With much fanfare and hype, the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn last season. They seemed to have it all: An All-Star (sometimes superstar) point guard, a fast developing big man, a newly added backcourt scoring threat., an ex-Kardashian husband, the most interesting owner in the league, one of the greatest rappers alive, a flashy new arena, fashionable new apparel, a new mascot, and the support of a city brimming with personality.
And yet, there was a certain spark missing. For all their attention-grabbing efforts both on and off the court, the Nets seemed a bit hollow. Sure, they dramatically improved their win percentage and moved up from last place in the Atlantic Division to gaining home court advantage in the playoffs. But the team seemed to lack coherent identity and leadership.
Losing in the first round of the playoffs to a hobbled Chicago Bulls thumped home the point: you could have all the pieces together on paper, but without a real leader to transform the basketball culture, the team seemed destined to float in the Eastern Conference mid-tiers (otherwise known as AtlantaHawksLand).
Enter Kevin Garnett, the Culture Changer.
When Garnett was drafted 18 long years ago into the NBA by the Minnesota Timberwolves, he joined a team that was just in the sixth year of its existence and with no discernible identity. 12 years later, KG left the Timberwolves a cult hero, and in the franchise’s young history, still stands as their leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and minutes, and their only-ever MVP.
Garnett could never bring a championship to Minnesota, but he was involved in carrying the franchise to eight-straight playoff appearances between 1996 to 2004. The team has never been to the postseason before or after him.
In 2007, Garnett was traded for seven players (largest number of players traded for a single player in league history) plus cash to the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. With the help of Paul Pierce and newly-traded Ray Allen, Garnett helped transform the Celtics to the league’s best, winning 66 games and carrying the momentum to his first Championship in one season.
In the next five years, the Celtics were a one win away from another championship, a win away from another Finals appearance, and a Garnett injury away from one more season as contenders. While it was obviously a team effort, the man who brought the hunger and passion back in Boston was none other than Garnett. His legendary work-ethic, loyalty to his teammates, selflessness, and energy turned Boston into the NBA’s toughest warriors.
From the locker room to the bench to the court, Garnett instilled a never-say-die attitude in the team. From Minnesota to Boston, Garnett continued to be adored and praised by every player (and coach) whom he influenced.