Kevin Garnett is an American professional basketball player who is considered one of the most versatile and dominant players of his time.
Kevin Maurice Garnett was born on May 19, 1976, in Greenville, South Carolina, a smal town located about 80 miles northwest of the capitol city of Columbi.Kevin’s mother, Shirley, was not married to his biological father, O’Lewis McCullough, so she looked after the infant and his older sister, Sonya, on her own.Caring for two children wasn’t easy, and things got more complicated when a sister, Ashley, arrived. Shirley worked two jobs, one at a local plant and another as a hair stylist. O’Lewis, who remarried and started a new family, helped out with child support payments.
The Garnetts lived in a mostly black section of Greenville known as Nickeltown. Personable and outgoing, Kevin had plenty of friends there, and lots of relatives, too. Among them was cousin Shammond Williams (who would go on to star at the University of North Carolina). Williams informed Kevin that O’Lewis’s parents, Odell and Mary McCullough, owned a home a few blocks from the Garnetts. Kevin was intrigued by this revelation, and Shirley—who had shunned contact with the senior McCulloughs—finally took her son to see his grandparents.
Though Kevin’s father was not a constant presence in his life, he did have a major influence in one way. As a teenager, O’Lewis was a gifted hoops player. The captain of the basketball team at Beck High School in the mid-’70s, he was nicknamed “Bye Bye 45” because he wore number 45 and regularly blew by opponents of the fast break. A dominant center in the world of small-town basketball, O’Lewis was snubbed by big-time colleges because he stood only 6-4. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army and played in local basketball leagues. That’s when he and Shirley began dating.
O’Lewis’s talent rubbed off on Kevin, who became infatuated with basketball and fantasized about of making it to the NBA. His first idol was Magic Johnson, the All-Star point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin practiced around the clock to become the next Magic.
For Kevin, the basketball court also served as a refuge when life got tough. So hooked on the game was Kevin that sometimes he would sneak out of his bedroom window in the dead of night to go to a nearby playground.
Without O’Lewis in the picture, Kevin craved a “real” father—preferably one who, like his biological dad, liked basketball. Shirley married when Kevin turned seven, but her new husband, Ernest Irby, had no interest in sports.
Even as Kevin showed signs of developing into a basketball phenom, Shirley and Ernest demanded that he study hard in school and earn good grades. She was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and taught her children the tenets of her religion. That meant that the Garnetts ignored holidays like Halloween and Christmas. (Kevin, in fact, was 19 before he celebrated Christmas for the first time.)
Soon after his 12th birthday, Kevin and his family moved a short ride away to Maudlin. There, on Basswood Drive, he was befriended by a group of kids who shared his love for basketball. His best friend was Jamie “Bug” Peters. The two became so close that they told people they were brothers.
As a kid, Kevin usually matched up against players who were bigger, older and stronger. Playing against more experienced competition motivated him to improve. He got his first taste of organized ball in 1991 as a freshman at Maudlin High School. Though still raw, Kevin averaged 12.5 points, 14 rebounds, and seven blocks a game.
The following summer, he joined an AAU team coached by Darren Gazaway. Kevin impressed Gazaway with his work ethic and team-first attitude. The teenager would typically head directly for the playground after a practice to work on something he had just learned. In games, he derived as much joy from blocking a shot or throwing a good outlet pass as he did from dunking over someone.
By his sophomore season at Maudlin, Kevin was performing at such a high level that his coach, James Fisher, barely recognized him. He moved around the court with tremendous poise, could play with his back to the basket and sometimes triggered and finished the same fast break. Regardless of his position, Kevin always took control of the action. He wore jersey number 21, the same as Malik Sealy of St. John’s. He had seen the star forward during the season and immediately identified with his versatility and unselfishness on the floor.
As Kevin’s star rose, his commitment in the classroom wavered. He didn’t always apply himself, particularly in courses that required large amounts of reading. When school administrators offered to provide extra tutoring, Kevin refused. He was certain that NBA riches awaited him.
Nothing during Kevin’s junior year at Maudlin dissuaded him from that dream. He poured in 27 points, pulled down 17 rebounds, and swatted seven shots a game. Along the way, he led the Mavericks to the state championship and was named South Carolina’s Mr. Basketball, making him the first junior in state history to be so honored.
In May of 1994, however, Kevin’s life began to crumble around him. A fight broke out at school between a white student and several black classmates, and Kevin happened to be nearby. (This version of the story has been questioned since. One report indicates that Kevin was part of a group of black students who beat a white freshman with rolled-up newspapers. The victim suffered injuries that required hospital care.)
