Windy City Blew KG in the Right Direction

WALTHAM, Mass. – What is it that made Kevin Garnett who he is today?

That’s a loaded question, but on Thursday morning Garnett offered a rare glimpse into his development as a player and as a person over the past 20 years.

Garnett has had one interesting life. He spent all of his years in South Carolina before choosing to move to Chicago and attend Farragut Academy in Chicago, Ill., for his senior year of high school. That move changed Garnett’s life forever, both on the court and off.


Kevin Garnett was drafted in 1995 after completing his one season at Farragut Academy in Chicago, Ill.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

“Ever since I moved from the South to the North, you understand that northern people are a lot more aggressive than southern people,” Garnett said on Thursday. “One of the lessons I learned living in Chicago is that no one’s going to give you anything. You have to take it.”

That final sentence is a true testament to Garnett’s approach toward life over the past two decades. He is relentless with his preparation. His work ethic is unmatched. Garnett participates in practices as if he is in the final minutes of Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

That is how Garnett reaches out and takes it each and every day, and he’s been doing so ever since his life-altering move to Chicago.

“I’ve [known] Kevin since we were in high school and he had it then,” stated Celtics captain Paul Pierce. “He had the spirit, he had the enthusiasm, he had the drive. And it just seems like from knowing him then to being around him now, he’s just – it’s still the same. It’s unbelievable for a guy who’s been playing basketball his whole life, who’s won pretty much every award, to still have the type of drive that he has.”

Garnett has been driving in the fast lane ever since arriving in Chicago, but it wasn’t always a guarantee that he’d make it out of the Windy City. Growing up in Chicago isn’t easy. There are many who don’t make it out alive, and there are others who are overtaken by the demands of the streets. Garnett learned that quickly, and he adapted well enough to continue his path toward success.

“I think my first two days of just interacting basketball-wise, and obviously society, the way they live, I caught on very fast and I adapted very fast,” KG said as he reached deep into his memory bank. “Because if not, you might not see tomorrow. And if you don’t understand a lot of things that go on with the city, you find yourself – I don’t want to say confused, but you find yourself in some predicaments that you don’t necessarily want to be in. And I got that very early. I was able to adapt.”

Doc Rivers can attest to the level of adaptation that was force-fed to Garnett. Rivers grew up in Chicago. He knows all about the demands of living there as a youngster. The pressure of the streets can be difficult to handle, and life on the court is just as challenging.

Ironically, Rivers and Garnett had a recent conversation about that very subject. Rivers recalled that conversation Thursday afternoon.

“Last time we were talking when we were in Chicago, [Garnett] said, ‘Man, this city changed me,’” Rivers said. “And I was asking him why, and he’s like, ‘The basketball here is different than anywhere I’ve ever played. It’s mano-(y)-mano, even though it’s 5-on-5 at the parks. It’s amazing how many times you get knocked down and no one even reacts to it.’”

Rivers continued to explain the conversation: “I said, ‘Well, that’s how you grow up.’ He said, ‘Well I didn’t grow up that way. It took me about a year to realize they didn’t care who you were on the floor.’”

No, really. They did not care who you were. Winners stay. Losers leave. Period.

“It’s the rule in Chicago – if you lose, you have to sit. I don’t care if you’re the NBA MVP,” Rivers said. “[Garnett] was telling a Michael (Jordan) story. Michael lost in a pick-up game and he’s out. And that’s just the rule. He said, ‘Man, it was great.’ He said, ‘It taught me a lot.’”

How could it not? For a guy who grew up with southern hospitality and a methodical lifestyle, there were lessons to be learned every day in Chicago.

“It took some country (out) and got some city boy in him,” Pierce said with a smile. “Sometimes that’s what it takes.”

That couldn’t be any more of the case with Garnett. A lot has taken place during his 36 years of life, but that move to Chicago led him on the path to where he is today. “The ‘Go,” as Garnett calls it, changed the big man forever, and he has carried the lessons he learned through his 18 NBA seasons.

What is the greatest lesson of all for Garnett? He’ll tell you himself.

“You stand your ground,” he said. “It’s a man’s league. I’ve never thought of it in any other kind of way.”

That is what makes him Kevin Garnett.