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As KG spends All-Star weekend as the only Celtic in Houston, you can’t help but wonder what kind of “discussions” go on in the East’s locker room. But despite having many run-ins with the likes of Noah and ‘Melo, it’s clear that Garnett still has the respect of his peers:
Mark Murphy- KG’s Ornery Style Wins Respect If Not Friends
They come from all parts of the country, even the world, and as young big men good enough to play in the NBA, they’ve shared a truly strange experience. Almost to a man, they have been cussed out, elbowed and glared at by their idol, Kevin Garnett. Chicago’s Joakim Noah, once called a “nobody” by Garnett, learned some irritating lessons from his childhood hero about how to dish back ornery behavior.
Last Wednesday both players had a good 3 feet on either side as they crossed the lane during a timeout at the Garden, but neither even considered stepping wide. They bumped shoulders, and Garnett immediately threw up his right hand in an abrupt, dismissive gesture. Noah responded by throwing both of his hands in the air, eyes trained on the nearest official, and only then did each player step away.
Asked before the game if he had grown up with a Garnett poster, Noah giggled.
“I did have a poster, and a jersey,” he said. “Not Boston, though. Minnesota.”
Even the man who KG dubbed a “clown” was inspired by him, and knows that Ticket’s on court antics are as big a part of his game as his post moves & mid-range jumper:
“I know KG came in at a very young age. He inspired me with his play,” said Dwight Howard, one of the many for whom Garnett facilitated the jump from high school to the NBA. “That’s one of the reasons why I picked No. 12. I wanted to reverse No. 21.”
No. 21 was Garnett’s old Timberwolves number.
Howard has been accused of being too nice, even happy-go-lucky. He admittedly needed time to understand this human maelstrom known as KG.
“It makes you mad before the game because he’s always talking, and you take it kind of personal sometimes,” the Lakers center said. “But you eventually understand that he’s really doing it to get himself going, and to get you out of your game. At first I didn’t understand that, but now I see it.”
Things today are a lot different then they were when KG entered the league in the mid 90’s. Today, you see guys on opposing teams, even rivals, hanging out in public. Or spending “quality time” catching up, hugging etc. pregame. But as former Celtic Gary Payton mentions, that is not how it always was:
“I played that way,” said the former Celtics guard, who has been nominated for Hall of Fame induction this year. “The other team is the other team. They’re not your friends. So when Kevin plays the way he plays, it’s because of how he learned to play.
“What the guys today don’t understand is that’s the way the league was when Kevin came in. That’s what he came up in.”
And Garnett doesn’t seem to understand what the problem is. Told about the poster that used to hang on Noah’s bedroom wall, Garnett said, “You telling me that now is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Told that Hornets rookie Anthony Davis grew up idolizing him, Garnett seemed truly at a loss.
“When you’re on the court competing, you don’t take that in,” Garnett said. “I don’t know how many of these guys watched me when I was younger, I don’t know how many of these guys were what you would call fans.
“When I step on the floor it’s me against him — nothing personal, we’re just competing. I never socialized with a lot of these guys because, one, I don’t see them, and two, it’s never arranged. But I’m not so high on myself that I can’t speak or congratulate another guy. I have personal friends in this league. But when I compete it’s competing. I’m not out there trying to get you to like me, I’m not out there trying to be likable, and neither are they. Somewhere it gets lost in translation.”
Perhaps the disconnect can be blamed on the difference in eras. Now that AAU has shrunk the basketball universe for young players, the best know each other as well as their high school teammates.
“Maybe,” Garnett said. “A lot of these guys are friends coming in here. They know each other now, and maybe that has changed. I didn’t come in with a lot of my friends. I didn’t enter the league with a lot of peers. When I did interact with (other players) it was on the court, competing. It’s not a level to where you’re socializing, hanging out a lot. You’re preparing to do battle out there.”
Asked if he respected Noah, Garnett nodded and said, “Absolutely. I respect every player in the league. I never disrespect any player, his craft, how he got here, his journey. I respect every player in this league.”
When KG came to the Celtics in 2007, it gave former Celtic Kendrick Perkins a chance to learn from one of the all-time greats. And of course it became much more than that. They built a strong bond that will never be broken.
Kendrick Perkins, who still refers to Garnett as The Ticket, grew up in Beaumont, Texas, developing a healthy case of hero worship for his future teammate. They bumped heads when Garnett was still in Minnesota, and Perkins was a young Celtics center attempting to stake his ground in the league.
But from the 2007-08 season on, the two men bonded like brothers. Perkins proudly became Garnett’s bodyguard on the floor.
“What I’ll say is that if Kevin is your teammate, you love him,” said former Celtics guard Sam Cassell, who remains one of Garnett’s closest friends. “If you’re on the other team, it’s something else. But you have to think about when Kevin came into the league. It was a man’s game then. The other team wasn’t your friend. You didn’t talk to the other team. It was a man’s league. The players today don’t understand that.”
But in his uniquely rude, irascible style, Garnett is teaching them through disdain.
Nothing personal, you understand. It took a while, but Noah thinks he finally does.
“A lot of people talk about all of the extra things he does, but I know that all he cares about is winning,” Noah said. “I respect that, even though he’s done some (expletive) sometimes. But at the same time, what I like is that he’s not trying to be friends with anyone who’s not his teammate. As I get older I respect it more.”
Noah has reached that level that Faried already seems to occupy. He likes the invitation to battle.
“KG was my favorite player growing up,” Noah said. “Just competing against him is a game that’s always easy for me to get up for, because I’m competing against somebody I admired. I learned a lot about competing, just competing against him.
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