Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Garnett did not score on his first shot in his magical first game back in a Timberwolves uniform. And he also did not score on his second. Both mid-range, low-arc jumpers; his trademark stroke if you could call any shot the lanky big man takes trademark. He blocked a shot on what must have been the Washington Wizards second position. That got some cheers. He also got outmuscled for a defensive rebound that seemed destined for him about 30 seconds later. But, hey.
When the T-Wolves called their first timeout seven minutes in and unceremoniously subbed rookie Adreian Payne for Kevin Garnett the score was 11-1, Wizards. The Wolves’ lone bucket came on the front end of a 1 and 1. Andrew Wiggins, rookie-of-the-year-to-be, tallied it. He was born in Toronto four months before Kevin Garnett was drafted. By the Timberwolves. In Toronto. But you know all this already.
Even though after the game we’d hear Flip Saunders say that he’d never been part of a regular season game at any level that had felt more electric, from the auxiliary press box where I sat, which was very, very, very, I-could-virtually-touch-the-rafters, high, after a profound player intro that caused all involved—be they fans, players, coaches, or even KG himself—to lose their cool, at the outset of the game the team came out flat. And the crowd came out flat. Everyone but the Washington Wizards had put everything they had into the build-up and now that it released, well, flat tire. But then, with KG on the bench, the Wolves slowly started to work themselves out of their downtown funk. By the end of the first they’d pulled it to 11-20. By the time KG reentered the game with 4:44 left in the second quarter the Wolves had pulled it to 32-37 and the building was alive again.
KG’s first points came with 4:15 left in the second when he hit his first free throw to chants of “M-V-P. M-V-P.” He missed his second. The chants stopped. But, hey. He also missed his next chance at a 20-foot jumper. When he did finally hit from the field it was with a few minutes left in the second quarter. That felt good. Made the score 35-37 too. The Wolves hadn’t been any closer since the ball was actually put in play. KG made a pass inside to Pekovic that earned Pek a trip to the line where, like he does, he hit one of two FTs. And so ended the first half of KG’s re-arrival in Minny, knotted at 42. Kevin Love’s old number. Crazy.
But the play-by-play is not really why you or KG came last night. Even though the Wolves did go on to win 97-77, a pretty impressive feat considering they were down as many as 15, last night wasn’t really about a basketball game at all. It was about the emotion of sport and the power of the neverending story that players and fans are complicit in creating. On the one hand there’s a Minnesota fanbase so rabid and loyal and full of nostalgia for its longtime hero and champion Kevin Garnett that they sold out the Target Center (to the tune of a crowd of 19,856 to be exact) for the first time since he left. On the other there’s a once in a lifetime player so profoundly personable and interesting off the court, and passionate and great on it, that even as his body ceases to perform the heroics it once could, his mere presence in this city and in that building manage to inspire even the most jaded sports writers. The one did not create the other, the pair created each other.
Everyone just happened to forget about all that for a while, because, as it does, time apart dulled that symbiotic emotion. It’s been eight years since Kevin Garnett left to win a title with the Boston Celtics and Minnesota left him to rebuild. Generations of "rebuilt" Wolves teams have touched the First Avenue hardwood since and, while the results haven’t been pretty, with each KG-less itteration fans have opined his absence a little bit less. For better or worse, the powerful play had gone on, and KG’s verse, it seemed, had been contributed.
And he, like we, didn’t see this coming. A promising youth-movement team giving up a productive asset for an aging superstar with a no-trade clause and skills on a sharp decline, in the middle of one of the worst seasons record-wise in franchise history wasn’t exactly a conventional move. So it made sense that, while fans clamored for tickets to KG’s return and KG said all the right things about the fairy tale ending of coming home, nobody could really comprehend the magnitude of the moment until the moment actually occurred.
In his post-game presser, he was asked a version of the same question he’s been getting asked since the trade went through a week ago, only this time not speculatively, “Where does this game rank for you, personally, having your daughters here, and coming home?” After some charming exposition that dutifully paid homage to the eight-year career he’s had since, he stumbled his way through the underlying essence of the situation, “Tonight it was just over the top. I did not know that the city missed me like this.” And there’s a good reason why: the city istelf did not know it missed KG like this.
Garnett finished the game with 5 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks in just a shade under 20 minutes played. That pedestrian box score, of course, is incidental to one more primal fact: that KG finished the game wearing the same jersey he wore at the beginning.