KICKS 6: The Power of 3

by August 01, 2009

There’s a lot of laughter in this interview. A lot of breeze being shot. And, at the time, it shouldn’t have been any other way. Three All-NBA players, at the top of their games, getting together for the first time in a room. It was bound to be bonkers—especially with Russ throwing them the occasional carrot. And if you read through the entire 3,000 plus word interview, that’s exactly what it was: bonkers. I mean, obviously KG was KG, talking in his usual fast-and-furious fashion. But for the first time, Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan really let their offcourt personalities shine through: with TD commenting here and there, and laughing throughout; and TMac trying to keep pace with the talkative KG. It seemed like the guys had the time of their life, at the greatest point in their life. Now, six summers and grueling seasons later, the guys have changed—some accomplishing more, others failing at every stop—and our opinions of them have, too. This was KICKS 6 at its finest; look for KICKS 12 to duplicate its goodness.—Tzvi Twersky

KICKS 6 Cover: Tim Duncan, Tracy McGray and Kevin Garnett At an undisclosed location on the East Coast, the meeting happens. This isn’t the first time they’ve met, but it’s the first time they’ve really gotten together. The first time they’ve really gotten to know each other. This is the kind of thing that’s once in a lifetime.

And maybe this is something you don’t quite understand. Maybe you look at the three guys on the cover and it just doesn’t come through. The connection. Let’s go from left to right—and not even get deep. We’ll just deal with the ’02-03 NBA season: Tim Duncan, 27 years old, NBA Finals and regular season MVP, World Champion; Tracy McGrady: 24, League scoring leader; Kevin Garnett, 27, League leader in double-doubles, All-Star MVP. Along with Shaq and Kobe, these three guys were the All-NBA First Team—and TD became the first player since Larry Bird to earn that honor in each of his first six seasons. These guys collected all the major hardware last year. And now they’re in one place—KG talking up a storm, TD and TMac shooting jumpers (yes, jumpers) from halfcourt (yes, halfcourt). Everything about this set-up is impressive.

So let’s take this opportunity. Let’s sit these three guys down for an hour and get them talking. Let’s just allow the tape recorder to roll and see what happens. That is, assuming Kevin gives the other two guys a chance to say anything at all.

KICKS: If you guys could change one rule in the League, what would it be?
KG: No zone.
TD: Yeah, the zone.
KG: If there was one rule I could change today, it would be the zone. Go back to the [looking down], Am I, am I, am I straddling the line?
Jess [Kersey]: “Hey, you’re on the line! Illegal defense, ’cause you…”
TD: Three seconds.
TM: That shit is stupid.

KICKS: Because it didn’t do what they thought it would do?
KG: I think it puts players that are really good at a disadvantage, so to speak. Everybody here gets double-teams, if not triple-teams, so we can all speak on this. But it sorta—I remember Phoenix sat somebody literally right there [in the lane].
TM: It makes it hard for a guy like me—
KG: —who penetrates.
TD: It makes it hard for all of us.
KG: All of us. Dog, Phoenix sat a person right here! Don’t you go nowhere, Bo Outlaw, you stay right here.
TM: Yeah, but you also got a guy like Troy Hudson who can shoot the ball, Wally can shoot the ball, you know what I’m sayin’? Y’all have guys that can create, for themselves. Me? [Shakes head]
KG: Not always. [Laughter all around]
TM: Me?
TD: You’re the best in the League, man, you do it all yourself. [More laughter]
TM: It’s tough on all of us, it really is. When you’re tryin’ to make a move, and you got another guy sittin’ right there on the same side just waitin’…
KG: Waitin’ on you!
TM: Just waitin’.
KG: He ain’t even playin’ his man!
TM: Nah, not at all.
KG: That’s where teammates are really, really important. Not only is there pressure on you to get them the ball, but the pressure’s on them to be productive and draw the defense.

Tim Duncan, 2003.KICKS: So you don’t feel the benefits of having the zone on defense outweighs having to fight it on offense?
KG: Oh no, we didn’t say that. We didn’t say that.
TD: Our D didn’t change much. But it’s easier not having to deal with worrying about, Am I on this line, am I over this line? You just—you ain’t worried about all that. You get one or two of those calls a game, it’s a tech, two points, fine, whatever, but as much as it takes away, you can get across that lane. I know playing my first couple years, you were afraid to run across that lane with the illegal defense, because you’d get dinged on it if you were too late. Now, if you start going, and you feel that—like, if they’ve got Tracy coming from the wing, shoot, I’m just going across. I’m just gonna go across and wait for him.
KG: Word. It helps on the defensive end, but the offensive end you can’t stand it.

