seen. Not just for how talented of a basketball player he was – and he was very, very talented – but for his passion, ferocity, and approach to the game.
He brought something with him that could never be duplicated. He carried with him a rage of fire and intensity unlike any other player in the NBA. He was disrespectful, he was in your face and he didn’t hold back.
You either loved him or you hated him, there was no in between.
And as crazy as it may sound, if you combine all those intangibles with what he could do on a basketball court, well, you’d have better luck in finding the next LeBron James than you would in finding another Kevin Garnett.
Allow me to elaborate further.
One of my favorite things about Garnett was how in-tuned he was whenever he stepped on the floor and prepared for battle. He approached each game like it was his very last.
Every game before tip-off, he would walk over towards the hoop, tighten his shorts up a bit, utter a bunch of words, then pound his head repeatedly against the cushion of the post to get himself pumped.
You knew at this moment, Garnett was ready to go to war.
Pre-game wasn’t the only time Garnett would display his emotion. He often used self-talk – and trash-talk – to not only get himself going but to also psychologically dominate whoever was checking him that game.
I remember a game against the Raptors where Jose Calderon made the mistake of opening his mouth to give Garnett a few choice words. Of course, being the competitive player that he is, Garnett wouldn’t let this go unaddressed.
On the following possession, Garnett picked up Calderon for the entire length of the court and the whole time down he was jawing and taunting Calderon, just letting him have it.
Calderon was irate, but that wasn’t enough for KG.
The next possession, Garnett made it his personal mission to not let Calderon score or do anything positive for his team. He completely took Calderon out of the possession and made him regret ever flapping his lips.
Another moment: March 14, 2008. A home game against the Utah Jazz. Garnett misses a free throw, then proceeds to nearly give himself a concussion with the basketball.
R.I.P to that basketball.
It’s moments like these that made me cherish the Big Ticket. His devotion and fury were unmatched. He was a psychopath on the court and we loved every minute of it.
However, if you ask around the rest of the league about Garnett, you might not get the same responses as you would from his fans and teammates.
I’m sure we all remember the time he and Carmelo Anthony nearly came to blows during a regular season game in New York.
Things got so heated and personal, Garnett told Melo that his wife, Lala, “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.” As you’d imagine, this enraged Melo. So much so, that he waited for KG after the game by the team bus and tried to push the issue but things never escalated any further.
Then there were all those battles with Bulls center, Joakim Noah, a man who grew up idolizing Garnett. This was a guy who had posters of a young KG on his bedroom wall. Surely, Garnett would show him some sympathy, right? Think again.
This is how Paul Pierce, Garnett’s teammate at the time, recounts the moment when Noah finally met his childhood hero:
“One time, he asked [Joakim] Noah if he could rub through his hair, like a female or something. … And I know that kind of made [Noah] hot. And this was when Noah was a rookie, too. I remember Noah looked up to KG. He was like, ‘Man, KG, I had your poster on my wall, I looked up to you, man.’ And then [Garnett] just said something like that, and was like ‘F— you, Noah.’ I was like, ‘Whoa.’ This kid fresh out of college, looks up to KG, just said he had his poster on the wall, and he tells him that! It crushed him. It crushed Noah.”
Noah never looked at Garnett the same again. This moment would spark an ongoing feud between the two for many seasons to come.
Check out this deep dive from SB Nation on the history between Garnett and Joakim Noah’s never-ending beef.
And who can forget about the time Pistons forward, Charlie Villanueva, went to Twitter and claimed that Garnett called him a “cancer patient” during their game.
KG called me a cancer patient, I'm pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he's tossing it like it's a joke,
— Charlie Villanueva (@CVBelieve) November 3, 2010
Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a medical condition that results in hair loss. Clearly, this was crossing the line, even for Garnett.
Garnett said the incident was “a major miscommunication.” He told reporters “My comments to Charlie Villanueva was in fact ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league.’”
Still harsh, but it’s an upgrade from “you’re a cancer patient.”
There was also that time he made another grown man cry in the middle of a basketball game. That grown man being his own teammate! That incident was the origin of Glenn Davis’ nickname, “Big Baby.”
