In 91 games with the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett was able to accomplish what he could not in over 900 games in Minnesota: reach the NBA Finals. Yet when KG made his biggest step ever towards the promised land, not a single Timberwolves fan I know felt the least bit of resentment. There was only joy. This was something we'd been waiting for since David Stern called his name that night in June of '95, and although it didn't happen the way we'd all dreamt it would, it still happened nonetheless. Blue and green or green and white - the color of the jersey didn't matter. It was all about the man inside it; the man who shed our tears, bled our blood, and bore our pain for twelve seasons, the man who came to embody everything the Minnesota Timberwolves stood for, the man who took us all to a higher place.
Perhaps the most surprising moment in all the post-game celebration was how somber Kevin Garnett appeared. This is the man who used to slam the basketball against his skull after missing free throws, who lept up on the scorer's table and waved a towel after defeating the Kings in the semi-final round in '04, who broke down sobbing because his team was under .500 in 2005. Now that he was finally headed towards The Finals after thirteen years of striving, you would expect KG to be on the brink of a seizure. Instead, he was just the opposite: stone-faced, emotionless, and distant. After thinking about Garnett's reaction for a bit, I've come to the conclusion that this was his way of "getting down to business". He was making a conscious decision to not hoot or holler about winning the Eastern Conference, because that was never his goal. From the moment that final second ticked off the clock Friday night, Kevin Garnett was focused on nothing else but winning his title.The Big Ticket will never have a better chance to raise the Larry O'Brien Trophy than he does right now and these next four to seven games could set his NBA legacy in stone. For him, the stakes have truly never been higher.
Unfortunately, this season, his odds have also never been worse. With the surging Los Angeles Lakers coming out of the West, the Boston Celtics are about about to face their biggest challenge yet. Kobe Bryant has put on a performance for the ages during this post-season and shows no signs of slowing down. On the other hand, the Celtics have looked downright mediocre at points, needing seven games to dispatch both the lowly Hawks and the one-dimensional Cavaliers. Making matters worse, Garnett's title hopes may ultimately rely on Doc Rivers' ability to match wits with the legendary Phil Jackson. To the outside observer, the Lakers have to be the overwhelming favorite in this matchup. Even I, the most vehement of KG supporters, have to grudgingly admit that L.A. comes out ahead on paper. But if paper was all it took to win a championship, then they wouldn't have to play the games, would they?
For me, the 2008 NBA Finals represent more than just a chance for Kevin Garnett to win an NBA title - they're a chance for Kevin Garnett to win an NBA title in the most amazing way possible. Whether I like it or not as a Minnesota fan, there is simply no way that KG would be able garner this amount of spotlight in a Timberwolves jersey. This Boston/L.A. Finals that we're about to witness will undoubtedly capture the national attention and cause people who haven't watched basketball in years to tune in. It has the potential to be a watershed event and if this series remains competitve, or, taking things a step further, goes to a mind-blowing Game 7, it could be basketball's most defining moment since MJ pulled up from behind the foul line in '98. When you consider the monumental atmosphere and the rising odds, you have the perfect stage for a storybook ending.The only things still needed to complete the tale are a hero and a villain.
Let's be honest. Depending on what team you root for, the line between hero and villain can be blurry at best.One man's best friend is another's greatest enemy. In almost every sports situation the talk of good guys and bad guys is pure propoganda spewed by biased fans.However, this time, that is simply not the case. All it takes is a simple glance towards the past to define the hero and the villain in this epic battle.For once, the line is irrefutably clear...
In 1995, Kevin Garnett was drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Timberwolves - a team who had never even sniffed the playoffs. He subsequently embraced the franchise and the city and became their defining athlete.
In 1996, Kobe Bryant was drafted out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets - a team in the thick of the prior year's playoff race. He refused to sign with Charlotte, stating he would not play for any team other than the Lakers.
In not one of his twelve seasons in Minnesota did Kevin Garnett play with another All-Star starter. In only three did he even play with an All-Star reserve. He spent his entire career as a Timberwolf searching for a player who could help him reach his goal of winning a title.
For the first nine seasons of his career, Kobe Bryant was blessed to play with perrenial All-Star and Top 10 All-Time NBA player, Shaquille O'Neal. That is, until he forced Shaq out of L.A. for "stealing" his spotlight.
Kevin Garnett put his heart and soul into the 2004 playoffs, eventually falling in the Western Conference Finals to Bryant's Lakers after Sam Cassell's hip gave out, Wally Szczerbiak's spine fractured, and he was forced to go into battle with a point guard who began the season playing for the CBA's Yakima Sun Kings. Not once during the entire impossible fight, did he ever give up.
After vanquishing the Wolves, Kobe Bryant proceeded to head to the NBA Finals, where he staged a blatant coup and brought his feud with Shaq to an ugly head. In the process, he willingly tanked and cost his franchise the title.
Kevin Garnett donated 2 million dollars to help rebuild homes Hurricane Katrina Victims. It's only one of his many charitable acts.
Kobe Bryant went to trial for allegedly raping a teenage girl in Colorado. It's only one of his many rumored sexual scandals.
Kevin Garnett's past failures were largely due to an illegal signing by the Timberwolves GM.
Kobe Bryant's recent success is largely due to a "shady at best" deal involving the Grizzly's former GM.
During this past off-season, following a third straight season in the lottery, Kevin Garnett shot down multiple trades that would have sent him to greener pastures because of his intense loyalty to the fans of Minnesota and a desire to finish what he'd started. He only left after repeated insistance by the Timberwolves' front office.
During this past off-season, following a playoff run, Kobe Bryant demanded a trade because the Lakers were "going nowhere". He stated that he would not show up to training camp and would never put on a Lakers jersey again. He only remained a Laker after repeated refusal to trade him by the Lakers' front office.
In short, Kevin Garnett is an intensely loyal, respectful, decent human being, who, while certainly not perfect, has qualities every human being should admire.
In short, Kobe Bryant is a cocky, selfish, despicable human being at best, a criminal at worst, and any parent who lets their child wear his jersey deserves to be slapped in the face.
How's that for setting up an epic battle? On one side, Kevin Garnett: the underdog of underdogs, the ideal athlete in every sense of the word, the man with a profound respect for the history of the game who fittingly led the NBA's most storied franchise back to relevance, and an incredible, giving person who has changed countless lives. On the other side, to put it lightly, is Pure Evil. On Thursday night the two will clash on the biggest stage imaginable in their first battle of a war for the ages . It's a moment that's been thirteen unbelievably unlucky years in the making for Garnett. Every defeat, every betrayal, and every lost friend along the way has lead him to this end, and in four short games all the wrongs, and pains, heartaches can finally be made right. This is the moment he's been waiting his entire life for. This is the reason he's kept fighting. His destiny is finally before him, spinning on a thread, just within his reach.
All he has to do, is grab it.