It’s been over a week since I came to the conclusion that Kevin Garnett would retire after this season. I was convinced of it immediately after watching KG answer a question from ESPN’s Doris Burke after the Celtics beat the Miami Heat in game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Burke asked KG what fuels him after 17 years in the league. KG said “competition”, then looked in the camera and defiantly answered his critics. He spoke to those who say he’s a dirty player (Hawks owner Michael Gearon, Jr.), and those who claim he’s too old to be great. Garnett boldly told a national television audience that it’s the naysayers who fuel him to be the best. But I also saw a man who was nearing the end of the line, both physically and mentally. A man genuinely hurt by the constant doubting of his skills from owners, fans, columnists, and talk show hosts. A proud warrior who was sick of having to prove himself after winning an NBA title, league MVP, multiple All-Defensive team selections, and numerous All-Star appearances. I witnessed a man who was worn down but determined to use every ounce of energy he had left for one last championship push. I was convinced this was KG’s last year in professional basketball.
But 11 days after that epiphany, I’m not sure anymore. I went back and watched that Game 5 interview, and was struck by how wrong my initial reaction was. What I thought was a man who looked old and just a stones throw away from retirement was instead a confident, spry baller whose competitive pilot light was still burning bright. Sure, KG was sick of his critics, but he appeared ready to enlist for another tour of duty in the NBA.
My initial analysis of the KG-Burke interview was so far off the mark that I did some soul searching. I don’t like to admit it, but I was guilty of age discrimination. All season long I assumed because of KG’s advanced basketball age that his lift would go, he would tear his Achilles tendon, or he would suck wind while his younger opponent flew down the court for easy dunks. Boy was I wrong, especially after Doc moved him to the five spot.
Garnett has the skills and the passion to succeed as an NBA player next season. I on the other hand never had an iota of KG’s skills. I thought I had his passion in high school, but after watching him play, I wasn’t in the same universe. My unremarkable career in organized basketball abruptly ended after high school. Sure there was pickup basketball, but it never could replace the feeling of putting on that high school uniform and playing in front of a crowd.
Pickup hoops eventually became a chore. My body ached. I couldn’t run and jump the way I once did. I tore ligaments after someone stepped on my foot while filling the lane on a fast break, and soon decided pickup hoops wasn’t worth it anymore. My priorities and interests changed. My job and family responsibilities left little time for hoops. I decided that I would rather watch my daughter’s figure skating class than lace up the sneakers and be reminded of the things I can’t do anymore on a basketball court. In short, I grew up and moved on. Basketball became a spectator sport.
Maybe KG isn’t ready to move on. Just because an old guy like me doesn’t play hoops anymore doesn’t mean the Big Ticket is ready to call it quits. I’m glad I watched the Doris Burke interview again, because it reminded me that my experiences and choices are my own. My assumptions about what K.G. is capable of doing at the age of thirty-six have nothing to do with reality. It’s wrong to assume an outcome for someone else based on how my mediocre basketball life evolved. Thanks KG for showing me the light. Whether you come back to the Celtics, team up with Tim Duncan in San Antonio, join a Tinseltown team, or retire, I look forward to your decision.