KICKS: What would happen if the three of you were on the same squad?
KG: In the NBA season? ’Cause I’m gonna tell ya, the one guy that gets double-teamed that night? The other two are gonna be—yeah.
TM: I don’t even wanna think about shit like that, man. [Laughter]

KICKS: ’Cause y’all wouldn’t even have to worry about positions.
KG: That don’t even matter. You put me on the court and I’m cool. Just give me a jersey—you don’t even have to put my name on it. I’m cool.

KICKS: If you had you three, who would the other two be? If you could take anyone else.
TM: Come on, man. Of course you take Kobe and Shaq.

KICKS: You run the 1 in that?
TM: Me and Kobe. That’s your three [points at KG], that’s your four [points at TD], you’re good.
KG: They’d outlaw…they wouldn’t even—hell, no. [Laughter] Get that out of everybody’s mind right now. Never. Practice would be cool. Practice would be the real game, know what I’m sayin’?

KICKS: You guys are under 30 still, and I know I talked to you about this, Kevin, but do you think guys in the League have a good enough sense of history about the game?
TD: Definitely—and especially now, with all
the throwbacks. [Laughter] Everybody knows
everybody now.
KG: That’s a good lesson.

KICKS: At least guys know what their names are. The last names, anyway.
TM: I just found out Kwame Brown didn’t know who was on the logo.
TD: What logo?
KG: The NBA logo.
TD: Are you serious?
KG: Say word.
TM: I’m serious.
KG: I woulda kept that one to myself. [Laughter] I would have just laughed along, played along. I don’t know if I woulda said that out loud. Man.

Tracy McGrady, 2003.KICKS: Talk a little bit about that difference—that’s what’s cool about having you guys here. Looking at each other, is there anything you feel you missed out on? [To Tim] Do you ever think about what it would have been like to go straight out of high school?
TD: I wouldn’t have been ready. I enjoyed my route.
TM: The only thing that I miss is—I watch college basketball. A lot of guys went to colleges that play in the NCAA Tournament, and they’re all pulling for this team or the other, and I feel a little left out. So I jump on the bandwagon. It’s just that experience—Tournament time—and what it would feel like to experience the whole thing.
KG: I don’t feel left out. I like to sit back and actually watch them fight each other. I’ve been in Minnesota for a minute, and I’ve seen some real diverse groups come through and really get into it. They take it to heart. I just look at it as like—everybody who’s made it to the NBA has struggled on all kinds of levels. None of ’em was easy. As long as you get there, then you’re good.

KICKS: For all of you—Tracy, you’re the only one who’s played for two teams, and Tim, you’ve already made it—but how important is it to win where you’re at? You watch someone like GP…
KG: That hurt me, man. I ain’t even gonna front. Everybody talks about—I know the owners and administrative side talk about players not loyal and whatever—“organizations” [Disgusted]. I don’t know, man, that’s a whole ’nother topic. It goes both ways. You show loyalty and stuff, I think its only right that you feel it back.
TM: It’s a crazy business.
KG: It’s a crazy business, and you just got to understand it.
TM: I just look at what happened to Rick Carlisle this year.
KG: Was that crazy or what?
TM: I don’t know, man. He won 50 games, back-to-back seasons.
KG: It ain’t for us to understand.
TM: No, it’s really not.
KG: If you’re tryin’ to understand it, don’t. It’ll drive you crazy.

KICKS: So do you guys feel pretty lucky about the situations you’re in now? Tim, you have to. You’re in the right spot.
TD: Yeah, but we were in the right spot last year. It’s a whole different year now. You gotta gear up and try to do it again.
TM: I think players such as ourselves really control our own destiny.
KG: The business can get weird, but a lot of it is dependent on you. You have a lot of control in some ways, and if you have the right people around you, you can channel it the right way and make your own tributaries to the oceans, so to speak.

