The Boston Celtics season ended with much less fanfare than the fans of Celtic Nation had hoped. As the big three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett watched helplessly as the NBA’s newest trio in Miami of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh disposed of the Celtics in five games, the team faced the uncertain future that befalls many aging teams. For this franchise that had gone 22 years between NBA titles 16 and 17 witnessed another shot at Banner 18 come up short. For this season the title run may be their last for this team and the franchise for some time.
The Celtics were persona-non-grata amongst the NBA elite for years prior to the summer of 2007 when team President Danny Ainge orchestrated a series of moves that reshaped the team and the NBA for the past 4 years. Arriving in Boston was Ray Allen and 14-time NBA All-Star, Kevin Garnett; “The Big Ticket”.
The nickname that Garnett was tagged with in Minnesota has been a source of frustration for the perennial all-star for it referenced not only his great all-around game but also his staggering contract signed with Minnesota years ago. A player like Garnett is a rare, once in a generation type; a player with his size and possess the all-around skills; who puts team and defense first. Garnett’s intensity and passion for the game holds few equals in the modern NBA, where players are known to play for statistics and not for wins.
Where offense sells tickets and defense wins titles, Kevin Garnett single-handedly transformed the Boston Celtics overnight, from an individual collection of role players and an all-star cornerstone to a defensive minded team with one thing on their collective minds: winning an NBA championship.
The Boston Celtics surprised the NBA world at the ease that these three key players were able to adjust their games and sacrifice for the common good. Few predicted that the 2007-08 Celtics would win a title in their first year and that most felt that a quick assembly of players would take time to mesh as a unit. But this is not a normal group of players and the final piece to the puzzle (Garnett) is not a typical superstar player.
Garnett’s desire to impose his will on this team from a defensive standpoint and his lacking need to score at will was the essential piece which made “Umbutu” actually mean something. The word which means “stresses collective success over individual achievement” actually was the perfect expression for the new Celtic-era Big 3. With Garnett anchoring the defense barking our orders, the rest of the team followed suit and played defense as they have never done before. Teammates Ray Allen and Paul Pierce now possessed defensive intensity for the first times in their careers because they knew they had each other and that they could feed off the example set by Garnett.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, the following season resulted in disappointment as Garnett would suffer a season-ending injury in a February game in Utah . While media speculated as to when Garnett would return and confusion over why he could not, Garnett quietly stayed in the background, struggling with the inability to play and help the Celtics repeat as champions.
In 2010, the Celtics saw the return of Garnett, but it wasn’t until the playoffs that the Boston faithful would see the true Kevin Garnett resurface; helping lead the Celtics to within one win of Banner 18. For the Celtics, the dream of another title would have to wait another season as the Celtics feel to the Lakers in seven games.
The number of NBA championships in Boston is the measurement of greatness. For the Celtic Big 3, winning one title will pale in comparison to their Celtic predecessors. Despite winning one title Garnett, Pierce and Allen will all end up in Springfield 5 years after their retirements for enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Unlike today’s NBA players who attempt to orchestrate their exit from one team to a personally selected new franchise, Garnett’s exit from Minnesota was not of his doing. He never asked for a trade. In fact, Garnett stated at the time of his trade that he was conflicted in leaving Minnesota , a team and a fan base that embraced him. He wanted to win a championship for the Timberwolves but it was not meant to be.
Despite his 2008 championship, for Kevin Garnett his greatest accomplishment may be his MVP season of 2004 where he single-handedly led a lesser talented Minnesota team to the 6th game of the Western Conference finals before bowing out the Los Angeles Lakers.
Celtic fans remain hopeful that the team will find a way to recover and regroup from this season’s disappointing result. With an off-season of labor unrest and the possibility of the season being delayed and shortened (if not canceled altogether), the potential exists that Garnett may decide to retire and never wear an NBA uniform again. If this possibility becomes a reality, few could argue that they have witnessed one of the most intense, driven superstars of all-time.
Looking at the contributions that Garnett made to the game, below are his career numbers for the key statistical categories and how he ranks among the over 4,000 people to ever play in the NBA.
Kevin Garnett’s All-time Statistics (All-time NBA rank)
Games Played: 1,195 (27th)
Minutes Played: 43,915 (15th)
Field Goals Made: 9,338 (21st)
Free Throws Made: 4.479 (44th)
Points: 23,323 (20th)
Total Rebounds: 12,819 (17th)
Assists: 4,890 (55th)
Steals: 1,608 (26th)
Blocks: 1,847 (23rd)
MVP: 1 (2004)
NBA Titles: 1 (2007)
Note that a few of the statistical categories which Garnett ranks high are not commonly associated with 7-footers. For example, for power forwards or centers only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rank higher in career assists and Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Charles Barkley rank higher in career steals.
Kevin Garnett possesses a rare combination of power and skill that rates him among the game’s elite all-time stars. He never wanted to be viewed as a “7-footer” because of the limited visual that is attached to the “big man” label. His versatility, fire and passion make him a rare type of player in today’s NBA. Garnett may be a star whose shine may be dimming somewhat, but he will continue to shine long after his playing days are over.