Garnett has a real talent for getting under a player’s skin – even his own teammates – and has perfected the art of trash-talking. You could literally go on YouTube, type “Kevin Garnett Fight” and you’ll get a page of endless videos – even compilations – of KG pissing off other players and nearly throwing fists. It’s awesome!
That’s just who Garnett was, though. He was a competitor. He didn’t care about making friends. He just wanted to play basketball, win, and demolish whoever was standing in front of him.
Mental and verbal abuse wasn’t the only way Garnett would inflict damage on whoever was matching up against him on the night. He was a tremendously, gifted basketball player, and one of the original “unicorns” in the NBA.
There really wasn’t a hole in Garnett’s game. He could score from the inside, he could score from outside. He could defend multiple positions, could handle the ball better than any other big not named Hakeem Olajuwon, and he was an excellent passer.
In fact, Garnett’s passing ability might be the most underrated and underappreciated part of his game.
For Garnett’s career, he averaged a solid 3.7 assists. Among the all-time great power forwards in history, only Barkley (3.9) had a higher assist per game average than the Big Ticket. And from 2000 to 2005, Garnett averaged 5.3 assists in 489 out of a possible 492 games.
Using Basketball-Reference’s player season finder, his 6.0 APG in 2003 was the most assists by a player 6’11 or taller since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968.
The man could move that ball.
Moving along, Garnett was as versatile as they come.
How versatile you ask? Well, he’s the holder of three virtually unbreakable records. One of which that maybe only LeBron can catch if he plays a few more years.
- Only player in history to record 25k points, 10k rebounds, 5k assists, 1,500 blocks for his career.
- Only player in history to average at least 20 PPG, 10 RPG, and 5 RPG for 6 consecutive seasons. (1999 to 2005)
- Only player in history to average at least 20 PPG, 10 RPG, and 4 APG for 9 consecutive seasons. (1998 to 2007).
He gives you everything you want in a superstar. Assists, rebounds, points, blocks, steals, whatever. He was a stat-sheet stuffer and more importantly, he was consistent as hell.
As for defense, well, Garnett was always among the league’s best in that area.
He anchored an underwhelming roster in Minnesota to the fourth-best defensive rating in his MVP season (‘04), and then carried it over with the Boston Celtics, where they finished as a top-five defensive team in every season from 2008 to 2012 – keep in mind, this is when he was in his 30’s.
His defensive prowess wouldn’t go unnoticed. In his first year with the Celtics (‘08), he was crowned the Defensive Player of The Year, making him just the fourth player in NBA history to win MVP and DPOY during his career.
But the one thing that was always missing from his resume and his legacy, was not only a reliable roster but an NBA championship.
Garnett never really had a true shot at a championship with Minnesota. His teams were never good enough and the conference he played in made his quest for the glory all the more unrealistic.
He came close in 2004 when the Timberwolves reached their first ever Conference Finals, but with all due respect to Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, they weren’t enough to get past the inexorable duo of Shaq and Kobe. The Wolves fell to the Lakers in 6 games and the franchise has yet to reach similar heights.
But years later, hope reemerged when the Celtics formed “The Big 3” with Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. With Garnett at the helm of the defense, they finished the year as the top defensive team in the NBA, and shut down Kobe and the Lakers in the finals to give Garnett – and Ray and Pierce – their first championship.
Garnett led the C’s in rebounds, steals, and blocks for the series, and although he didn’t win Finals MVP, he did deliver one of the greatest and most memorable three words in sports history during his postgame interview.
Though his career might be over, his legacy and memories will live on forever. He’s one of the games most animated and original players, and sure, we might see some of that same passion and charisma in players like Draymond Green, Patrick Beverley, and Russell Westbrook, but none of them combined it all with a skill-set and all-around game quite like the Big Ticket.
I challenge you to find a more well-rounded superstar equipped with that same cutthroat attitude and competitive spirit Garnett displayed, and when you finally realize you can’t do it, I’ll be here to tell you I told you so.