LOS ANGELES – There was an elephant in the room Friday during the NBA All-Stars’ media availability session. And Kevin Garnett punched it in the groin.
That is to say, Garnett took exception to and shot down criticism of his tactics and his sportsmanship that has flared up in recent weeks. Long known to play an edgier, more intense and even manic game than many NBA stars – physically and verbally jousting with opponents, up to and beyond the limits of good taste and form – the Boston Celtics’ power forward has been lambasted lately for going too far.
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said he lost respect for Garnett after he appeared to hit Suns forward Channing Frye in the groin, while simultaneously sticking a foot under Frye as the Suns player came down from a jump shot. Frye didn’t much care for the maneuvers either. Filmmaker and devoted Knicks fan Spike Lee got upset when Garnett allegedly cursed him out at Madison Square Garden.
There was Garnett’s trash-talk-gone-Twitter comment to Detroit’s Charlie Villanueva earlier this season in which the Celtic either called Villanueva a “cancer patient” or simply a cancer to his team. And Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who admired Garnett as a pioneer of the preps-to-pros path that Howard also took, said he no longer looks up to the veteran player.
“Look here, I don’t play for the Phoenix Suns,” Garnett said Friday during the interview session on All-Star Weekend’s first day. “I could care less what Spike or whoever else has to say about me. As long as Doc Rivers and my organization is happy with what I’m doing, I could care less.”
Run-ins with opponents (Joel Przybilla, Antonio McDyess, Zaza Pachulia, Jose Calderon, Francisco Elson) and even teammates (Wally Szczerbiak, Rick Rickert) have piled up, tarnishing Garnett’s legacy for some fans. After Garnett elbowed Miami’s Quentin Richardson last April, Chicago center Joakim Noah called him a “dirty” player. That word came up again Friday.
“I’m far from dirty. ‘Dirty’ is like ‘hate’ – don’t use that word,” Garnett said. “I’m competitive and I play hard. But don’t call me ‘dirty.’ Just like, if you dislike me, dislike me but ‘hate’ is a very strong word.”
Garnett, a future Hall of Famer and a player praised by his various coaches for his intensity, didn’t sound in any hurry to change his approach, though he did acknowledge softening it for “friendly” events such as the All-Star Game.
Nor should he change, said longtime nemesis Tim Duncan.
“That’s part of his game. He tries to get under your skin,” the San Antonio Spurs star said. “He tries to get into your head. He tries to talk to you, whatever it takes. He’s a competitor. I don’t think he’s blatantly dirty. I don’t think he’s out there to hurt anyone. But it’s kind of part of his tactics.”
Said Garnett: “f I’m playing against you, I’m not trying to be your friend. I’m out here to win. I’m just competitive. I go about at this a certain way. Always have, always will. I don’t make any excuses about that or apologize for anything I’ve done. I carry myself in a well-fashioned manner. I respect the game first-off, respect the players that are in it.
“And I’m definitely not trying to hurt anybody – I don’t want to be hurt. I’m just out there playing hard and playing competitive. If that comes off as something else, then that’s your problem.”