by Lang Whitaker

The truth is, Kevin Garnett didn’t really want to be on this cover of SLAM.

Around the SLAM Dome, we’d been talking about a KG cover for well over a year, kicking around the timing and how we could fit KG in. Because as transcendent a player as he’s been, his story hadn’t really changed the last few years: Great player, terrible situation, again and again and again. And to his credit, KG basically bit his lip for the last decade, never really putting the T-Wolves on blast for surrounding him with sub-par players year after year, and never really giving us a story to write about. Our only hope was that he’d be traded. Because then, finally, we’d have a fresh angle to take.

So back in June, when KG trade rumors started circulating like a Sunday paper, all of us at SLAM had a little extra pep in our step. When the trade actually happened, we made the call a few days later. Hey Kevin, want to be on the cover of our NBA Preview issue?

And the answer came back: Thanks, but no thanks. Nothing personal, he stressed, just…not right now.

Why not? Well, it took some digging, but essentially it came down to this: Kevin was new in town, and he didn’t want to steal the spotlight. It wasn’t his team, it was a t-e-a-m, and he didn’t want to come in and set a weird precedent. So, thanks but no thanks.

Another call was made. We understood where he was coming from, and we like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but at the same time, Kevin Garnett is SLAM. He was the first young ‘un of the SLAM era to go straight from high school to the pros, and his rise to prominence in the NBA has neatly mirrored our rise in the basketball journalism game. Counting KICKS issues, he’s been on our cover six times. We didn’t want to do a KG in Boston cover because it would sell or because KG was overdue, we wanted him on the cover because we were excited to see him in some new clothes.

He chewed on it, understood where we were coming from, and agreed.

For whatever reason, the one time I sat and really talked to Kevin, he opened up and said a lot of things he’d never publicly said before, so I got the nod to try and get him to say something interesting again. I dunno, I think he likes my eyes.

Anyway, it was the day after my birthday, the second week of September, when we were told to be ready for Kevin. The SLAM crew arrived at the Celtics practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, to find about five other camera crews already set up. It was sort of an impromptu media day for Boston’s Big Three, as written about here.

KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce each put on their green uniforms and then went shoot-to-shoot, from SI to NBA Photos to the Boston Globe magazine, posing as a trio. When they finally finished up, Ray left and Pierce left, and as all the other camera crews broke down their sets, Kevin came over for his SLAM shoot.

We’d been snapping photos for almost two hours, and KG’s wife and his people were wrapping things up and getting ready to leave. We just had one more set-up we wanted to shoot, of KG standing in the practice gym with all the Boston championship hanging banners behind him. He spent most of that time alternately singing along to the new Kanye album and jokingly complaining about how long everything was taking, though every time we came up with some new pose or idea, he was totally into it. We went from the green backdrop to white background to an area outdoors and then into the gym, and while SLAM photog Atiba Jefferson moved a few lights and checked angles, I asked Kevin if we could chat for a minute. He led me over to one of the benches, up against a wall at halfcourt.

I hit record, and KG started unloading. He wasn’t being vindictive, but he was being honest. I’d ask, he’d answer. Some of the things I asked him weren’t the most comfortable things to come from my mouth — you try asking someone if the reason his team was bad all those years was because he was making too much money — but these were things I was curious to know about. And Kevin answered everything I asked.

(How long did this thing go? Well, remember how I mentioned that it was the day after my birthday? My parents had flown to New York to hang out for a few days and be around for my b-day. When this KG thing came up, I had to cancel our plans to hang out that day, but told them I hoped to make it back in time for dinner. So I ended up flying to Boston early that morning, taking the subway from the airport to downtown Boston, taking a rental car with our photo editor Monique out to Waltham, staying there so long for the interview that I completely missed my flight home, making plans to take Amtrak back and then hitching an impromptu ride from Waltham to NYC with my man Ned from NBA Photos, who just happened to be driving a rental van full of equipment back to New York, leaving just as I finished with Kevin. We made record time from Boston to NYC and I was able to have dinner with the parents. Long day, though.)

Here’s a few excerpts from the interview I did with KG that afternoon. There’s much, much, much more with Kevin in the new issue of SLAM, including a lot more about his future in Boston, on newsstands everywhere this week.

SLAM: How did you know it was over in Minnesota?

KG: (T-Wolves owner) Glen Taylor just basically told me that he was going in another direction. Out of all this, man, that was the hardest part. Just like I was telling my friends and my people, the hardest thing in anything is when you put your heart and soul into something and you walk a straight line and you try to do things the right way, and you stay professional and you stay positive, even through thick times. And then someone tells you, “You know what? I’m not feeling this no more.” He let me know that he lost a lot of money last year, and he let me know that he wanted a change. And I had to honor that.

It wasn’t like I went to him and said, “Move me!” I wanted to better the team. Talk to me with some vets, because vets make the game easier if you know how to play; they teach young guys. So when I went to him to voice my opinion, I was pretty much gone at that point. Plus, I think Glen’s loyalty is to Kevin McHale, and I had to swallow that. So that’s what it was. I was kind of hurt by it, but he’s known Kevin long enough, he’s believed in Kevin, so that’s what it is. That’s how I chalked it up. When I looked at leaving, it’s probably one of the hardest things, since moving to Chicago for me, that I’ve done in a long time. When someone’s telling you that they want to go in a different direction or they don’t want you anymore, it’s kind of like…it’s what it is.

SLAM: I’ve never had that happen to me in the sense you had it happen to you, but it almost sounds like getting dumped by a girl.

