Few would argue that Kevin Garnett is the best player of all-time, or even in the top 20. He’s not the best player in his position (power forward), didn’t revolutionize the center position when he moved to it. Despite his MVP award, he might never have been the best player in the NBA at one particular moment in time. But after 21 NBA seasons, including one championship with the Boston Celtics, it’s safe to say Garnett is one of the more influential players, especially in the last 20 years.
Garnett, along with Duncan, Iverson, Bryant and O’Neal, provided the link between the NBA of Michael Jordan and the NBA of LeBron James, also coming to an end very soon. The NBA suffered a big hit to its ratings, especially in the finals, after Jordan left. It reminds me of the PPV hole in fights after Mike Tyson became irrelevant, until Floyd Mayweather reached a certain level of excellence and drawing hatred that made him king of the PPV in boxing.
James finals once he joined the Miami Heat turned into a must-watch spectacle. Against small markets like the Thunder and Spurs? It didn’t matter. Seeing LeBron play for the title, whether rooting for him or against him, helped market the NBA. He’s been in the finals for six consecutive seasons, with the Heat and the Cavaliers. The Warriors have certainly come in to these series with their own level of attractiveness, but the rivalry with James is what made the series great.
But back to Garnett, who spent the first 12 seasons of his NBA career trying to establish a legacy in Minneapolis. From 1997 (his second season in the league) through 2004, the Timberwolves made the playoffs each season. They didn’t make it once before Garnett, and not once since they peaked in 2004, making the conference finals. Garnett won the MVP that season. He’s miss the playoffs with Minnesota the next three years.
This leads up to another huge way Garnett helped change the NBA: He made the Boston Celtics relevant again, leading them to their first NBA title since 1986 in 2008, and the finals again in 2010. His arrival via trade gave the Celtics their big three. This wasn’t the first time stars joined others, but it created a Big Three trend many teams have tried to emulate, some more successful than others. And the link to LeBron? Boston beating James in the playoffs while he was in Cleveland pushed him into the arms of Dwyane Wade in Miami, and put an end to the Celtics dominance in the East.
The final way Garnett influenced the NBA goes back to the 1997-1998 season, when the Timberwolves gave him a six-year, $126 million contract. Basically, more than what the franchise was worth at the time. Garnett didn’t flop or anything, but many feel that this contract led to the 1999 lockout, and coincidentally, in that shortened season Garnett broke out as a superstar in this league.
You can find other ways Garnett was unique, being something of a playmaker from the ‘4’ role. Teams constantly look for game-changes like that, and although he wasn’t the first to do more than score and rebound from the power forward position, he was certainly one of the few who could influence the game in more than the traditional power-forward skillset. He’s the only player in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks, and the only player with a 20-10-5 (points, rebounds, assists) average for six consecutive seasons.