The fury in Kevin Garnett’s on-court demeanor is legendary; it has followed him all the way from Mauldin, S.C., to Chicago, to Minneapolis, to Boston, and will take him to Springfield. It’s that fury that has motivated teammates and angered opponents, and it became a story line yet again when Garnett got into an on-court confrontation with the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony that Anthony tried to carry onto the Celtics’ team bus.
Anthony had to be separated from Garnett as the Celtics were boarding the bus to the airport following their 102-96 win last Monday in New York. He was another victim of Garnett’s brilliant mind manipulation. Anthony’s concentration was unnerved by Garnett’s words.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers denied rumors that Garnett said something about Anthony’s wife, former MTV VJ La La Anthony, and Garnett will never reveal his secrets.
Off the court, there is no more mysterious or private man than Garnett. What occurs on the court, he keeps on the court. To opponents, he is a despised, unrelenting nuisance, using his full arsenal of mental tactics against even the most vulnerable of subjects. To teammates, he is a fiercely loyal, passionate partner, willing to sacrifice his own personal success to help those on his side.
“I care about everybody on this team,” said Garnett. “Obviously, I care about their well-being. Performance-wise, if I can ever help someone with things that come with this game, off the court, anything that I’ve experienced, then I’ll share that.
“I try to give myself to the team as much as I can. If you want to label that a mentor or big brother, then yeah, that’s me.”
There have been occasions when Garnett was working with younger players such as Jared Sullinger or Ryan Hollins and became irritated when cameramen attempted to record the session. Garnett constantly holds court as the players watch game video and speaks through every part of the breakdowns.
Of course, his words are drastically different on the court. Four-letter words often fill the air. He curses to motivate himself, to chastise himself, and to encourage teammates. There is such a stark contrast between the on-floor Garnett and the one who wishes media members happy holidays after interviews.
“Ever since I moved from the South to the North [as a 17-year-old], Northern people are a lot more aggressive than Southern people,” said Garnett about his move from South Carolina to Chicago as a high school senior. “One of the lessons I learned living in Chicago is no one’s going to give you anything and you have to take it. I’ve carried that mentality into the league with me. Sam Mitchell helped kind of massage that mentality: stand your ground, this a man’s league.”
Mitchell was Garnett’s first and most influential mentor, a 32-year-old veteran when Garnett joined the Timberwolves at age 19. They played seven seasons together before Mitchell retired at age 39 and eventually went on to coach the Raptors.
Asked if he is the Sam Mitchell to Jared Sullinger, Garnett said, “I’m more like a — yeah, never mind. I was going to say something but I won’t.
“When I came into the league, I was trying to prove something to myself and everybody who doubted me, and to this day I think I am still driven by those same things. I’ve never been short of encouragement. I’ve never been short of inspiration and things that’s going to get me going. I’ve always found an edge and been able to keep it.”
Mitchell concurred with Garnett, saying that he has never gotten over the doubt surrounding his entry to the NBA out of high school, that he is still trying to prove worthy of that selection — 18 years later.
“Kevin has always taken the attitude that he’s not good enough,” said Mitchell. “The great players feel that way. After 18 years playing in the NBA, why does he play so hard? Not the money. It’s the love of it and the fact that he’s still proving to himself that he deserves to be in this league and he has to go out and earn it and prove it every night.
“I think that’s what separates him from a lot of people. He still doesn’t feel he’s quite good enough.”
Mitchell credited Garnett with helping to extend his own career by being such an intense and passionate practice player.
“He gives me a lot of credit for things that he’s learned, and I helped him, yeah, but Kevin helped me also,” Mitchell said. “The reason I played until I was 39 years old was because of Kevin Garnett, because I had to be ready to practice against him every day.
“I spent my summers getting in shape, getting ready for him. I was worried about nobody else. He made me a better player and I hope I in turn did the same with him.”
Mitchell is still close to Garnett and was bothered by the rumors about Garnett’s remarks to Anthony.
“I don’t care what anybody says, there’s not a finer human being than I ever met in my life than Kevin Garnett,” said Mitchell. “There’s not a more gentle man or a teammate or a person than Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett does things for people that they don’t even know he did for them.
“He’s a giving person to a fault, and I don’t care what anybody says, unless he tells me in his own words, I’ll never believe he disrespected or said anything to anyone that would cross the line. I just don’t believe it. Unless he tells me himself, and he’s not a liar.
“Kevin’s not a trash-talker. Most of the time he’s talking, he’s talking to himself. I played with Kevin for [seven] years, I never heard him talk trash like that.
“Now, Larry Bird, he used to talk trash.”
Mitchell said that, because of his reputation, Garnett doesn’t receive the respect he deserves.
“Kevin Garnett is one of the greatest basketball players who ever played, and it bothers me that people try to use negative words about him,” Mitchell said. “What has he done to garner a reputation that he’s a bad guy? Because he played hard? Because he’s talking on defense? Because he’s on his teammates? Because he’s loyal to a fault?
“Because he wouldn’t shake a guy’s hand [Ray Allen’s] because they came there together to finish their career out and one guy left? He took it personal. That’s what kind of guy he is — he takes it personal. Does that make him a bad guy. No.”
Gary Washburn/Boston Globe