Garnett, Kevin 1976–
Kevin Garnett 1976–
Professional basketball player
Kevin Garnett underwent a marked change in his image over the course of his first two years in the national spotlight. When most basketball fans first heard of Garnett, he was known as the high school basketball player who was going directly into the National Basketball Association (NBA) because he couldn’t qualify academically to play in college. Many NBA observers assumed he was a disaster waiting to happen, but by his second season in the league, Garnett had surprised many by becoming one of the NBA’s young crop of budding stars. At 6-foot-11 he has the power and size of a center, but he also has the speed and ball-handling skills of a guard. Possibly what surprised some critics the most about Garnett in his early days in the league was that, far from being too immature to handle the spotlight, he developed a reputation as one of the league’s classy young players.
Garnett was born May 19, 1976 in Mauldin, South Carolina. His mother, Shirley Irby, raised Kevin, an older sister, Sonya, and a younger sister, Ashley. The family lived in Mauldin, a quiet, middle-class bedroom community, for the first 18 years of Kevin’s life. Garnett showed promise as a basketball prospect early, and attracted considerable attention from college scouts. At the end of his junior year at Mauldin High School, Garnett was named Mr. Basketball for the state of South Carolina.
The first major changes in Garnett’s life came following his junior year in high school. He was involved in an incident in which I he and several of his friends were accused of assaulting a white student, a touchy accusation in the racially tense town. His record was cleared after he participated in a pre-trial program for first-time offenders, but staying in the area was problematic after that. Garnett met the coach from Chicago’s Farragut Academy High School at a basketball camp before his senior year, and he and his mother moved to that city so he could transfer to Farragut. The move was a dramatic one in most every way, particularly going from a quiet Southern community to a gang-infested urban environment. Garnett said he had to learn to survive in Chicago, telling Newsweek the city was “total hell—gangs, guns, crime. I had to deal with a gang leader named Seven-Gun Marcello. No fun.”
The move was a successful one from a basketball standpoint, though, as Garnett averaged 25.2 points-
Born May 19, 1976 in Mauldin, South Carolina; son of Shirley Irby. Education: High school diploma, Chicago Farragut Academy, 1995.
Career: Professional basketball player, 1995-. Drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1995 NBA Entry Draft.
Selected awards: Named to NBA All-Star Team, 1997; voted NBA All-Rookie Second Team, 1996; named National High School Player of the Year by USA Today, 1995; named to Parade Magazine All-America First Team, 1995; Mr. Basketball for state of Illinois, 1995; Most Outstanding Player in 1995 McDonald’s All-America Game; Mr. Basketball for state of South Carolina, 1994.
Addresses: Office-Minnesota Timberwolves, 600 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55403.
per-game, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 6.5 blocks in his one year at Farragut. He was named Mr. Basketball in his second state in as many years, named the USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year, and was placed on the Parade Magazine All-America First Team. Following the season he played in the McDonald’s All-America Game, and grabbed 11 rebounds, scored 18 points and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player. Scouts were unanimous in their opinion that Garnett was a top-notch basketball prospect.
There was one problem with the logical and traditional next step into college, however: Garnett was not a top-notch student. While several college programs wrestled with the question of whether to accept this marginal student with remarkable basketball skills, Garnett wrestled repeatedly with the ACT entrance exam. The question became moot when he failed for the fourth time to gain a score which would allow him to play basketball as a freshman, and he declared himself eligible for the NBA draft.
Garnett’s move from South Carolina to Chicago had generated a bit of controversy in the basketball world, but nothing compared to his decision to jump from high school to the pros. Everyone seemed to have an opinion as to whether Garnett was ready, physically or emotionally, to make the big step. Of the three players who had previously done so, Moses Malone had unqualified success, Darryl Dawkins had some success, and Bill Willoughby had limited success. The most recent of those players had entered the league 20 years before Garnett; another player, Shawn Kemp, skipped college basketball but did attend college for a year. Many basketball people questioned whether any 19-year old was mature enough to avoid the pitfalls of the NBA’s spotlight. They also thought that if he could handle the attention and forego the temptations, however, his physical assets would make him a potential superstar for years to come.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, a young franchise eager to improve their future, took the gamble and chose Garnett with the fifth pick overall in the 1995 NBA Entry Draft. They signed him to a contract for $5.6 million over three years. While it was thought Garnett had the potential to play any position, the Timberwolves decided his 6-foot-11, 220-pound frame was best suited to small forward until he filled out with a few more pounds. He took an apartment in Minnetonka, a suburb of Minneapolis, and shared it with a roommate, Bug Peters, an old friend from South Carolina. Garnett allayed fears of his getting into trouble, telling Newsweek he was basically a homebody. “I don’t drink or smoke or go out much at all,” he declared. “I’ve done all that, and it got me in trouble. I have an image to uphold. People are watching; kids are watching. I prefer staying home with Bug, playing CDs and Sega.” Garnett was also largely confined to his hotel room on road trips. As teammate Sam Mitchell attested in Newsweek, “The kid’s not old enough to get in anyplace where he can get into trouble.”
