Kevin Garnett: A Leader in All Respects

Thanks to KG, the Wolves are a close-knit and winning team.

by Jeff Benyon

Minnesota, do you realize what you have? Can you comprehend the fact that one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA suits up and plays right here in your backyard? Believe it, understand it and embrace it. It's true.

After enjoying his best season as a professional last season and finishing as the runner-up to San Antonio's Tim Duncan for the league's Most Valuable Player award, Kevin Garnett is having an even better season this year.

Garnett is averaging career bests in points (24.2 ppg), rebounding (13.9 rpg) and blocked shots (2.15 bpg). He is on pace to become the only player in league history other than the legendary Larry Bird to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in five consecutive seasons.

Not only are his numbers impressive, but KG is also durable. Last season he played in all 82 regular-season games for the second time in his career. In nine seasons, Garnett has missed only 13 games.

Garnett is a five-time All-NBA selection, a four-time All-Defensive selection, and a member of the gold-medal-winning USA men's basketball team at the 2000 Olympic Games. There is no doubt that when his playing days are through, Garnett will have earned a spot in the history books.

His numbers and achievements are impressive. But if you've ever seen him play, or heard him speak, you know his character and personality are the things that make Garnett so special. KG oozes energy and emotion. His enthusiasm and passion are second to none and his drive is contagious to all those around him.

When asked, Garnett will recall some of the special moments in his basketball career — like winning the MVP award in last year's All-Star Game, being drafted in 1995, his first NBA game and his first All-Star appearance. But those aren't necessarily the things that are important to him.

"Incredible experiences, all those things," Garnett said. "But I get enjoyment out of just being here and having the opportunity to come in every night and play. I have never been a personal stat guy. I have accomplished a couple of things, but I don't think I am above anybody. I overlook all those things and focus on team accomplishments."

He may not think he is above anyone else, but others disagree. "He's No. 1," said teammate Trenton Hassell. "He passes, rebounds, defends, scores — and there aren't a lot of players in the league who can do that. He makes the players around him better, and players feed off that. I think he is the best all-around player in the league."

Hassell's thoughts are shared by many. Across the country, players, coaches, reporters and fans are touting KG for MVP. The chant was heard rumbling through Target Center last year and it has grown this season.

"It would be cool," Garnett said of winning the MVP award. "I'm not going to shy away from the topic. It would be real cool, but I'm not going to let that overshadow my bigger dream, which is a ring and giving this city and this great state a championship."

For Garnett, winning an NBA title with the current cast of players would be, in his words, "super special and totally incredible. You go to war with 14-15 guys every night; that's rewarding to me... Knowing that you bonded and grew, not only as teammates but as friends. That's what I enjoy more than anything."

Garnett says this season is probably the most fun he's ever had on the court. The main reason is because of his supporting cast — not just newcomers Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, but everyone down the line.

"He is a guy who treats the 12th man on the team like he is a starter," Cassell said of Garnett. "He treats everyone the same. He's a very giving person, and you can go to him for advice, anything. He welcomed Spree and me with open arms and when we got here he said, 'I'm glad you are all here.' And that was big.

"Not too many superstars are going to say things like that, but that is just his makeup. You don't find that in people — not just professional basketball players, but people in general. He's not a saint, but he has a trait that a lot of people in this world don't have."

It has been said for years that the Wolves have one of the tightest locker rooms in the NBA. That feeling of family begins with Garnett.

"Our whole team is good to one another," said forward Gary Trent, "and he is a main reason for that. Kevin has a good heart. He is not only a student of the game, he understands life and he understands people."

"We are a tight-knit group," Garnett said. "We have a great group of guys who want to be close, and we're like brothers — and that's not something you can script. It just happens. And I have been fortunate to have these guys with me. It's totally a blessing."

More than talent is needed to win a championship. It takes character, sacrifice and commitment to one another. When the best player and leader of your team exemplifies those attributes, it almost becomes automatic that the rest of the team will take on that persona. Garnett understands this and accepts that it begins with him.

"Our leaders set the tone," he says, "and being at the top of the food chain, so to speak, I know every night they are all looking to me to set the example. And I have no problem with that."

Neither do his teammates. They understand what Garnett is all about and buy into his philosophy. "That's the beauty of this team," Garnett said. "If we lose, I can be upset and let it all out and guys don't take it personally. Just like when someone comes at me, I don't take it personally. We are here to help each other and we're here to win, and the only way we can win is for everybody to understand each other."

With understanding comes trust. When Garnett can trust his teammates to back him up, he can play without worrying about players not pulling their share. Without that burden on his shoulders, he is free to play to his full potential, which will undoubtedly equal more wins for the Timberwolves and more cheers of "MVP! MVP! MVP!"