"I'm ready. I can't even describe it. I feel like it's rookie season all over again, with the energy I have. You guys have been talking all that bull, so I'm ready to prove all you wrong. I'm here. Hey, when stuff got tight, when Steph [Marbury] left, I'm here. When we went through the draft pick [forfeitures], I'm here. When we got put out six years in a row, I'm here. I'm going to be here until they don't want me anymore. I'm 'Sota, man. This is where I live, 365 days. I'm here. Life is tough. You can't run from everything." - Kevin Garnett in a 2002 pre-season interview
If there was any question as to why thousands upon thousands of Minnesota Timberwolves fans will be overloading the Boston Celtics' bandwagon on Sunday night, one has to look no further than the quote above for an answer. In an league where buyouts and sell-outs and trade demands are common place, Kevin Garnett refused to do anything less than be a man, honor his contract, and play his heart and soul out for his fans. Despite a multitude of pressures from the mainstream media and close friends to force his way into a better situation, Kevin Garnett stayed true to his word through his entire twelve seasons as a Minnesota Timberwolf.
I'm here. I'm going to be here until they don't want me anymore.
As incredulous as it may seem that an NBA team wouldn't want Kevin Garnett any more, that's exactly what happened over the summer of 2007. Cap-strapped, pickless, and backed into a corner, the Timberwolves' management made the decision to trade away their lone bargaining chip for a younger foundation to rebuild upon. What followed was the largest trade for a single player in NBA history. It was a move that would break the collective heart of Minnesota and revitalize a moribound Boston franchise. Through the months that followed, Wolves fans began coming to terms with the deal and learned to love their young heroes like Big Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes, but any feelings they had for the "new guys" simply paled in comparison to what the Big Ticket had meant to them during his tenure in Minnesota. There was simply no way for Garnett's replacements to wash away twelve years of an impeccable work ethic, undying loyalty, and unforgettable memories.
In Boston, Kevin Garnett's arrival heralded the beginnings of a remarkable turn around. The Celtics, who lost 18 consecutive games and finished with the 2nd worst record in the league last season, have ended their 2007-08 campaign atop the NBA's standings, due, in large part, to KG's undeniable effect on the team. Garnett has infected the Boston locker room with his uncontrollable energy, his unconditional support, and his unquenchable desire to win. As a result, every player who wears a Celtics jersey has been transformed into the image of their leader and become the consumate athlete. In effect, Kevin Garnett has created himself an army who will stop at nothing to bring the NBA Title back to Boston. After suffering for season after season in silence and with dignity, The Ticket has finally been blessed with the type of team he truly deserves.
For some Wolves fans, watching Kevin Garnett bask in success leaves a bitter taste in their mouth. Like a poor man forced to watch his ex-wife marry a billionaire, they can't help but feel that his departure has made their own team look inadequate. They're quick to point out KG's lack of game-winning plays or how his large contract was choking the Wolves' development as a means to justify how we're "better off" without him. In some ways, I can't blame them for feeling that way, as it's just human nature, but I would encourage every one of my fellow Timberwolves fans who has a post-KG trade chip on their shoulder to reconsider their stance. You see, even though Kevin Garnett and Wolves fans have, in a sense, parted ways, it doesn't mean that the two different paths we're on don't lead to the same destination.
Think back with me to the beginning. Think back and remember that lanky young kid whose game was so raw - how he'd spout on about his respect for the game's history, and how naive he seemed about the way this league was really run. Now remember the look on his face that first game after Marbury skipped town - how the one hundred and twenty five million dollar kid looked like he'd just lost the most important thing in the world, and how uncertain he looked about leading this franchise on his own. Then remember the tears - how they rolled down our cheeks as we learned of Malik Sealys death and now Kevin brought us to our feet with his play the night they hung #2 from the rafters. Remember the playoff losses - how our hearts broke every spring for seven years in a row, and how Garnett embraced the pain and kept coming back for more after each and every one. Remember Game 7 - how in the biggest game of his life, The Ticket came up with his life's biggest performance, and how he lept up onto that scorer's table afterwards and took us all to a higher place. Remember the interview at the All-Star Break - how Garnett completely lost it and and began sobbing uncontrollably about the broken state of his team, our team. And finally, remember the last few days before the trade - how even though the prison door was opened and he'd received his pardon from spending the remainder of his prime on a lottery team, KG refused to walk through it, how he desperately wanted to remain a part of what we had built together, and how he reluctantly agreed to go only after being told he was no longer wanted by Taylor and McHale.
Remember those things, and then tell me you won't be glued to your television set on Sunday night cheering your heart out for Kevin Garnett. What KG accomplished during those years in Minnesota goes so far beyond the color of his jersey. The passion and integrity with which he plays the game became an ideal which can't be limited by the boundaries of a basketball court. Through watching his hard work, his loyalty, his selflessness, and his inablility to quit, we learned values that can be used in every aspect of our lives. During his twelve seasons, Kevin Garnett ingrained those ideals through every fabric of the Timberwolves organization. Because of his impact, our being Timberwolves fans has come to mean so much more than cheering for men to put a ball through a hoop. It has come to represent a willingness to press on in the most difficult of circumstances, to stay true to those around us, and to keep hope alive against all odds. Even in his absence, that meaning still holds true today.
As the 2008 playoffs approach, Timberwolves fans have the unique opportunity to both root for a #1 draft choice as well as a title, and I suggest that we all embrace it. You see, if KG wins an NBA Championship, it will not simply be a victory for the Celtics. It will be a moment of triumph for every Wolves fan, who like Garnett, decided that they would never give up. It will be the culmination of a thirteen year journey from boyhood to manhood, from unlimited potential, to the depths of despair, to the ultimate vindication. It will be the crowning chapter of a life that we have been so intimately a part of. And though when everything is said and done the banner may hang in Boston, it will be the tale of Kevin Garnett that's forever written upon our hearts. As we join hand in hand with Celtics fans for what is certain to be an unforgettable span of weeks, we will comprise the biggest group of people who have ever cheered on an NBA team towards a title. After all he's done for us, Kevin Garnett deserves no less as he nears his greatest achievement. And in the overwhelming excitement as he lifts that trophy in the air, we'll finally be able to know that good things can happen when you give your all and refuse to quit, that all the pains and all those playoffs exits were just a means to a greater end, and that if we hold firm and stay the course we can see the same thing happen down the road with our Timberwolves. In short, we'll finally know that it's been worth it all.
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Boston over Atlanta
Detroit over Philadelphia
Orlando over Toronto
Cleveland over Washington
Boston over Cleveland
Detroit over Orlando
Boston over Detroit
L.A. Lakers over Denver
New Orleans over Dallas
San Antonio over Phoenix
Utah over Houston
L.A. Lakers over Houston
San Antonio over New Orleans
L.A. Lakers over San Antonio
Boston Celtics over Los Angeles Lakers