HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — None of this was guaranteed.
Not one second of the past 17 seasons was a lock for Kevin Garnett.
Maybe that’s why he’s always played with that unrelenting fury, that snarl on his face and that chip the size of a boulder on both shoulders.
It all makes sense when you trace Garnett’s steps from his hometown in South Carolina to his stint at Chicago’s Farragut Academy alongside Windy City hoops legend Ronnie Fields and then into superstardom in the NBA.
The Hall of Fame beckons. But no one was sure how the experiment that was KG would work out when he bucked the system as a high school senior and became the first prep star in two decades to forego his college eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft.
Being just a couple of years older than Garnett myself, I remember thinking he must have been an absolute lunatic for thinking he could do something like that. Deep down, I was rooting for him to succeed. And not so see him start a movement, which came in the wake of his decision, but because he played with the sort of heart and unbridled passion that those of us who love the game unconditionally have always admired and respected.
That’s why this morning marks a strange mood here at the hideout. The prospect of Garnett retiring — he’s a free agent at midnight, but Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Celtics and Garnett have agreed to a three-year, $34 million extension), gave us pause.
If this was indeed the end of the road for KG, if he was done playing the game the way only he can, it would have been the end of an era. Sure, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard and all of the others high school stars who followed Garnett’s lead directly into the NBA will go on, some longer than others.
But KG is the OG of the movement, the trendsetter and the man whose courage when was still just a teenager, changed the game. It wouldn’t have been easy watching him walk away from the game right now. His high school buddy Fields serves as a constant reminder of the thin line between KG becoming a legendary figure in the game instead of a sad footnote in the history of the game.
There was a definitive shock to the system when Garnett burst onto the NBA scene. Purists swore his skinny frame and raw game wouldn’t last, that he’d be lucky to survive his first season. So for him to go on to define his for his era and beyond, along with Tim Duncan, of course, is rather remarkable.
His tireless work ethic and outright refusal to fail served as inspiration for many of the high schoolers who followed in his footsteps. They’ve talked about it for years in locker rooms around the league. You only wish it had done the same for more of them.
Watching Garnett finish this season with the Celtics convinced me that retirement shouldn’t even be an option. He still has the chops to play at an extremely high level. He’s still a factor in this league, should he choose to crank it back up for another year.
But I’m sure Garnett took a look at this most recent Draft class, saw kids half his age walk across that stage and shake hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern the same way he did all those years ago, and felt the footsteps of Father Time closing in on him. He knows that this is a young man’s game, that every player, including the all-time greats, have an expiration date.
If he’d made the call to hang it up today, how can you, Celtics’ boss Danny Ainge, coach Doc Rivers, the city of Boston or anyone else on the planet do anything but respect his decision and applaud him for a job well done?
None of this was guaranteed anyway, not one second of the past 17 seasons was a lock for Garnett. And yet he’s given every ounce of his energy to the game for 17 seasons.
It’s good that we haven’t seen the last of him in a NBA uniform, a Celtics uniform.
But make no mistake, when he does decide to hang it up, he’s earned the right to go out on his own terms!