In focus: Kevin Garnett
by Arron MacDonald
Coach MacDonald focuses on one of his on-court idols in Kevin Garnett, sharing the things every player can learn from The Big Ticket...
It’s hard for me to rationalise my admiration for Kevin Garnett without simply becoming a fanboy.
KG’s arrival in Boston brought back “Celtic Pride”, meant that Paul Pierce (possibly my favourite player of all-time) not only got a ring – but got several more years in green, and all the while, KG was the consummate team-mate, and simply brought an unparalleled level of intensity to everything he did. The homer in me can even go a step further - if he didn't hurt his knee in 2009, I'm not sure Kobe ever wins a title without Shaq.
Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that everyone can grow to be 7’2” (I’m not buying he was under 7 foot…), with a "go-go gadget wingspan", but there’s a ton of lessons every player can learn from the way KG approached the game, I thought I’d start with my top three…
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got…
Garnett trained differently. He recognised the ways the game (and his body) was changing, and made some out of the box efforts to change the way he worked.
In the off-season, Garnett was known for sprinting the sands along the Malibu Coastline at 4am. When he saw Beyonce in concert, he noticed her singing and dancing throughout, but took away that she was never gassed.
Wanting to be better as a team-mate and a communicator, he began singing while he was running too – trying to ensure that in the dog days of the playoffs, he would still be able to communicate to his team-mates (or, as KG was wont to do from time-to-time, talk trash to opponents) without losing a step, or a breath.
Footwork drills that Garnett passed along to Karl-Anthony Towns upon his return to the Timberwolves involved him carefully laying out pairs of shoes, angled to mimic where a defender would be facing, as KG bellowed at his protégé to “Attack the feet”.
Garnett paid his sweat tax, grinding in any way he thought could add that extra 1% in the unseen hours.
Hold Yourself Accountable First…
Never mind the opponents he beasted, the list of team-mates to receive the wrath of KG is unreal. He made Big Baby cry in a game. Cussed-out Rondo, Pierce and Allen over defensive effort and beasted Patrick O’Bryant so badly, the team had to trade him!
But Garnett could go to those lengths because of his insane work ethic, and I want to share two of my favourite stories about that…
In July of Towns’ rookie season, Garnett showed up in Las Vegas to watch the youngsters in the summer league, and agreed to an informal workout with Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng – three younger team-mates who were also not on the summer league roster.
The players booked the gym at Muhammad’s alma mater, Bishop Gorman High. As the trio walked in at 8am, they found Garnett was already there, ‘drenched in sweat, muttering to the basketball, bobbing and weaving like a championship fighter’. Timberwolves owner, Glen Taylor, said he had been there since 6am. Garnett took the opportunity to scold his young team-mates with one simple question…
“I thought y’all wanted to be good?”
That Garnett could be this kind of role model (in spite of his big contract, balky knees and advancing years) is exactly why his return warranted this kind of attention in Minnesota:
Back in Boston, in February 2009, Doc Rivers wanted to keep Garnett fresh.
“Kevin had this belief that if you were the leader, you couldn’t miss one snap of practice. But I had this belief that you are 30-whatever and I need you for the whole season.”
The pair talked, but Garnett wasn’t happy, telling his coach that he didn’t understand, adding “If I’m sitting, they will see weakness.”
Rivers put his foot down, and relegated Garnett to the sideline, where Garnett was pacing, muttering, growling and cursing. Before long, KG had decided he would still get his work in…
On the adjacent court, Garnett tracked the movements of the man subbed in for him, Leon Powe. If Powe was in stance, guarding the ball, so too was Garnett – in the same spot, one court over. As Leon corralled a rebound, Garnett grabbed the same (imaginary) loose ball, one court over.
Despite Garnett’s respect for Rivers, he ignored his pleas to stop – with Doc eventually canning the entire practice, recognising that the only way he could get Garnett to take time off, was to give the team time off – and even then, Garnett was pounding his chest motioning to his team-mates to come back to the floor and go to work.
Garnett could absolutely be a hard-ass on his team-mates… but everyone saw he pushed himself so much harder than anybody else. Being a great team-mate starts with holding yourself accountable to higher standards, before considering pointing the finger at somebody else.
Be Authentically You…
If I had to describe Garnett in one word, it would be “intense”.
The man’s pre-game routine involved head-butting the stanchion. I saw him dive through traffic for a loose ball in a pre-season game, get down on all fours and bark at Jerryd Bayless, verbally assault hundreds of players and watched the team intro’s with the Celtics end with his primal scream for years.
Was all of this “nice”? No. Absolutely not, in fact, a lot of it was barely defensible (even through the most green-tinted of glasses)… but it was KG, nothing was fake in his demeanour or his will to win.
In terms of his game, again, he was himself. He wasn’t someone who went out and played “hero ball”, jacking up shots when he was double-teamed late in the game. He was the guy that moved the ball on to the open man and got ready to crash the glass.
As a wiry younger player, his handles and range meant he played more at the three spot, before slowly making his way to centre as father time worked him over, and the game changed. He did what he did well, as often as possible.
KG was a player who always tried to do the best for his team, and did his best to fit in with them to help everyone to be successful – but he never tried to be anyone but himself, and that’s another lesson I think everyone can take from him.
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