Another place Garnett avoided trouble was on the basketball court. Not surprisingly, he didn’t set the world on fire with his statistics immediately, but when his rookie season was over there was enough evidence to suggest that the Timberwolves’ gamble would probably pay off. He played in the Rookie Game at the All-Star break, finishing with eight points, four rebounds, and six assists. Midway through the season he cracked the Wolves’ starting lineup, and he led the squad with a 49.1 percent field goal percentage and broke a team record for blocked shots in a season with 131. He also led the team in rebounds in half the games after he became a starter, and had double digits in points and rebounds in 12 games.
As the season rolled on, Garnett attracted rave reviews from seasoned observers of the game. Atlanta Hawks general manager Pete Babcock told Sports Illustrated late in the season, “He’s a special player. Earlier in the year you saw flashes of it. But he has so much more confidence now. He extends so high on his turnaround jumper and shoots so soundly, he’s become very difficult to stop.” Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale told Sports Illustrated at about the same time, “What this kid has accomplished is amazing. If you put him in a college situation right now, where it’s not as physical and there’s zone coverage, he’d be doing things that would have people in awe.”
Garnett’s strong play continued into his second professional season, and so did the growth in his reputation.
One national magazine included Garnett in an article about the young players in the league with strong character and respect for the game. When he was named to the NBA Western Conference All-Star Team as an injury replacement in February, he became the youngest player ever named to an all-star team. It was less than two years after he had graduated from high school, and Kevin Garnett was already a star in the NBA. People could only wonder how good he might be after his 21st birthday.
Jet, May 29, 1995, p. 50.
Newsweek, December 4, 1995, p. 72.
Sports Illustrated, June 26, 1995, p. 65; March 11, 1996, p. 61.
Minnesota Timberwolves 1996-97 Media Guide, p. 8.
American basketball player
In 1995, Kevin Garnett became famous as one of the first high school basketball players to be drafted directly into the National Basketball Association (NBA). Despite many people's concerns about how a teenager would fare in that setting, Garnett did extremely well in his first few years. In 1997, when at the age of twenty-two he resigned with the Minnesota Timberwolves for $126 million over six years, and became the highest-paid athlete in any team sport.
NBA Draft, 1995
Garnett was a senior at Farragut Academy in Chicago in the spring of 1995. He had already earned a great deal of national attention as a basketball player, but his SAT scores were not high enough to play college basketball in the NCAA, so he decided to take his chances with the NBA draft. He was a hot prospect, and even before the draft happened he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline Ready or Not.… Only hours before the draft started he learned that he had passed the SATs the last time he took them, but by then it was too late. In the first round of the draft, he was selected fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves were still a young team then, and in 1995 they had a new vice president, general manager, and owner. "I think we figured if [signing a high school kid] went bad, we'd just say, 'Hey, it was our first draft. We didn't know what we were doing,'" Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale told Sports Illustrated reporter Leigh Montville in 1999. But the Timberwolves never needed any excuses.
From his first season, Garnett was an excellent player, scoring an average of 10.4 points per game and achieving a 49.1 percent shooting average. He started the season as the second-string small forward, behind veteran NBA player Sam Mitchell, but that did not last long. Several weeks into the season, Mitchell recalled to Montville, "I went to the coach and told him Kevin should be starting. The reason was simple: He was better. I was playing against him every day in practice, and I knew how good he was." But as good as his skills were, perhaps more impressive was the fact that Garnett quickly became the team's moral leader, calming down teammates who were angry and energizing those who felt tired or defeated.
From his first day in the NBA, Garnett was fighting a battle for respect. "Money comes and goes. Respect lasts a lifetime," McHale told Frank Clancy of Sporting News near the end of Garnett's first season. "He's got the right attitude." It didn't take long for Garnett to earn this respect, as he explained to Esquire 's Mike Lupica early in 1997. "I think the way I've played, the way I've conducted myself, has done that…. All I ever heard from the first day was 'This is a man's league, kid.' The only way you can get them to treat you like a man is to play like a man."
