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The Final Salute For The Big Ticket
The Big Ticket. The Kid. KG. Kevin Garnett.
It doesn’t matter what you knew him by. He’s been part of basketball’s Mount Rushmore shortly after being drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995.
He was loud. He was emotional. He was a leader. He was Minnesota basketball to so many growing up.
All legends have to say goodbye at some point. The ‘Rule of Three’ proved itself on Friday afternoon. The NBA community already lost Spurs legend Tim Duncan and Lakers icon Kobe Bryant after the 2016 season to retirement.
On Friday, three days before the Wolves were set to open up training camp, Garnett announced his retirement.
The book that is Kevin Garnett is a fascinating read.
It started in 1995 when Garnett wowed coach Flip Saunders in a workout. The big names in the draft were Joe Smith, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. All three attended big-time basketball colleges.
Garnett on the other hand? A high school kid? No thanks, most thought. There were too many questions.
Throughout his career, Garnett answered them all.
The skinny kid from Farragut Academy ended up changing the NBA. The 6-foot-12 power forward (don’t even think about calling him a 7-foot center), made the All-Star game in just his second season. It was a familiar place for him after that. He was a fixture in the game 14 times over the next 16 seasons.
For the Timberwolves, a team that struggled after entering the league in 1989, they finally had a face of the franchise. A jersey fans wanted to wear. Someone fans could call theirs.
In his time with the Wolves from 1995 to 2007, he made the All-Star Game 10 times. He led the NBA in rebounds four times. He led the team to the playoffs from 1997 to 2004.
In 2004, he helped the Wolves advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals. It was a historic season for Garnett. He was named MVP after averaging a career-high 22.1 points to go with 12.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists and two blocks per game.
Unfortunately, that was the peak in Minnesota for Garnett. The team lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers. Minnesota went 33-49 in 2005-06. The Timberwolves went the rebuild route shortly after and traded Garnett to the Boston Celtics on July 31, 2007. It was a sad day for Wolves fans, yes, but it also gave Garnett a chance to get a ring. That next season, you probably saw a few green No. 5 jerseys in ‘Sota, rooting on Garnett in Boston.
Garnett didn’t have to wait long to get the ring he chased for so many years in Minnesota. In his first season in Boston, the Celtics won the championship. Overcome with emotion, Garnett thanked those who stood by him all those years in Minnesota.
Garnett would spend five more seasons in Boston. While his numbers never matched his numbers in Minnesota, that was a sacrifice Garnett was willing to take to win. He was still considered one of the best defenders in the league.
After the run in Boston with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce had ended, Garnett and Pierce were traded to Brooklyn prior to the 2013 season.
Things didn’t go according to plan in Brooklyn. Garnett was 37 when he was traded to Brooklyn and as much as he wanted to be, he wasn’t the same player he once was. He played just 20.5 minutes per game as a Net and Brooklyn lost in the second round of the playoffs. But that wasn’t it for Garnett . . .
Welcome to the final chapter of the book.
On Feb. 19, 2015, right after Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins wowed the All-Star crowd in Brooklyn, Garnett waived his no-trade clause to return back to Minnesota. The relationship with Saunders made the deal possible. The two started their careers together in Minnesota in 1995 and though there was no title, those two are the first two fans think of when it comes to the history of Timberwolves basketball.
“He’s really happy,” Saunders said after Garnett was traded back to Minneapolis. “I know that. He showed excitement coming in seeing people. He’s excited to be back here and that’s as important to me as anything.”
“I didn't get any sleep the night before the trade deadline and the two days before that,” Garnett said. “I don't like to do anything during the season. If anything, I like to do things, obviously, in the offseason. I have kids in school and family, so it wasn't really my cup of tea.”
His first game back with the Wolves was a thing of beauty. The Target Center was sold out. Garnett finished with five points, eight rebounds, two blocks, two assists and a steal in a 20-point Wolves win over the Wizards.
Garnett knew he wasn’t going to play 30 minutes per game. Those days were long gone. But with up-and-coming players like LaVine, Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and a year later, Karl-Anthony Towns, it was a chance for Garnett to become a teacher and mentor.
Whether it was yelling advice from the bench during games or pulling a player aside in practice, Garnett’s goal was to make the young players better.
In his two seasons back with the Wolves, he did exactly that. He built a relationship with Towns. The legend of the franchise and the future of the franchise. You can’t make that up. One started his career in 1995. One was born in 1995. The legacy will live on, much like Saunders’ has.
Emotions always ran high with Garnett. The passion. The energy. The effort. The commitment. On the court, Garnett was everything you wanted as a basketball player and while he wasn’t the same player we remembered in his second stint with the Wolves, he was still able to trick us every now and then.
And now we sit here. Wondering what to think about Garnett’s career. Mostly, we should be reminded just how lucky we were to watch it. But there’s also some sadness as we finally have to announce that the show is over for The Big Ticket.
This time, we’ll salute you.
Thanks for a great career, KG.