by Russ Bengtson

There’s been a lot of talk about Kevin Garnett lately. That’s what happens when you’re the biggest name to change teams in the off-season, I suppose. When your shoulders are the ones that the mantle of the L’s most storied franchise (one that hasn’t won a championship since 1986 by the way) now rests upon. KG can take the weight.

He’s done it before. And while his failures are well-documented, his successes are downplayed. People try and be complimentary while calling him complementary. Say what?

Right, he hasn’t won a championship. Correct. Neither have Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Baron Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Vince Carter, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen or Gilbert Arenas. Yet somehow with KG this becomes something of a personal failing. Blame him, not the coach who always failed in the clutch, not the string of teammates who abandoned him in search of greener contracts, not the GM that coughed up first-round picks like Ted Stepien for trying to cheat in order to re-sign Joe freaking Smith.

In January of 2004, however, the criticism was all yet to come. The Wolves had made seven straight playoff appearances (all of which ended in the first round, but still) and were nearing the midway point of what would be their most successful season. With veterans Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell providing a steadying influence and a solid two-three punch, Garnett would lead the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals and win his first NBA MVP award. Most of what was said on that cold day never made it into the magazine. Three and a half years later, here’s a few selections. No splicing.

SLAM: What’s your take on your new teammates so far? Spree, Sammy…
KG: Shit is—I don’t wanna cuss in this article, my mom got on me. My mom was ON me about cussin’. But since the Steph days, I haven’t had this much fun in a while, man. It’s good to have that inner love and that off-court love, not only for the game but for your teammates. It’s been a blast, man, I’m not even gonna front. It’s totally flip-flopped from these past two, three years. This year’s been totally beautiful for me, man. I’m havin’ a lot of fun.
SLAM: And those guys remind me of you a little, especially Spree, with the emotion.
KG: Spree’s like adrenaline within itself, man—I’ve never seen somebody more intense than I am except him. Man, I tell you man—night in and night out it’s a joy to be on the Minnesota Timberwolves because we have three people that can lead us in the same direction. We’re all on the same page, it’s not any ego involved, it’s not even any kind of hate or nothing like that. We get along so well—it’s beautiful, man, it’s beautiful.

SLAM: You still—nine years in—you happy where you at right now?
KG: Mmm-hmm. You know, part of progress, man, part of maturity is assessing yourself. And I assess myself from a reality standpoint, man. I’m not one of these people who fantasize, or tell myself that somethin’ is one way when I know it’s not. I’m a true perspective, and I look at life like that. So whenever I’m preparing for something like an upcoming season, I assess myself, it’s a true assessment, man. I go at it, go at it hard, try and bring something new to the table every year. Try to work on things that I know I’m not good at every year. I hope and pray that—I keep a focus to try and get better.
SLAM: What else do you have that you can bring to the table?
KG: My biggest thing is always help a teammate be better. He has to be a player that wants to be better and wants to be good too, but if I can make teammates better, man, that’s always been my biggest asset—how I can make everybody around me better than what they are.
But for the most part, being consistent—consistency is such a hard thing in this League—getting stronger, understanding the game, being more of a student these days. Footwork has always been a big thing in my book, I’ve always tried to work on my footwork—that’s the only you can get half the post moves off is by repetition and footwork. The things I feel like I don’t do well, I continue to work on.
SLAM: What do you feel is the biggest change you’ve seen in the League since you’ve been in it?
KG: The biggest change in the League? When I first came into the League, man, the refs were really hard on rookies. You damn near had to get murdered or axed to get a call, and it’s changed a little bit. If you’re a high-profile rookie [pause] and they know that, and you make a decent move, and if somebody makes a tough foul, they call that. Little things like that. But for the most part, I think the League is so diversified now—there’s so many overseas cats in the League, there’s a lot of young cats in the League. It’s so diversified from China to New York to Minnesota to Spain. But the skill level is goin’ up, young guys comin’ from high school are just makin’ it—sort of snappin’ the bar in half, not just expectations, but in skill level. LeBron’s skill level is just incredible, Carmelo’s skill level is incredible, how they understand X’s and O’s so quick. But I think it’s transcendin’ into something beautiful. If it wasn’t. Because I think the biggest worry is that young people don’t care. You have situations like that, but for the most part over all we as young people do give a crap, and this is our League for the taking, and we’re the ones that are gonna make it or break it. And I feel like right now it’s diversified in a good way, the skill level is up, and I think that’s what a lot of people want to see.

SLAM: Have you gotten more comfortable in the role—not only the role of the team leader, but as an NBA superstar? People recognizing you, people keying on you. You’re the name on the board.
KG: That’s fine, I don’t mind being the name on the board. When you’re speaking on the court man, all the things that I have achieved, I’ve worked for them. Nothing’s been given to me, and I take that and go with it. I work my butt off in the gyms, night in night out to get where I’m at. Skill level, understanding the game, student. All that, I’m happy about.
Superstar, that’s just a name to me. You get a guy who’s hungry, and you give him a gym and a ball, and he stays in that gym and he works and he has a vision for himself, then he can be it, you know? A lot of people get caught up in the glitz and glamour a little bit too much sometimes, and it ain’t about that. Superstar is kind of one of the words that I hate—because it’s like one of those words that has a lot of glitter on it. I’m not really into glitter. [Laughs] But my point in saying all that is—I am a leader though. You wanna put some glitter on that, that’s what it is. I’m a leader, I like to be the example, I like to set the tone. And that’s pretty much it, man—off the court people recognize you and respect you and give you dap, show you love for your art, man, that’s probably the biggest appreciation. You go into a city and they boo you, and over the boos you can hear claps. Or they start to boo you at the beginning of the game, and after the game they’re clapping, that’s appreciation for the game and it’s players, and that’s what it’s all about.