NBA 75 Series: #18 Kevin Garnett by DJ Hamilton

   At #18 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is a player who played with unbridled passion, was vigorous on the defensive end, would scream and get into your face after a block or if he dunked on you, and helped revolutionize the game for being a near 7-footer who can guard every position and handle the ball like a guard, Kevin Garnett! Garnett was born on May 19th, 1976, in Greenville, South Carolina to his mother Shirley as the second of three children. His mother, and father, O’Lewis McCullogh, split up after Garnett’s birth, which left a void of an elder male statesman in his life until his stepfather, Ernest Irby, who he did not like, came into his life.

Garnett would begin playing the game of basketball at Hillcrest Middle School, despite not playing organized basketball until he got to Mauldin High School. He would play his first three seasons at Mauldin, but would transfer due to being in the presence of a fight between black and white students the summer before his senior year, and being taller than most at 6-foot-11, of course he was going to stand out more than others. He would unfortunately get arrested for second-degree lynching, which was erased because of a pre-trial intervention.

After feeling betrayed, and being racially charged and fearing being a target again, Garnett would transfer to Farragut Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois for his senior season. Garnett and his star guard teammate, Ronnie Fields, would lead Farragut to a 28-2 record where he would be named the National High School Player, while also being named Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois with averages of 25.2 points on 66% from the field, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and an eye-rubbing 6.5 blocks per game! He was always a master on the defensive end who was an absolute menace.

Garnett would finish his legendary high school career with 2,553 points, 1,809 rebounds, and 737 blocked shots. He would go on to play in the 1995 McDonald’s All-American Game where he would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the game after posting 18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three blocked shots. Garnett would also be honored as one of the 35 Greatest Mcdonald’s All-Americans in 2012. He desperately wanted to play college basketball for Michigan, Maryland, or another big time school, but wouldn’t get to because his ACT scores weren’t good enough to meet the NCAA’s requirement to be eligible to play.

So after learning that, Garnett made it known he would enter the 1995 NBA Draft straight out of high school becoming the first person to do it in over 20 years since the great Moses Malone did in 1974. He knew he was ready for the NBA when the great Isiah Thomas saw him put in work in a scrimmage as a senior in high school going up against the likes of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan and said “you can play in the NBA right now,” which persuaded Garnett to forget college altogether.

Garnett would also have a draft workout for the ages at a college university gym in front of 13 NBA representatives such as NBA greats Elgin Baylor and Kevin McHale. He was relentless in the workouts, screaming after every dunk, jumping out the gym, touching the backboard, and showing how hard he goes no matter if he’s exhausted or not to NBA general managers.

That would pay off, as Garnett would go on to be selected fifth overall in the 1995 NBA Draft by a young franchise in the Minnesota Timberwolves. He opened the floodgates again for prep-to-pro basketball stars that would come after him such as NBA greats in Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Tracy McGrady. In his rookie season, Garnett would be named to the All-Rookie Second Team with averages of 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, displaying the raw talent scouts saw of him in high school, but was still inexperienced, skinny, and had his doubters who tried to push the skinny kid around.

Garnett would ignore the naysayers and become an All-Star as soon as his second season with improved averages across the board of 17 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.7 steals. The Timberwolves would make their first playoff appearance in franchise history due to Garnett and the help of star rookie guard Stephon Marbury, and All-Star Tom Gugliotta. 

He would ultimately garner the nicknames “The Big Ticket, KG, or the Kid,” as one of the most intense, if not the most intense competitor in NBA History. He would talk trash to his opponents, get in your face, and let you hear it after he made a great play. He was a tremendous all-around player and in my opinion a top five defender of all time, being a Defensive Player of the Year (2008), 12-time all-defensive team member, and can literally guard every position except big burly centers, ala Shaq. He was the original unicorn who could do it all, paving the way for today's current star bigs such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. 

He sadly didn’t have much playoff success as a member of the Timberwolves in his 12 seasons there, with the highest being reaching the 2004 Western Conference Finals in his 2004 MVP season. He joined forces with legends Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and a young Rajon Rondo after being traded by the Wolves in the summer of 2007. They would go on to reach the Finals twice in 2008 and 2010 against the Lakers, coming up victorious in 2008 against the Kobe, Pau Gasol-led Lakers. After he won the championship in 2008 he yelled out loud in exhilaration, “Anything is possible!” A culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears he has put into the game.

Garnett never ever cheated us with his effort night in and night out on both ends as he is also a nine-time All-NBA selection, and led the league in rebounding four times. He sadly got injured in 2009 in what could have been another title for KG. What makes him more unique is he’s the only player ever to score 25,000 points, grab 10,000 rebounds, dish 5,000 assists, pick over 1,500 steals, and swat over 1,500 shots in their career… that is special! One of four players ever to lead his team in five statistical categories, the others are Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics 1977-78), Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls 1994-95), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (2016-17). He’s one of five players to ever win MVP and DPOY in their career, the others are Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Giannis.

Garnett is definitely underrated when they talk about the greats, considering how impactful he was on both ends. He never averaged over 25 ppg in any season in his career but was a marvelous all around player. If he won more chips in his career, he’d be way higher on this list but despite that he helped revolutionize the big man position alongside his contemporary Dirk Nowitzki.

Salute to the Big Ticket!