Garnett's 2003-04 MVP Moment Was A Team Celebration
When KG won his lone Most Valuable Player Award, 10 years ago today, he made sure the rest of the Wolves shared the spotlight
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Editor’s Note: Throughout May, Timberwolves.com will pay tribute to the 2003-04 squad that finished the regular season with a franchise-best 58-24 record and reached the Western Conference Finals. Part I highlights Kevin Garnett’s Most Valuable Player award, which he was awarded 10 years ago on May 3, 2004.
Kevin Garnett was very much in the center of the NBA spotlight in 2003-04, never more so than in a moment prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Sacramento Kings. It was there, at center court, when Garnett stood next to NBA Commissioner David Stern and received his first and only Most Valuable Player trophy.
In a moment like that, with a sold-out Target Center screaming as he lifted the trophy over his head for the first time, Garnett was deserving of being the lone focal point of praise. But he stood there alone for less than two seconds before waving his teammates over to join him in the spotlight. For KG, it wasn’t about an individual achievement. It was about a team coming together as one to produce the best season in franchise history.
The group as a whole was the most important part of his individual moment.
“’04 was a very special year,” Garnett told Timberwolves.com during the 2013 All-Star Weekend in Houston. “Very special, because I learned a lot not just about myself but made two great friends in Latrell [Sprewell] and Sam Cassell. It was a great time for us, great time for the city, man.”
Garnett was named MVP 10 years ago today and received the award from Commissioner Stern the next night. In that decade that’s passed, it feels as though his award has become that much sweeter because of how that group went about its business and how successful they became together. That KG-led 2004 squad was about teamwork and sacrifice. It was about a basketball team that, after seven years of first-round playoff exits, lifted itself to the top of the Western Conference and was poised for a run at a championship.
Garnett was the engine, the motor that kept the team going. He averaged career highs in points (24.2) and rebounds (13.9) per game that season while setting 11 single-season franchise records and being named Western Conference Player of the Month four times. He was dominant, notching 71 double-doubles while leading the team in scoring 50 times, rebounds 74 times and assists 27 times. As a result, he garnered 120 of the 123 possible league-wide sportswriter first place votes for Most Valuable Player and became the first and to date only Wolves player to earn MVP honors.
But Garnett meant far more to that Wolves team than just tangible statistics. He was the heart and soul of that locker room, and through his actions and his loyalty to his teammates he helped put together a season Minnesota fans remember just as vividly today as they did a decade ago. Garnett stood out, but the Timberwolves played and acted in an all-for-one manner. After so many years of coming up short, Garnett understood it took the group as a whole to succeed.
Together, that team followed Garnett’s lead and achieved heights this franchise had not and has not since reached.
The key to Garnett’s impact in the locker room was his intensity and his passion. It was impossible not to follow his lead.
“The focus, the intensity—Kevin Garnett in his pregame ritual would go down into this meditation, and once he did that, nobody would mess with him at all,” Mark Madsen said. “Because once Kev was into his preparation, you have him his space. Other guys would like to laugh and joke….But Kev was the guy that when it was time to be serious, he was serious.”
That intensity boiled over onto the court. Evident to anyone in the arena, when KG put the talcum powder on his hands then headed toward the corner baseline pounding his chest, he meant business.
It set the tone for everyone in a Timberwolves uniform.
“Kevin was brought up that way when we had Sam Mitchell and those people, so he was very much aware of what it took,” former Wolves coach and current President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said. “That’s part of his personality of being very emotional and playing with a great amount of passion. And we also understood as a team and as an organization that we tried to bring people in that had that passion. Sam [Cassell] had that passion, Spree had that passion. Troy Hudson had that passion. So we had people that shared the same philosophy and that same passion, so we knew when we stepped on the floor that’s one thing we could count on.”
The 2003-04 season was where it all came together. The Wolves had the players around Garnett to help catapult the team to the top of the Western Conference, and Garnett himself had been through enough ups and downs to understand better what it took to lead and to contend.
Former Star Tribune beat reporter and current NBA.com senior writer Steve Aschburner covered the Timberwolves during Garnett’s entire tenure with the team. He watched KG grow up during those years, taking in all the triumphs and defeats along the way. He said he felt like Garnett was worthy of MVP consideration the year prior—in 2002-03—but the team didn’t have as much success and Tim Duncan ended up with his second consecutive trophy.
For Aschburner, Garnett had a much bigger load to shoulder during those earlier years. But in 2003-04, the Wolves brought in Cassell and Sprewell. Suddenly, Garnett was able to lead without having to shoulder so much of the workload. It was a team effort that ultimately led to Minnesota reaching new heights.
“[Garnett’s] such a team-focused guy, that when he has the pieces around him his game benefits, his game grows,” Aschburner said. “Even whether you see it in his numbers or not, but you see how other players thrive.”
We appreciate it more now. When Garnett hoisted that trophy in early May 2004, we understood the magnitude but we didn’t know how short-lived it would be. Ten years later, the Wolves are still trying to replicate what that 2003-04 team reached. In looking back, we see the passion, the intensity and the collective unity that made that run possible.
Kevin Garnett was at the center of it all, but he refused to be in the spotlight alone. That 2003-04 team was a special group in this franchise’s history, and Garnett’s MVP award 10 years ago today exemplified how close-knit that group was.
“He had the people he could rely on,” Aschburner said. “I think he looked and saw Cassell and Sprewell, hardened pros who could get it done.”