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Commentary: The Enigmatic Kevin Garnett

Recently, an article on WEEI.com titled “How Kevin Garnett Became The Most Hated Man In The NBA” was posted. The nature of its content needs no explanation, and to both Boston Celtic and No. 5 fans, the title shouldn’t make any jaws drop or cause any aghast reactions. Kevin Garnett is obviously disliked. This year he’s been blasted through every form of media broadcasting, including Twitter, and deservedly so. These are just a few of the charges directed his way: hitting a man in the groin, calling someone a cancer patient, cursing out a movie director, and throwing the sharpest elbows this side of Cutco around with the recklessness of a toddler. There’s no excuse for the behavior, and as a Celtics fan it’s very difficult to imagine how I’d feel about all the extracurricular activity if he played for Orlando or Dallas. But as the years go on and unending arguments are settled via statistics—the numbers that don’t pick a side—Kevin Garnett won’t be remembered as a dirty player.

He’s not a sick and twisted individual (Reggie Evans) or someone who needed to play the game just beyond a fringe of the rules in order to stay afloat (Bruce Bowen). This is who he is: The face of a revamped, historically great franchise; a transcendental high-school phenom turned 100 million dollar posterboy; and a first ballot Hall of Famer with near unparalleled dominance on the defensive end. He’s been selected to 14 all-star games which is tied with Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Jerry West for third most in league history. That’s more than Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, and Wilt Chamberlain, and exactly twice as many selections as Scottie Pippen, Kevin McHale, and Steve Nash. His 2003-04 season was one of the finest the NBA’s ever seen. Ultimately this is what the name Kevin Garnett will bear in 20 years.

But Garnett has had controversy surround him for the past 10 years. Remember Anthony Peeler? Or the bazookas? Or this? If he’s been doing this his entire career, why all the vitriol now? He really wasn’t hated until he became a Celtic and won a championship.  While in Minnesota, Garnett was viewed as a high strung, intensely wired basketball player. Right now, suffice it to say, he’s an instigator. There’s no questioning that. The way he burrows under the skin of an opponent like a ring worm only helps his team win, and the more power to him. Garnett’s able to get away with all that he does because of the game’s current culture.  There are no tough guys, no sheriffs who lead by force, no intimidating bullies.  No Charles Oakley or Anthony Mason or Rick Mahorn. The league doesn’t allow that type of play and so the Celtics starting power forward takes advantage.

Kevin Garnett is one of the 20 greatest basketball players to ever play and one of the five most competitive.  With his career winding down to maybe two more seasons of quality play left (barring injury. Any game could be his last), we’ve seen Garnett push himself towards a level of emotion that’s veering on blackout. To a casual observer watching Garnett for the first time, they’d say he’s a punk cheap-shot artist, and they’d be right. But to those who’ve witnessed him from the start, the frustrating years in Minnesota, the painful and sad realization that he’d have to leave the only team he ever knew in order to find the true success he’s always deserved, and the darkest of dark offseasons he might never fully recover from, Kevin Garnett isn’t dirty or hateful. He’s misunderstood. The memorable ones usually are.

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