Kevin Garnett, WCF against Lakers. 2003. KICKS: Tracy, this year had to be the worst for you, because you were looking at 3-1 and thought, “Of course.” But it’s crazy how fast things can turn like that.
KG: Be careful what you say, boy. I ain’t losin’ in the first round because I want to, Mac. Believe that. You know what I’m sayin’?
TM: It’s hard.
KG: Real hard. I couldn’t believe it. ’Cause we were playin’, and they came back—Detroit won and it’s 3-2! And I was like, Mac’s gonna get up there, they gonna end it up there. And then they like, it’s 3-3! Uh-oh. So I saw you playin’ D. Fourth quarter. Guardin’ Chauncey. And he didn’t do nothin’ but run you off screens, and I’m like, ah, uh-oh. ’Cause I know what it’s like when you gotta guard Tim, and then—let somebody get hot—I could be guardin’ somebody like Malik Rose. I gotta go guard him. Duncan hit a couple, I gotta go guard him, Stephen Jackson hit a couple threes, I gotta guard him. Only person I might not guard is Tony Parker. Then I gotta go on the other end. Let alone if it’s a back to back, and I gotta play somebody like—[looks at Tracy]…
TM: People really don’t understand what we go through on a night-to-night basis.
KG: No, they don’t.
TM: Shit pissed me off, man, I woulda moved on to the second round, you know what I’m sayin’, but they extended it to seven games. [Laughter all around] 3-1 yo, let’s move on to the second round. Man, seven games, first round series!

KICKS: And Kevin, you finally get home court, and then you get stuck with the Lakers.
KG: Son, I got a black cloud over me. But I gotta load up that Mac with the banana clip and go do me. That’s all I can do. I ain’t gonna cry about it.

KICKS: There’s a picture floating around of the two of you [to KG and TD] with Tim coming back upcourt and KG grabbing you in the back of the head. It’s gotta be from All-Star.
KG: That’s the best time though, February. Everybody’s at ease. I know in the West, when we play y’all [in the All-Star Game], we’re like, “OK, Tim, I think I gotta guard—”
TD: —a guard. [Laughter]
KG: We over there like, this is how we gonna do it; we just gonna channel everything. For real. ’Cause we got Timmy, me, Dirk…
TM: [Quietly] CWebb.
KG: Webb.
TD: Sheed. Shaq and Yao got the five locked up.
KG: We got Ming! Hold on now, we got the…
TD: What did we go this year? It was me, you, Yao, Dirk and who?
KG: Who was that?
TD: Who was the other big man, was it Kob?
KG: Yeah, and Kob played guard. Kob played guard, yeah. It was funny, man.
TM: That was scary, yo. That was scary.
KG: And you know what we did? [To Tracy] We watched y’all walk out. We said, “Hold on, stay right here, stay right here.” [Duncan laughs] They was like, “Hold on! You gotta, uh…you gotta…” Oh, we watched y’all walk out. We were laughin’—we were like, how y’all gonna match up with this right here? That was fun. That was fun. We was gonna let Shaq bring the ball up.
TD: He did! [Laughs]
KG: Diesel’s funny, man. February’s the best time. Wouldn’t trade All-Star Game in for nothin’. The emotion’s so high when you play man, that’s just a break from that.

Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan, ASG 2002. KICKS: For all of you guys, who’s your toughest matchup? Is there any one guy you go up against who you know is gonna give you a hard night?
TD: [Points at KG] Him, Webb, Dirk…who am I missing?
KG: Elton.
TD: Elton. Oh man.
KG: It’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.
TM: [To TD] But you still be havin’ 30 and 20. Shit. Mine is Ron Artest. He’s tough. He’s strong. He’s the strongest guy I go up against. And he’s a pest, man.
KG: He takes pride in defense.
TM: That’s it, to stop a guy like myself. He love that shit.

KICKS: What if any of you guys could trade bodies with anyone else in the League?
KG: Hell no.

KICKS: No? You cool with you?
KG: Yeah, I can’t see myself bein’—imagine changin’ bodies with AI? [Laughter] No. Just when you think you tough? He got it worse, and he gotta play—man.
TD: I’d take him [pointing at McGrady]. I’d like to fly like him for a night.
TM: I don’t know.
TD: I’d take a 40-inch vertical for a night.
KG: You do got a 40—I’d say it’s more like a 45.
TM: Well, I’d probably take his body [pointing at KG], but then I’d be guarding people like him [points at Duncan]. So that’s why it’s hard for me to say that.