When the police showed up, they arrested everyone in the vicinity. Kevin was charged with second-degree lynching, then was released on bail. The story made headlines across the state. Kevin’s once sterling reputation was trashed.
Just as he had done when he was a kid, Garnett retreated to the basketball court for solace. He received more distressing news, however, when a longtime friend named Eldrick Leamon was hit by a car and died from his injuries. Shaken by Leamon’s death, Kevin worked even harder on his game.
Kevin’s mother suspected her famous son would be hung out to dry in the swirl of racism, local politics and headline-grabbing triggered by the charges leveled at him. She was looking for a way out of South Carolina, and ultimately Kevin’s basketball would be their ticket.
That summer, Kevin starred for his AAU team, leading the squad to victory in the prestigious Kentucky Hoopfest. His performance there helped earn him an invitation to a Nike summer camp, where he competed against some of the best teenagers in the country. During the week, he struck up a friendship with Ronnie Fields, who played for Farragut High School in Chicago. Knowing Kevin’s situation, Fields suggested that he come to the Windy City for his senior season.
Shirley and Ashley accompanied Kevin on the trip north. In Chicago, rumors persisted that he transferred to Farragut because of academic problems at Maudlin. The story became national news when ESPN did a piece on it. Kevin scoffed at the suggestion, explaining that with all the negative attention back in South Carolina, he simply wanted a fresh start.
The new environment also provided Kevin with the opportunity to take his game to another level. Chicago produced some of the best high school players in the country, hence Farragut would provide Kevin with his first exposure to regular top-flight competition. His coach, William Nelson, planned to let his newest player showcase his full range of talents.
In the NBA, where match-ups are everything, Kevin has been a one-man nightmare for most of his career. He moves with quickness and power around the basket, his medium-range turn-around jumper is accurate and virtually unpreventable, and he can also hit from long range if left open. He can station himself in the low post, fill the lane on the break or bring the ball up as point guard. Regardless of who’s checking Kevin, they will inevitably find themselves at a disadvantage. He has always been adept at the pick and roll. Paired with either Pierce or Allen in Boston, he continued to thrive in the halfcourt game.
In the past, opponents had goaded Kevin into trying to do things that were outside his repertoire. Never one to back down from a challenge, he often played into their hands. Today he is smarter and more mature. He sees the floor and understands the game. Now Kevin is the player making other guys do things they can’t. Though slowed by injury and losing a few inches on his vertical, he has made up for this by maximizing the considerable skill that remains.
Kevin’s defense and rebounding are ferocious. His quick feet and long arms enable him to guard men down low or out on the floor. He hits the boards extremely well at both ends and is a superb shot-blocker. One of the key adjustments Kevin made with Celtics was learning how to keep rebounds alive even when he could not control them. Many older players simply don't try for balls they can’t tear out of the air. “Not trying” has never been a part of Kevin's vocabulary.
Kevin has all the attributes of a leader who teammates gladly follow. He also knows when to share those duties when younger players show they are ready. With the Celtics, Kevin found perfect playing partners in Pierce—a slasher—and Allen, a smooth perimeter player known for stretching the defense. With Kevin on the blocks, many fans have feel as if they are reliving the Bird-McHale-Parrish days.
“I literally and truly don’t care how many points I score. I get far more satisfaction out of doing the other things that make us winners.”
“I don’t think in the past. I don’t think in the future. You grasp the moment.”
“If you think individual, that’s how you’re going to come off. I’ve always given ‘team’ a chance.”
“Money isn’t always going to make it happen. It’s important to be around people that have the right kind of attitude, being happy about what you’re doing.”
“To win a championship, I’d give whatever.”
“I go through life with a smile because I know things can be worse than they are.”
“One thing I’ve learned about the NBA is that you can have one good year, but you’ve always got to be progressing and working and making yourself better.”
“Satisfied? No, I’m not satisfied. There’s a lot I want to get done in the NBA.”
“I would love to do something that would make everybody I care about proud that Kevin Garnett was around.”
“It’s all about having fun. Play hard and fair, don’t hurt anybody. Feel good about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”
“Chicago was big for me as far as developing as a person and as a basketball player.”
“My main focus off the court is to be humble. My mom always told me to be a presentable young man. I’m not going to pretend to be something that I’m not and act a certain way for people. I plan on being myself. I like having a good time, but I still carry myself in an orderly fashion.”
