In an Age of Apathy, Garnett Brings Energy, Enthusiasm
I usually tell the foyer story.
I mean, over the years, I've been asked about Kevin Garnett a hundred times. About the three years I spent calling Minnesota Timberwolves games on television. Even in the six-plus years I've been back in Boston.
But in the last 48 hours, since this basketball fantasy has become Celtic reality, I've been asked pretty much non-stop why I'd been leading this campaign, spreading the gospel of Garnett over the last couple of months.
You know, I've heard that those of us who call the games shouldn't have favorites, shouldn't have players we love to watch, players we root for. But anyone who tells you they don't is lying, has no pulse, or both.
Anyway, about seven years ago we were in Houston taping a halftime piece with KG, I'd say we taped it at the Marriott if that information had even a smidge of relevance to the story. There was some kind of a delay and as we were killing time, the topic for some reason became the new house he was building in the Minneapolis suburbs. I asked him how it was going, just chit-chat, and before you know it, he's all wide-eyed, and animated (a look you'll all become intimately familiar with over the next few years) talking about the foyer. They're putting it in this way, it's going to look like this when you walk in, etc.
And in the middle of this verbal cataloging of his impending interior design, he stopped and said "it's cool now, but I wonder if I'm going to like it five years from now." It always stuck with me.
See, most 23-year old superstar multi-millionaires don't give much thought to anything beyond where they're going after tonight's game, let alone embrace concepts like decisions, their consequences, how the present becomes the future and how one day, that's what will be your past.
I called about two hundred of his games. I saw triple-doubles, 20-20's, a 40-point night in the very same TD Banknorth Garden in which his Celtics coronation took place on Tuesday. But lots of people saw those, and the 10 All-Star appearances and the MVP season in 2004 and all of it. There were only a couple of us there for the foyer conversation. And it's my favorite story about how his brain works differently from everyone else's. It's a brain, and a heart as unique as the skill set that's made him Da Kid, The Big Ticket and The Franchise in Minnesota for a dozen years.
But the foyer story's just a snapshot. The real reason is this.
Kevin Garnett plays the game of basketball, the way it's supposed to be played.
You know what? I'll go one better.
Kevin Garnett plays the game of basketball, the way life is supposed to be lived.
With joy, and with passion, and with purpose. Present in every minute he's on the floor.
Playing to win, in an NBA age of playing it cool. Intensity, in an age of apathy. Boundless, almost limitless loyalty, in an age of me-first. An age where "it's all a business" has become the same free pass to avoid allegiance that "I'm not a role model" was to avoid responsibility.
But today this is the one that I think best captures the moment. Enthusiasm, in an age of unparalleled negativity.
Negative is easy, and we all fall back on it from time to time, it's hard not to. It's like a reflex around here, one that more often than not makes us feel better for a second or two. But sometimes it's as if we've forgotten what we're all doing here in the first place. And by here, I mean the Garden, I mean the NBA, I mean sports, all of it. The reason you surfed to Celtics.com and the reason you clicked on this link. Because you love the game. And before we go back to our life of whiner lines, Lindsey Lohan and backups on the lower deck, let's at least take the moment to appreciate feeling good for a change. To appreciate the price you've paid to get here.
For much of the last two decades, you've found yourself, like Wesley and Buttercup, in the NBA's version of the fire swamp. You've survived Bruno Sundov, Thomas Hamilton and Dwayne Schintzus. The cruelest 1-2 punch the NBA's draft lottery has ever delivered...a left-right combo of Tim Duncan and Greg Oden delivered ten years apart. Too many funerals and too few wins.
Congratulations, you've made it to the other side. Your loyalty has been rewarded, and you're about to meet a guy who'll see your loyalty and raise you some.
See, Larry Bird never did walk through that door. Neither did Kevin McHale. But Tuesday he sent someone else in his stead.
Some, clearly out of the loop, quickly opined last month that KG "didn't want to come to Boston", probably the same ones that chose to put the Timberwolves failures on his shoulders as opposed to every single success that franchise ever achieved. They missed the point. It wasn't that he didn't want to come to Boston, he simply didn't want to leave the only NBA home he's ever known. Twelve years is a long time. How long? Larry Bird was a Celtic for thirteen. That's how long.
Of course he wanted to stay in the Twin Cities. He wanted to win, and he wanted to win there. If you can't quite put your head around that concept, it's because loyalty like that has gone the way of three-to-make-two in the NBA. That's why it was such a process, that's why it took so long. (A delay it should be pointed out, that brought the Celtics the second most prolific three point shooter in the history of the game in Ray Allen.) And you wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Because that loyalty, that character, that leave-it-on-the-floor-every-night mentality to which we all aspire? It's yours now.
And the best part? It's contagious.
It's why, even if you're one of the eighty-plus percent that were against this deal last month, you found yourself grinning today at the image of KG in green. It's why the TNT and ABC culture of the NBA has been in full-fledged scramble mode the last 48 hours to find Boston on a map.
And it's why in America's most cynical media market, Legends burst into spontaneous applause when KG took the podium and his #5 jersey for his introductory news conference. Because even those whose job it will be chronicle every misstep, to search for the slightest hint of dissension, and to feed the machine its recommended daily allowance of negative grist for the talk-show mills? Even they were smiling at the very notion of what it is they now get to cover.
Even if they missed the forest that's been created the last four years, for all the trees. It's not the media's fault, it's not sports radio's fault, it's not the Internet's fault. It's just that those outlets, which all of us enjoy every day, have one common deficiency.
As they should be. But real life, is three-dimensional, and here's what I mean.
We're all trained to think linearly, to react to each game, to each roster move, to each story as they happen. And that's fine. If you were unhappy when Antoine Walker was traded in October of 2003, you were not alone. And put aside for a second that Antoine came back at virtually no cost to help lead the Celtics to the division title in 2005. That day four years ago, Antoine, became Raef LaFrentz. And put aside as well the two healthy, productive seasons Raef had in green, stretching the defense for Paul Pierce. Last year on draft night, Raef, became Theo Ratliff.
For over a year now, Danny Ainge has had the Celtics exactly where he hoped they would be, in position to make the move to bring a second superstar to Boston. All you can do is stockpile assets and put yourself in position to make the move.
And if the basketball Gods smile on you, as they haven't for twenty one years, you might be there when a first-ballot hall-of-famer comes on the market. Tuesday, Theo Ratliff (who was Raef LaFrentz who was Antione Walker), was they key piece in doing something that once was beyond all but the most vivid of optimistic Celtic imaginations, bringing Kevin Garnett to Boston.
And now you're in position not to compete on the trade market, but to compete for a championship.
That was the vision.
Enjoy the view.
Of course the work, and real fun begins in October. But on a day the Red Sox acquired one of the game's elite closers to move one step closer to another title, and in a week where the Patriots opened training camp having added Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Kyle Brady and more, the Boston Celtics, off a 24-win season, took back the town.
It's a big, giant brand new Celtics house that after one day already feels like home.
And all we've seen is the foyer.