KICKS: So that’s why you still want to be listed at 6-8, so you won’t have to guard guys like him?
KG: [Excited] Put in there that Tracy McGrady is [Duncan joins in] 6-10.

KICKS: So can I put in that Kevin Garnett is 7-1?
KG: Oh man. How we get here? We talkin’ about Mac, how we get over here?
TM: He is 7-1.
KG: Get the hell out of here.
TM: You might even be 7-2.
KG: Now he pushed it. Next thing, I’m 7-4, 7-5.
TM: I’m not 6-10. I’ve never been listed at 6-9.
KG: That’s ‘cause you tell ’em not to! Really, if it was up to you, you’d be 6-6. Chillin’, beastin’. [Laughter] What’s your wingspan, man?
TM: I don’t know, yo.
KG: That shit’s like eight foot. [Laughter] No bullshit, this is a real-ass story. I seen Mac come from the other side of the free-throw lane and block Wally’s shot—a three. Blocked it. And he jumped—you think I’m BSin’. Blocked it.
TD: You saw the dunk he did on us this year?
TM: Oh my God. [Laughing] I don’t know how I made that.
TD: He came from outside the lane—did Dave swing at you?
KG: It was Dave.
TD: He ducked under Dave, dunked it backwards.
KG: You long. Son, your wingspan is like, 8-2.
TM: OK, but I’m 6-8.
TD: 6-10.
KG: 6-10. And I’m tellin’ everybody, too. When we go through scoutin’ reports—“Son is 6-10.” We need to put a four on him. What are you, two? You play everything one through what, four? I know you guard everything one through four. I seen you one game, you had to guard Joe Smith.
TM: What are you talkin’ about, I be guardin’ you sometimes! Shit. Joe Smith, you…
KG: Get your ass outta here, I gotta chase you through…
TM: You a pest too, you. You a fuckin’ pest. You be holdin’ like a muthafucka out there.
KG: [Sarcastic] Yeah, I hold like a muthafucka.
TD: [Laughing]
TM: Damn you be holdin’!
KG: Oh my God, this is crazy. Now I’m holdin’.
TM: He won’t let me breathe, man.

KICKS: And you’re 7-2.
KG: Yeah, I’m 7-2. Holdin’. You can’t get near Tim, though. You can foul out in the first half if you get too close to Tim. If you get too close to Tim, it’s a foul and everything. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant get the phantom call all the time. And all it takes is this: “He’s on my elbow!” If he don’t get the bank? Tweet! I’m like, “This is bullshit. Hue [Hollins], how am I supposed to guard him, Hue? ’Cause he miss a bank, I’m foulin’?” Oh.
TD: [Still laughing]

Kevin Garnett, 2003. KICKS: What does he tell you?
KG: “Come on, Kevin.” You know Hue. “I’m callin’ the foul! I’m callin’ the foul, Kevin—what you mad about?” Oh shit, boy, them refs. Let me shut up before I get fined in the summer.
TD: Fined during the summer? [Keeps laughing]
TM: That’s ill, cuz.
KG: They’ll suspend me for the first three games, ’cause that’s where this is going. Oh, that shit is crazy. Ain’t nothin’ like, for real, though, gettin’ around David Robinson, and there’s Tim; or getting around Tim, and there’s David. I don’t know about Mac, man, but I’m so—I’m looking forward to David sitting down.
TM: I only see him twice a year. You see him four times, so it really doesn’t bother me.
KG: I know, right? God, though. You can win 35 games and get like the fifth seed in the East. Word. [Laughter] What, Detroit won 50 games, Jersey won 49, somebody after that was like 47—I just know the fifth and sixth was like, 35.

KICKS: [To Duncan] I assume you wouldn’t want to go East. I mean, you’re happy where you’re at.
KG: He can’t say shit in this interview! I better not hear you complain!
TD: I haven’t complained one time.

KICKS: But you won’t have David Robinson for the first time next year, that’ll be different.
TD: It’ll be a lot different. But we knew it was comin’. It’s gonna be an adjustment, not having another footer, unless we pick somebody up. [Everybody looks at Kevin] From somewhere.
KG: From somewhere.
TM: What it feels like to play without David? You could ask me a question about what it feels like to play with somebody?

