From the Booth: The Homecoming
Some of us just have an internal soundtrack that's impossible to turn off.
When you come to a Celtics game, those of you still able to get tickets these days, you know there's a whole show that goes on around the game. There's music playing, videos on the jumbotron, Scot Pollard reciting movie lines, KissCam and that beloved relic of a simpler time, Gino, making us all feel like dancing. And although hardly the kind of thing that I ever would notice, I'm told now we also have a dance team.
In any case, all this in-game entertainment, we refer to as "game operations", and the man responsible for it is the very talented Sean Sullivan (not to be confused with team Vice President Shawn Sullivan, whose department is tickets, making him very quickly the most popular guy in town. And how about a team, in Boston, having two guys in the front office named Sean Sullivan. What were the odds? Seems like the Jimmy Fallon "No-mah" bit from SNL. And you think you get wrong numbers, and wrong e-mail? If you're curious, because of seniority, we call Shawn "Sully" in the office, Sean, who came second, we call "Deuce".)
About a month ago, Kevin Garnett did an interview, in which among other things, he professed his affection for the song In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins, and the drum solo that is its signature. Deuce wasted no time. During the next home game, a tight game in the final minutes, the Celtics and KG were escorted back to the court from a late timeout, by its familiar strains.
"And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord
I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh lord
(Insert your own language for the drum solo)
It was, of course, a great idea. It's what you do when you're job is game operations. The music played, the sellout crowd got into it, and KG even pantomimed said drum solo as he returned to the floor from the timeout. I looked over my shoulder to try to catch a glance of Deuce, who'd successfully added this little nuance to the intense fourth quarter atmosphere.
But I didn't have the heart to tell him
It plays in his head anyway.
As I write, I'm 32,000 feet above London, Ontario, and six rows in front of me, is Kevin Garnett. I don't know what song from the soundtrack in his life is playing is head right now, but I promise you there is one. Surely you've picked up on this by now, but he most definitely marches to the beat of his own iPod Shuffle.
As for him being on this trip, even though he won't play in the Timberwolves game? I'm happy about that. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being there's always that thought in the back of my mind that no plane with KG on it is ever going to go down. But mostly it's because the very idea of him making this trip today, back to Minneapolis, back to his twelve-year NBA home, back to the city where he was, is and always will be one the most recognizable franchise players in pro sports modern era, was up in the air (pun half-heartedly intended) less than 24 hours ago.
It's been two weeks since the abdominal strain heard around New England, and for two weeks the Celtics have survived and held their Eastern Conference lead without him. He won't play in the game at Target Center, and the loss of that spectacle will be without question one of the great disappointments of a year in which disappointments have been few and far between. But while we've known that was coming for a while, today we know he'll be there in Minnesota, and that's the way it should be.
Wednesday at the Garden, the big topic was Sam Cassell, the veteran Clippers point guard, who when he's not occupied whacking Rajon Rondo in the side of the head and getting ejected from games, seemed to be telling anyone who'll listen how much he'd like to be bought out of his contract to come play with the Celtics, trying to finish the business he and KG left unfinished four years ago, when a Cassell injury derailed the Timberwolves title run in the conference finals.
And that contingency is a topic for another time, and quite possibly another From the Booth in a couple of weeks, but the relevance is that Sam Cassell's is not an isolated circumstance, it's not even a trend. It's a borderline epidemic. He's not a great example of it, being one of the few who's earned such an opportunity. But look around the league, a league in which there are more than a few players who feel a strong sense of entitlement about such things. As if wining a championship is something you earn by simply hanging around long enough.
As if it's the responsibility of a losing team, to trade them, or let them walk away to a winning team, rather than the responsibility of the player to help his current employer become a winning team.
And at some level, a lot of us do it every day. The search for greener grass. Look at your pile of mail on the desk next to you if you're at home. Check your Inbox. What have you got? Offers to refinance your mortgage? Change your cell phone carrier? Debt-consolidation? Those are all the same thing. Forget the contract you signed, forget the deal you agreed to, get a better one.
There are hundred laundry detergents, like a thousand toothpastes and I imagine they've long since added to the list of thirty-one flavors of ice cream with which I grew up. You're not supposed to eat the same thing every day, you're not supposed to wear the same thing every day. So why wouldn't we constantly be looking out the window for something better, that's how we're trained.
Part of what we all start to think when we forget there's no right to happiness guaranteed in the Constitution. It's only the pursuit, that's guaranteed.
Professional athletes shouldn't be any different.
But this one is.
There was a lot made in July about Kevin Garnett's reluctance to come to Boston. And I've written here before about some of the bogus theories. Everyone was so caught up in the normal habits of the modern-day athlete, was it money? Was it location? Was it outdated racial perceptions of a city from three decades earlier? There was no shortage of theories.
But they forgot one.
It never occurred to anyone that Kevin Garnett wanted to stay in Minnesota because of...wait for it...loyalty. He didn't want to abandon his team, abandon his home to chase a championship. He wanted to bring a championship to his home.
Was he happy with the direction of the franchise? No. Did he make his voice heard on that? Yes. Did the losing of the last couple of years, the backsliding, start to affect him? Of course it did. How many of you saw him break down during a John Thompson interview on TNT three years ago?
But as the mid-summer night's drama of the KG trade unfolded, no one ever seemed to realize that of course he wanted to win a championship. More than anything, he did. But he wanted to win that championship in Minnesota. And at the very heart of those uncertain weeks, was his process of coming to terms with the fact that that just wasn't going to happen. And to make what not too long before had been the unfathomable decision to leave his NBA home, that if it wasn't going to happen there, than title contention was absolutely a prerequisite in his next, and as he says, last stop.
If only we took that kind of time before switching long distance companies.
This much anticipated return to Target Center, isn't about the game. It's not about a win or a loss, it's not about Al Jefferson and the former Celtics. It's for the fans. Fans of the Timberwolves, fans of the NBA and fans of Kevin Garnett, many of whom if you don't know, have joined you here in Celtics Nation for this ride. Not out of disloyalty to their own team, but rather exceeding loyalty to a player that gave them everything for twelve years.
Because in the age of the too-cool-for-school, it's-just-a-business mentality that's pervasive, and almost you feel sometimes, inevitable in this NBA world, he always stood apart. As one of the few who could actually match the most ardent fan's passion for his team with his own.
The 20-10-5 seasons, the All-Star appearances, the rebounding titles, and the nine-straight playoff appearances (when the franchise had a grand total of none before him) are all a part of the reason he'll be remembered as the franchise player in Timberwolves history, most likely for as long as any of us are alive.
But it's how he played the game, with the love and the passion and the drum solos playing in his head, that makes him a part of the very fabric of the state of Minnesota.
He should be at Target Center Friday night so he can feel that. It's the type of curtain call very few humans ever get to experience.
And hopefully Kevin Garnett will be able to add it to the soundtrack of his life.
The one that's always playing in his head.