By Chris O’Leary

Okay so I took the weekend, read a lot, meditated, got my jealousy in check and have calmed down. We’ve got a winner and we’re gonna get to that person in a minute. First though, I want to talk about this contest and about Kevin Garnett.

When I put the question up on the site a week ago, the basketball snob in me salivated. Initially, I wanted an obscure, almost abstract memory of Garnett. Something he said or did as a rookie, or in his first few seasons in the League that offered a window into what this kid—Da Kid—would be.

And a lot of you shared moments like that. That pump-putback dunk against Houston; the Showbiz and KG era; taking as much joy in Vince Carter’s dunk over Freddie Weiss as Vince himself did; getting in Tim Duncan’s (Tim freakin’ Duncan!) face in the playoffs; D’ing up on and screaming at Steve Nash in what should have been a mismatch on the perimeter; goaltending the ball on every whistled down play; breaking down with John Thompson when nothing was going right and then when things started to go right, how hilarious he was in post-game interviews. KG is without a doubt, the most passionate and intense player of this era. Reading and re-reading all of your comments this past weekend confirmed that for me. In light of that, I added the man to an exclusive basketball club. Let me quickly explain.

Prior to this weekend, I had a short list of players who made me love basketball. Players whose own love for the game shone through in what they did and as a result birthed a similar love for the game in the people who watched them. My list consisted of two MJ’s: Magic and Michael. I’ve promised myself that if I ever get to talk to either of them I have to thank them for what they’ve done for basketball and for me. After this weekend, I’ve added Kevin Garnett to that list.

While all of you played a role in my coming to that realization, it was Clark13 who moved me the most, talking about a KG moment that was the opposite of what I initially wanted to pick as the winner.

At first I wanted to shy away from anything in the Finals. I wanted to make sure I gave these shoes to a lifelong KG fan. By picking someone who talked about something that happened five months ago, I could be hooking up a bandwagon jumper who wouldn’t appreciate what they were about to get. Clark made me realize that this was the wrong approach to take, and he brought me back to June 17th for a minute, which is always a good thing.

Watching Kevin Garnett’s first moments as a NBA champion is the most emotional thing I’ve ever seen in basketball. I told people that I talked with in the days and weeks following the Finals that KG’s “Anything is possible” cry was basketball’s version of “You had me at hello.”

Clark’s winning words are pasted below. Again, I want to thank everyone who entered the contest. Whether you wrote a massive entry or just a line, I read it all at least twice and had a lot of fun with this thing.

Clark13 says:
92 to 131. I squinted with disgust at the TV. The clock counted down, uneventfully. There was no slow motion, no drama, no tension, nothing. I looked down upon Kobe Bryant as he walked off the court. He had been my favorite player before I could even shoot a basketball. I had stuck with him throughout every stage of his legendary career. My wall emitted a golden gleam, plastered with posters of Kobe. From Lower Merion to Inglewood, from cocky rookie to rape suspect, from adidas to Nike, from 8 to 24, I defended him defiantly to all who preached of his personal problems, failed potential, and poor character. Confetti cascaded down my screen, and Queen blared in the background. I thought back to the days of dynasty. I thought back to Showtime and to Hack-A-Shaq. My posters had lost a certain luster about them, as my team filed away from the Garden’s emphatic celebration. I saw no emotion. No tears. No desperation in their eyes. I felt as though I cared more about the series’ outcome than the players did. That’s when I was converted. Like a new brand of blasphemy, I witnessed the memorable improvised interview between Michelle Tafoya and Kevin Garnett. Cap covering tears, fist fighting a thinly-framed ribcage, KG shouted to the heavens for all to hear. I have never been to an NBA arena, but that night I felt closer to the game than any courtside seat could capture. I felt the pain endured by a man for twelve years, the pressure propped on a single player’s shoulders, and the emancipation of a living legend. I glanced once again at the dusty posters hanging from my room’s rafters. KG personified what I had defended Kobe to be for all of those years. He was a hardworking, honest, and emotional competitor. Despite his clean record, Garnett was criticized by many on a team that showed none of the passion that he portrayed in every play. Following in Black Jesus’ footsteps, KG displayed the athleticism that few could fantasize in their wildest dreams, while still being a class act. I watched as The Big Ticket thanked everyone from Christ to Shuttlesworth in his post game celebration. That was when it dawned on me. KG had won my respect. I will always hold The Black Mamba in high regards, but KG changed my view of the game that night in a way no other player had. His message goes beyond teams, or conferences, or sports. His message shows that hard work always triumphs in the end. His message proves that one can inspire masses. Baptized in bottles of champagne, the Celtics made history in a storybook fashion. Not only as a basketball player, but as a person, I was stirred in the closing moments of that season. As a Lakers fan, I was disappointed. But as anyone else watching that championship game knows, nobody could ask for more out of an icon. As a Laker fan writing in support of a Celtic, I can truly say that anything is possible.