KG: Basically. It’s like your girl wakes up one morning and says, “You know what? I’m leaving. I’m not feeling this no more.” Part of you hurts, but…you got to get over it, B. Straight up, I ain’t gonna front, it hurt, I ain’t gonna front, man. When he told me that, that’s when I started to think about alternatives and different things. You know, I have a place in L.A., and I started trying to see myself in different scenarios I felt like would work for me. Phoenix was one team I was looking at. I didn’t want to go and play with some team that had a bunch of young guys on it. I wanted to play with some vets, someone to help carry the load or whatever. I looked at Phoenix; Phoenix was one of the teams that I had in mind. And then L.A.

SLAM: The Lakers?

KG: Yeah. I didn’t even look at the Boston situation, because to me, when I looked at it, it was very similar to Minnesota—not enough vets that I wanted to be around. Even Jersey, playing with JKidd, someone who makes it easy for you. Three teams that I thought about right off the top. Didn’t really get into it, didn’t talk to nobody, didn’t really share, I was just by myself, really trying to think. And then things just started happening, happening real fast.

Anyway, then things started happening. Kobe came out, was having problems with the organization, and I definitely didn’t want to be a part of something that, you know, if he’s having problems with them, you know what I mean? I knew what I was dealing with in Minnesota with the management there, so I didn’t want to repeat that. The Phoenix situation, I don’t think they knew what they wanted to do.

ME: In terms of like…

KG: Just in terms, like, I wanted to play with Stoudemire, but in trying to keep within the league rules, trying to get insight, when they was talking about moving Stoudemire, which was who I wanted to play with…it’s not like I’m against playing with Shawn Marion, but I wanted to play with the big fella. When it got to be a little different from that, I just fell back a little bit, started to really ponder some more and thought about the Jersey thing. They hadn’t dealt with the Vince situation at the time, so they was trying to figure that out. So I just fell back and stayed to myself, and then Boston came out and said they was going to do something, then my agent Andy came out and kind of squashed that right away and said what he said. I just sat there, I ain’t gonna front, I just sat and thought.

And then on draft night when Ray came to Boston, things changed a little bit and I started to look at it a little differently. Obviously, I know Ray and I know Paul. I saw Paul in the gym at UCLA and he didn’t say anything about it. Golden State was another place I was looking at, just trying to see myself playing where I could have some fun and be free, man. BD’s my man. Detroit has Flip, Chauncey…you know what I’m saying? It was my time to be free and just think about a lot of different scenarios. It was hard, man. I couldn’t see myself in nothing else, so I just sat back.

SLAM: I was wondering because we just heard bits and pieces about how this team or that team was supposedly interested…when you were going through that, how much control did you have at the time?

KG: A lot of control…well, as much as you want, because you have stuff in your contact. I’m sure the Timberwolves wanted me to be as cooperative as possible and make the transition kind of easy on both parts. I think too they was trying to get season tickets out of people, and I’m sure they was catching a little backlash off what they was hearing. I stayed in Minnesota the whole time. I didn’t go anywhere. I finally took a vacation, which was very short from what I usually take, and came back. I immediately went to L.A. and started working out.

SLAM: Looking back on it now, can you say it was anybody’s fault it didn’t work out in Minnesota?

KG: Let me tell you man, the transaction that went down, it was at the right time. As hard as it was for me man, I am in a different stage of my life. My visions, what I want in basketball, are probably no different from how they see it in Minnesota. I think they want to rebuild, sore of restructure, redo some things within their organization. They’ve got to figure that out up in the front office, what they’re going to do or whatever. Plus, I don’t know how much McHale wants to do this or if he has the passion, like when I know he had me and Steph, his passion then and how he talked, I don’t think he still has that same drive or whatever. He’s a different person. But I wasn’t ready for a rebuilding stage. I accepted it, but at the same time, Glen told me that when I re-signed that he’d make this team better, and that’s what I believed because he never had had me think anything differently. I would never think that Flip would ever be out of Minnesota, so that was like a shock when that shit first went off. That’s when I knew all hell was going to break loose. Really. Kevin and Flip was best friends, before all this basketball stuff. And when he left, I knew it was getting bad, I knew it was going downhill. Then Sam and Spree depart, they don’t even try to resign those guys. Ervin Johnson, who was big for us, left. So, I mean, the writing was on the wall.

SLAM: You made a lot of money, but did you make too much money in Minnesota?

KG: I’ve said that’s what they’ll lean on every time: “We paid him this and that…”

SLAM: But what about you making so much that the team couldn’t even afford other guys?

KG: When you look at it, my situation, when it comes to being financially set, is very secure. I work hard, man. every player has to go through negotiations to try and get what they want, and I’ve been fortunate to be aggressive in the market and to live up to whatever I’ve been paid. I bust my ass, man. I’m a true professional, I’ve never been like a selfish player, never a selfish person. At the same time, if you didn’t think I was worth it, then you don’t have to pay me what I’m asking. So it’s like double standard. McHale was coming at me from the side a little bit, talking about how his father worked in the mines. And I understood that—I didn’t come from no silver spoon myself. I understand what it is to work, and I think that’s why you gravitate toward my work ethic. If you ever want to see if someone’s a hard worker, give ’em a boatload of money and see if he still works hard. I’m probably not the best player in this league, but I work really, really hard. I work really hard, and I know this. That’s one thing can’t nobody say about me: that he doesn’t work hard. And I’ll lean my hat on that every day.

SLAM: So you’re loving Boston…I guess we can say you’ve got a new girlfriend and things are working out pretty well for you?

KG: Yeah, my new girl is hot, she got all the curves, she can cook, she’s dynamic. And you know what’s crazy? I got people in other places that’s loving her, when last year she wasn’t really all that. She’s hot, she’s definitely hot.