- He nearly choked New York Knicks forward Bill Walker.
- He hit (tapped?) Phonix Suns forward Channing Frye in the groin.
- He once made Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche cry.
- He made his own teammate Glen “Big Baby” Davis cry.
- Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who has a medical condition that caused him to lose the hair on his head and face, accused Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient.”
- Filmmaker Spike Lee accused Garnett of cursing him out during a game against the New York Knicks.
The list goes on and on…
But do these antics/tactics make Garnett a punk or a dirty player? Hardly.
Kevin Garnett is a throwback. He plays the game of basketball with a mean streak. He despises his opponents. He wants to destroy their will to compete at every opportunity. Garnett may be the last NBA superstar to play the game this way.
Today’s NBA is filled with coddled stars and overinflated egos. The best players today grew up traveling the country together as amateur all-stars and many carry their friendships into the pro level. At times it seems as if they’re more interested in partying together after the game than they are in competing against each other.
Just look at the Miami Heat. Three of the NBA’s biggest stars (actually Two and a Half Stars) all became free agents together and decided to join forces in order to make their individual roads to a championship that much easier. NBA stars only one generation back would probably never have plotted to join forces with their main competition. Superstars of the past identified more with Garnett’s disdain for the competition.
When asked about the Heat’s new trio, Michael Jordan was quick to share his thoughts. “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team.’”
Magic Johnson shares Jordan’s point of view. According to Magic, “We didn’t think about it ‘cause that’s not what we were about…From college, I was trying to figure out how to beat Larry Bird.”
And Larry Bird had a similar response: “I remember back in my days, I’d rather play against Earvin Johnson than play with him…I know he’s a great player and you always want to play with the best but I just loved to compete against him. He’s a guy I always compared myself to. I’d rather stay in Boston and let him stay in L.A. and just compete every year in the Finals. That’s what made me a better player. It would’ve been too easy if we played together.”
Garnett plays the game with the same intensity and competitive spirit as Jordan, Magic, and Bird. He doesn’t want to be liked. He wants to win. And that makes him difficult to relate to for many of today’s younger players.
“There are no I’s. There are no You’s. It’s a We. It’s an Our. It’s a They. It’s an Us,” said Garnett. “The first thing you have to have in here is that you have to understand what you’re coming into, understand that being a Celtic is bigger than anybody in this locker room. You’re carrying on tradition. You have to have a work ethic. You have to care about the next guy beside you. If you can’t and if you don’t, then you’re not here. It’s the culture here.”
So what’s the takeaway message for young players in the NBA? Kevin Garnett doesn’t want to be your friend. He wants to kick your ass. Deal with it.