KICKS: Or just what it feels like to play with a seven footer?
TM: All right.

KICKS: Because Stephen’s been hurt all the time.
TM: Who?

KICKS: Stephen Hunter?
TM: Who? [Laughter] I’m just sayin’ who.

KICKS: You had Patrick for a year.
TM: Yeah, Pat came in…Man, I’ma shut up, ’cause I might say some shit. It’s real tough for me man, not having to play with somebody who gives you that low-post presence, who takes that pressure off you. At least one night or two nights, but damn. I gotta bring it 82 games, yo. If I have a subpar game we might win? But I gotta bring it every single night. I’m our best post player. And that’s sad. I got guys on my team that can’t post, man, can’t play with their backs towards the basket.

KICKS: Well, at least you got the scoring title.
TM: For me personally? That was big for me. I wasn’t going out tryin’ to do that, but that’s what I had to do. Shit man, it was really, really tough. I’m not even tryin’ to repeat that next year.

Tim Duncan and David Robinson, 2003 World Champions. KICKS: What do you guys think of the current playoff format? Not only is it shifting to seven games in the first round, but what about the idea of re-seeding by record, regardless of East or West, once the playoffs start.
KG: That would be cool. You mean somebody could play an East team first?

KICKS: Yeah, so maybe you guys [to TMac] would have gone up against San Antonio in the first round this year.
TM: Don’t do that.
TD: The West is like, “That’s cool.” [Laughter]
KG: That would be cool, though. That would be cool.

KICKS: ’Cause you have that power shift now—the West is loaded.
KG: The West is like this, Dog. I’m tellin’ Mac this—this is the best one right here: Dallas-San Antonio, back to back. Day [off]. Houston, Phoenix. Day. Day. Lakers, Portland, back to back. Home. Some shit like that. You’re lookin’ at the schedule, and I’m like, God damn,’ I’m takin’ this one at a time, dog. ’Cause if you really think about it, you’re like, Oh. That’s the West. That’s the West, dog.
TM: Well, I don’t think I’ll be seein’ the West in my career. Stay right on the East. [Laughter]
KG: And it’s gonna be a track race. Ain’t none of that walk-the-ball-up, slow-it-up, ah da da da da, 18-seconds-a-basket scored.

KICKS: You guys [Kevin and Tim] have gotten criticized for the opposite reasons—Tim being too quiet, and Kevin being too loud. Ever wish you could switch places?
KG: Half the people that talk it never played basketball. Critics are funny to me. Timmy had no problem not shoutin’ and goin’ crazy. At the end of the day, you gotta put the ball in the basket. However you do it. You gotta maintain and take care of yourself. They don’t know when you got all that damn energy it takes away from you. And there is a thing as being too poised, because you gotta play with some kind of fire. You just gotta have a great balance, rather than just one side. The last three years I’ve learned that. You come out in the first quarter and just whoosh. I can’t be this hyped, I’m gonna be done by the third or fourth quarter. So you need balance.

KICKS: You feel like that, too, Tracy? That you need balance?
KG: You are the smoothest muthafucka out there on the floor.
TD: He don’t know the game happenin’. [Laughter] He don’t know the game happenin’ until he gets the ball.
KG: I tell you, TMac, like—he like Superfly out there. [Laughter] I tell people this all the time—that muthafucka be out there glidin’. One minute he [holds hand still] then [pushes forward] whoosh. Like you probably
the most—you like Heathcliff the cat, yo. Top Cat, all the cool muthafuckas who just cool, and Tim the same way, you think they cool and they quiet, then all of a sudden, boom.

KICKS: You guys are all happy where you are?
KG: It’s an intense situation, let me say that.
TM: You want to win.
KG: Everybody wants to win.

KICKS: But most other players are planets—y’all are suns. Other players come around you.
KG: But you want to be in a position where you win. We all want to be in a situation like Tim, where we can win a couple rings. And who’s to say that what we say today is what we do tomorrow, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s how I’m gonna end it.
TD: [Laughs]
KG: Straight up, I’m serious. We sit here jokin’ and shit, but you may get here, and you sittin’ at home, and straight up, you heated. I don’t even watch basketball ’til the Finals no more. I don’t even know what’s happenin’. I don’t even talk to nobody, I’m like the worst, man. It’s really that hard, I take it that hard. I can only imagine what Mac go through.