“I went with my heart. No regrets. no looking back.”
“I’ll always have a kid in me.”
“I want to stand out. After my career is over, I want people to say, ‘He was different.’ It’s not to be outrageous. I just want people to know that when I played ball, I was having fun.”
“I don’t play basketball for the money. I don’t play it for the crowd. When I didn’t have a friend, when I was lonely, I always knew I could grab that orange pill and go hoop. I could go and dunk on somebody. If things weren’t going right, I could make a basket and feel better.”
“I’ve been a leader practically my whole life. I don’t know what it is to follow.”
“I’ve always been a player and a person who wanted to be the best at whatever he did.”
“I dedicated myself to this game without even knowing it. I learned it like it was my homework.”
“I think big—that’s what my mother taught me. If you think small and accomplish it, what does it mean? Who cares? To me the sky’s the limit, and I’m going to try and get there.”
“My idea is, I shine, you shine. If I’m doing well and you’re with me, you do well.”
“I go crazy trying to energize people, ’cause that’s what I am. I’m a battery. If you’re down, you can plug into me and get charged up.”
“I leave my heart on the court every night. I earn my keep.”
“I’ll bring what I bring to the tale, but it’s good to know you have two guys with the experience and know-how in big games.”
“This is the reason we came here. This is the reason we got together.”
“I've always tried to be the person who says things no one else wants to say. I've always kept it in house, as opposed to going to the papers.”
“I'm old school. I'm locked into my own little circle. If you cross the line, you're going to get bit. They'll always know where I'm coming from and once we hit the floor, there's no doubt.”
He was once “Da Kid.” Then “The Man.” Now he’s one of Boston’s “Big Three.” Kevin Garnett had done it all in the NBA, except take his team to a title. He checked that one off his to-do list in 2008 after an epic trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Celtics. KG is one of the most enthusiastic, demanding and dedicated players to ever set foot on the hardwood. This was true when he was at the top of his game, and it is still true as he enters his twilight years.
““He’s a genetic freak. All the great ones are.”
—NBA great Doug Collins
“He’s very outgoing. Just one of the guys. He definitely does not have the big head. Not Kevin.”
—NBA veteran Antawn Jamison
“This guy has as much energy as anyone I’ve ever seen. He attacks the boards like he’s in a gym all by himself.”
—Former NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich
“His know-how for the game, his feel for the game—that’s something you can’t teach. You either got it or you don’t. He’s got it.”
—Hall of Famer Magic Johnson
“When I first saw him, he had the best athletic skills for his size of anyone I had ever seen at that stage. He’s really thin, but it doesn’t matter. With his agility and coordination, he can give people trouble at the power forward, small forward and center positions.”
—Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor
“Offensively, he has that wonderful turnaround jump shot and those follow-ups around the basket. He’s one of those guys who, because of his size and athletic ability, creates real difficult defensive matchups.”
—Hall of Famer Jerry West
“He’s a little loud, a little high energy, but he’s cool. I have more respect for him now because I’ve never seen anyone who wants to win as badly as he does.”
—All-Star Tim Duncan
“No joke, you enjoy his company. He makes everybody better.”
—All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim
“God has really put something together with him. His size and his ability—he’s probably one of the most unique players in the world.”
—Former All-Star Allan Houston
“He’s great for our game. He’s not a taker. He gives everything back. He’s as good a teammate as you could possibly have and as great a kid to coach as you could ever want.”
—NBA coach Larry Brown
“He’s raised his level. He’s obviously the MVP.”
—Former All-Star Charles Barkley
“He’s one of the most unselfish go-to guys I’ve ever seen. He’s a classic.”
—Former teammate Joe Smith
“He’s one of the best teammates you could have.”
“Kevin Garnett is the prototype for the NBA player of the future. He’s already one of the greatest players to have played the game.”
—Broadcaster Bill Walton
“I hope he doesn't end up like I did. When you get hurt, it becomes drudgery.”
—Former Celtics great Kevin McHale
“He’s long, energetic, and silly. He has fun out there.”
—Former All-Star Grant Hill
“Every coach I know would cut off his arm to have him.”
—NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo
“Kevin Garnett is a guy who cares about your feelings. He respects the last guy on the team.”
—Former teammate Sam Cassell
“Would I like to have him on my team, right now? Hell, yeah. He's the best competitor I've ever been around.”
“Winning a championship is now a legitimate and realistic goal.”
—Celtics GM Danny Ainge
“Was he worth it? Absolutely. He won us a championship. He changed our culture.”