Kevin Garnett had the most unlikely of NBA Hall of Fame worthy-careers and, while experiencing the journey, changed the game in the process. In the Showtime documentary “Kevin Garnett: Anything Is Possible,” his life and incredible journey are explored in depth.
The most remarkable element of Garnett’s career is all the pivotal moments that almost didn’t happen.
Hiding In Plain Sight
“There was a white kid named Billy; he was probably the only white kid on our block. Billy was a cool kid; he used to let us hoop. Back in the day, only one kid had a rim at their house, and I was really like practice bait, and I just got tired of getting beat by this kid every day. So I started practicing on my own, I started going to the park, and then you started seeing me get better.”
Garnett grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and moved to Mauldin, a suburb outside Greenville, for junior high school. Although he was a tall kid of 6-foot-6 going from junior high to high school, Garnett wasn’t a shoo-in for athletics based on the religious restrictions imposed by his mother.
A Mother’s Love
As a devout Jehovah’s Witness, she refused when Garnett asked her to sign the parental consent form for him to try out for the basketball team. However, Garnett was dogged, trying out, and making the team anyway in ninth grade.
“I kept being a basketball player from my mom, three years. I would get home from school, and my mom did hair. Our little small garage became a beauty salon. She would come in and out of the house at times, and I would make sure that I was nowhere to be seen or I had all the chores done. Certain time I would just take off, and I started walking to the games.
“For three years, I did that, and it was finally until my mom was actually doing a young lady’s hair who was coming to one of the games, and she was like, ‘Oh, girl, are you going to see your son play?’ and she was like, ‘What?’ she was like, ‘Yeah, Kevin, he plays for Mauldin, he’s good ,girl.’ My Mom was like, ‘Kevin, don’t play no basketball,’ and she was like, ‘Sh*t, yes Kevin do.’ That was the first game my Mom ever saw me play, and I was like, ‘Oh, sh*t.’
“She was like, ‘Have a good game, but I’m going to kill your ass after you get done.’ But finally, she came around after she saw how passionate and committed I was to it and she just kind of let me be after that.”
Garnett transferred to Farragut High School in Chicago after a school fight in South Carolina led to him being criminally charged with lynching, which was dismissed. Garnett was highly touted and even played with a young Paul Pierce, who tried to get him to move to Los Angeles to play high school ball with him.
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However, his mother sent him to Chicago to Farragut Academy High School, where he met his mentor and coach, William “Wolf” Nelson. Garnett would learn about gang culture and how to survive the gritty streets while being given the room to find his voice in basketball, literally.
After losing the Illinois state championships, a dejected Garnett, who struggled with SAT/ACT scores, went to a nicer basketball gym to blow off some steam with a pickup game and his life trajectory changed.
Ready For The World
“We had $200 to our names to last us for two weeks. The next day I got an eviction notice that I would be kicked out on July 1st. So I was just really stressing and to get my mind off the stress, on top of I couldn’t pass this SAT/ACT test, my (man) said let’s go downtown and play some ball. They had some good games in there where people from the South Side, North Side come meet. We get in there, Mike Jordan in there!”
“They’re playing in this glass-filled gym, and we are all looking in. All of a sudden, security pointed and was like, ‘Come here, let big fella in.’ I see Pippen; I see a couple of people I recognize, and then Jordan is like, ‘Let’s go.’ I call for it, and Mike threw it, and then I lost my sh*t; BOOM! Then I said something, like, ‘I don’t know what y’all think this is, sh*t’ and he was like ‘what did you say’ and I’m like, ‘you heard me!’
“I was just running off emotions and I don’t know how I calmed down but I held my own in there. In the corner I see a pair of feet and it was Isiah Thomas in a purple Avirex zipped up.”
Jersey for tonight. pic.twitter.com/WTSi1VMugU
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Thomas was there doing scouting for the Toronto Raptors, of which he was also a part owner and an executive. Garnett stepped to Thomas, and Thomas informed him that he could go to the league right now. Garnett couldn’t believe it.
“And I just remember saying to him one day you’re going to be a pro and it might be next week,” laughed Isaiah Thomas.
Welcome To The Pros
That fateful meeting led to Garnett in 1995 becoming the first high school player to be drafted by the NBA in 20 years. It paved the way for a new high school to the league future for legends like Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, and LeBron James.
Garnett became the star of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. However, it was there that he would change the business of the game forever.
After rejecting an offer of $103 million over six years, Garnett re-signed with the Timberwolves for $126 million over six years. It shifted the idea of a salary cap and how to build players around the “Big Ticket,” and ultimately, the NBA under then-commissioner David Stern negotiated a max contract under the next collective bargaining agreement.
Change The Game
It was the first time transparency entered the salary system, and the owner’s earnings were beginning to come into focus. However, the media turned on Garnett.
“Kevin Garnett and his team in turning down $103 million made a very smart business decision because they wound up getting $126 [million], and isn’t that what America is all about, making the smartest business deal?” said Robert “Scoop” Jackson, then of ESPN.
“The racist tone they set for saying who the f–k are you to turn down $103 million; that was the narrative that consistently was put out when Kevin turned that money down.”
The max contract is the most money a team can spend on a player under the rules of the NBA’s salary cap structure. Garnett felt it was created with racial undertones to avoid players making as much as he made.
Garnett set the tone culturally and business-wise as much Allen Iverson and LeBron James have. He proves that anything is possible, and the texture behind his journey is eye-opening about the business and culture of professional basketball.
“Kevin Garnett: Anything Is Possible” premiered on Friday, Nov. 12, on Showtime.