A good way to summarize a hall of fame career like Kevin Garnett had is through moments caught through the camera, and saved forever. From his days playing high school in Chicago, to his rookie year and relative success on the Minnesota Timberwolves. To the highs and lows with the Boston Celtics, until the inevitable decline on the Brooklyn Nets, and emotional return to the team it all started with.
The story and career timeline is mostly demonstrated through photos, but we had to put in a few words for the sake of context.
Kevin Garnett at Farragut Academy in Chicago
Not many people remember this, but Garnett played in South Carolina for the first three years of high school (Mauldin. He was born in Greenville). However, during the summer before his senior year of high school, Garnett was in the general vicinity of a fight between black and white students. Although not directly involved, Garnett was one of three students arrested for second-degree lynching, a charge that was expunged through a pre-trial intervention. Due to the racially charged incident and fearful of being a target, Garnett decided to leave Mauldin High and transferred to Farragut Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois, for his senior year of high school. Garnett was named National High School Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball of Illinois in 1995, also going to the McDonald’s All-American game, and winning the MOP Award.
At Draft Night
The 5th overall pick in the 1995 draft, Garnett became the first player in 20 years to get selected straight out of high school, excluding ABA players like Moses Malone. Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace were taken ahead of him. Safe to say the Timberwolves got the best player, and in hindsight, the most accomplished player of that draft class.
Rookie year in Minnesota
The Timberwolves were 26-56 in Garnett’s rookie season. He wasn’t too much of an impact on the team, averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, starting in 43 of 80 games. Isaiah Rider, Christian Laettner and Tom Gugliotta were the top scorers on that team, with Sam Mitchell, recently fired head coach of the Timberwolves, averaging 10.8 points per game.
Point guards of Garnett
From 1997 to 2004, the Timberwolves made the playoffs each season. That was a first for the franchise, and it came with the rise of Garnett to superstar level. His pairing with Stephon Marbury helped market the Timberwolves as cool, upcoming team. His tandem with Terrell Brandon was just as effective. Troy Hudson is the one everyone forgets. With Sam Cassell he had his & the Timberwolves best season, all going down from there.
2004: MVP & Playoff Success
In the 2003-2004 season, the Timberwolves finished with 58 wins. Garnett, playing next to Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and not a lot more, averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5 assists per game, winning the regular season MVP. Finally, he won a playoff series, when he was in his ninth NBA season, already an established superstar. He won two of them, leading to the iconic photo dancing on the scorer’s table. But the Lakers in 2004, the end of the Shaq-Bryant era, were too much in the conference finals. The Timberwolves lost in six games, as the Lakers were allowed to beat him up throughout the series, enjoying the referees ignoring most of it. That was the last time that Minnesota made the playoffs, and Garnett left them in 2007, traded to the Boston Celtics.
Garnett in Boston: Champion, Defensive Player of the Year, Another Final, Decline
There are two parts to Kevin Garnett’s story in Boston. First, the first three seasons, including the 2008 championship and Garnett winning the DPOY, the 2010 finals and a 7-game loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, and beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers twice in the playoffs. And then there’s the second half, that includes knee and back injuries, and simply declining with age, including two playoff losses to LeBron & the Heat, with a historic performance by James in game 6 of the Eastern conference finals, after the Celtics were already 3-2 in the lead. In 2013, after the Celtics lost in the first round of the playoffs, Garnett was traded along with Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Brooklyn Nets Season
The Brooklyn Nets tried to win, and fast. So, they mortgaged their future to try and squeeze what’s left out of Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and others. The result? The Nets kept beating the Miami Heat in the regular season, but in the playoffs, with less rest and the long season taking its toll on their bodies, the Nets crumbled in five games. Garnett averaged just 6.5 points in just over 20 minutes per game that season, no more than a role player and locker room leader at that point.
Return & Finale in Minnesota
In February 2015, Garnett was traded to the Timberwolves, making an emotional return to a team in desperate need of leadership and a connection to a more successful past. He was supposed to be an extension Flip Saunders on the court, but Saunders passed away, and Garnett didn’t really have much left in him. He signed a two year deal in the summer of 2015, but he and everyone else knew that year 2 was something of a reach. After playing only 38 games last season and averaging 3.2 points per game, either the Timberwolves persuaded him to retire, or he decided that his body couldn’t take it anymore, and pulled down the curtains on a hall of fame career.