by Yanni Andreopoulos
For the first time in his NBA career, Kevin Garnett will play AGAINST the Minnesota Timberwolves in London’s O2 Arena.
12 years ago the Minnesota Timberwolves put their faith in a skinny, 6’11”, 19 year-old kid who had just graduated from high school. 12 years ago the Wolves drafted Kevin Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, making “the Kid” the first high school player drafted into the NBA in over 20 years. For their faith in him he repaid them with 12 years of loyal service.
12 years later and “the Kid” has grown up. He is now 31 and goes by “the Big Ticket”. During those 12 years he has collected one MVP title, 10 All-Star appearances and 8 All-NBA team honors and become the cornerstone of the franchise. That lanky high-schooler has developed into a marquee NBA player, a name and face recognizable across the globe, with multi-million dollar endorsements, signature shoe lines and a jersey that perennially ranks in the top 20 of NBA jerseys sold worldwide. Yet one thing this superstar has never experienced is an NBA Finals.
He came close in 2004, losing in the Western Conference Finals to the LA Lakers, but he has not even been back to the playoffs since. Indeed, the Timberwolves have failed to improve in any of the past three seasons, posting a poorer record each year, behind some bad luck and some questionable moves by the team’s front office.
The ultra-competitive Garnett refused to break ranks, despite his frustration at the mounting losses and the apparent inability of the Timberwolves’ front office to build a contender around him. He knew his window of opportunity to win a championship was growing ever smaller, but unlike many other superstars in today’s NBA, Kevin Garnett refused to bad-mouth the organization or demand a trade. He remained loyal to the franchise and publicly stated that he did not want to leave ’Sota, as he calls it.
However, this off-season the team, in its rebuilding effort, was involved in several discussions about trade possibilities involving KG. Finally, after much negotiation and after agreeing the way forward with Garnett himself, a blockbuster deal was arranged between Minnesota and the Boston Celtics, who would send 5 players and two first round draft picks to Minnesota in exchange for the right to dress the Big Ticket in Celtic green. Garnett joins 5-time All Star Paul Pierce and 7-time All Star Ray Allen on the Celtics, a team that many now consider to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference and KG’s best chance to win a championship ring before he retires.
In spite of his excitement to play on the same team as two other All-Stars and potentially contend for a title, it was evident in Garnett’s introductory press conference in Boston that he agonized long and hard over his decision to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves. He described the process of deciding to leave Minnesota as “really tough” and characterized the three days leading up to the trade as “the hardest 72 hours I have dealt with since I’ve been in the NBA”. He even went so far as to say that prior to this summer he “really didn’t think that [he] was ever going to have to think of a different alternative when it came to playing in Minnesota”.
So KG, for so long the Timberwolves’ cornerstone and a Minnesota sporting icon, is now a Boston Celtic. Yet Minnesota remains very dear to him. “[Minnesota] is a beautiful city,” he said at his press conference. “I’ll always have a home there and it will always have a special place in my heart.” KG returns to Minnesota for the first time on February 8th of next year, the first time he’ll wear the visiting team’s uniform in the Target Center and a day that is sure to be drenched with emotion, both for the player himself and the Timberwolves faithful. However, neither that, nor the teams’ January 25th meeting in Boston will be the first time that the teams play each other since KG’s trade.
The first time that Kevin Garnett will direct his intense glare at the Minnesota Timberwolves as opponents rather than teammates will be in front of a sell-out crowd in the brand new O2 Arena in London on October 10th, 2007, as part of the NBA Europe Live 2007 presented by EA SPORTS. The south bank of the Thames will be the setting for the first showdown between Garnett and the team for which he played for 12 years and in whose jersey he became a superstar.
Many questions have been asked this summer about Garnett’s move to Boston, including how long it will take for him to gel with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the other Celtics, and how he has been affected by the emotional maelstrom that he went through this summer, deciding to leave his beloved ‘Sota. For a player who is as emotional as Garnett, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to playing against the team to which he has been so loyal these past 12 years. The emotions may not be as raw in London as they will be in Minneapolis on February 8th, but you can be sure to expect some fireworks in the O2 from KG against the team with which he went from being “the Kid” to being “the Big Ticket.”