In Garnett's second season, he was paired on the court with his old friend, point guard Stephon Marbury. With this combination, the Timberwolves had their best year in franchise history, making the playoffs for the first time ever. Garnett, the unquestioned star of the team, played in the All-Star game. So when he had the opportunity to sign a contract extension with the Timberwolves at the end of the season, the Timberwolves offered him $102 million over six years to stay. He refused, believing that in another year, when he would be a free agent, he would be able to make more. After weeks of negotiations, he finally re-signed for $126 million over six years.
|1976||Born May 19 in Maudlin, South Carolina|
|1995||Graduates from Chicago's Farragut Academy|
|1995||Drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the NBA draft|
|1996||Records his first NBA start January 9|
|1996||Plays Wilt Chamberlain in "Rebound: The Story of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault," a video by HBO|
|1998||Becomes the first Timberwolf to start in an All-Star game|
|2002||Launches "4XL-For Excellence in Leadership," a program to teach minority students about careers in business|
This contract, the most lucrative ever, led to a fight between the NBA management and the players' union over the terms of player contracts, which led to a lockout that precluded a large portion of the 1998-99 season. Under the terms of the new agreement, contracts as large as Garnett's are now banned. However, Garnett and others who were grand fathered into the agreement will be able to sign contract renewals for 105 percent of their previous contract. This means that when Garnett's current contract expires, when he will be twenty-eight and presumably at the peak of his athletic prowess, he will be eligible to receive $28 million a season.
But "I don't play basketball for the money," Garnett told Sports Illustrated 's Michael Farber before the contract dispute. "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'm a battery"
Garnett has long been known for his enthusiasm for the game. Even when he was working out for a group of NBA coaches before the 1995 draft, he shouted as he demonstrated to them how high he could jump. By the end of the 1999-00 season, not only did he throw back his head and howl, he had his rookie teammate Wally Szczerbiak shouting as he ran down the court after making his shots. "Last summer, I couldn't get Wally to throw his fist in the air. Now this kid is going down, shaking his head like he's crazy," Garnett explained to Darryl Howerton of Sport. "I'm spreading." That's fine with Garnett, as he told Howerton. "I go crazy trying to energize people 'cause that's what I am. I'm a battery, you know? if you're down, you can plug into me and get charged up." Although Garnett, Szczerbiak, and the other energized Timberwolves have yet to win an NBA championship, fans remain hopeful that this still-young team will soon be able to go all the way.
|MIN: Minnesota Timberwolves.|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1994||Named South Carolina's "Mr. Basketball"|
|1995||USA Today's Player of the Year|
|1995||Named to Parade Magazine's All-America First Team|
|1995||Named Illinois's "Mr. Basketball"|
|1995||Most Outstanding Player of the McDonald's All-America high school basketball game|
|1995||First Annual Nike Hoop Summit (with USA Basketball's Junior Select National Team)|
|1996||NBA All-Rookie Second Team All-Star|
|1997-98, 2000||Selected for the NBA All-Star Game|
|1999||All-NBA Third Team All-Star|
|1999||Tournament of the Americas (with USA Basketball's Pre-Olympic Qualifying Team)|
|2000||All-NBA First Team All-Star|
|2000-01||NBA All-Defense First Team All-Star|
|2001||All-NBA Second Team All-Star|
|2001||Became only the seventh player in NBA history to average over twenty points per game, ten rebounds per game, and five assists per game in more than one season|
Address: c/o Minnesota Timberwolves, 600 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55403.
Ballantini, Brett. "'The Kid' Grows Up." Basketball Digest (March, 2002): 20-27.
Brauer, David. "A Season on the Brink." MPLS-St. Paul Magazine (November, 2000): 78.
Clancy, Frank. "The Kid's All Right." Sporting News (March 4, 1996): 26-29.
Farber, Michael. "Feel the Warmth." Sports Illustrated (January 20, 1997): 70-79.
Guss, Greg. "Hungry like the Wolf." Sport (November, 1996): 50-53.
Howerton, Darryl. "Energizer Buddy." Sport (March, 2000): 32.
Lupica, Mike. "The Go-to Guy." Esquire (March, 1997): 54-56.
McCallum, Jack. "Hoop Dreams." Sports Illustrated (June 26, 1995): 64-68.
Millea, John. "Lonewolf." Sporting News (November 27, 2000): 10.
Montville, Leigh. "Howlin' Wolf." Sports Illustrated (May 3, 1999): 38.
"NBA Star Launches Program to Introduce Students to Business." Black Issues in Higher Education (March 28, 2002): 16.
Young, Bob. "Marbury, Garnett Trade Barbs." Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ) (December 31, 2002).
"#10-Kevin Garnett." USA Basketball. http://www.usabasketball.com/biosmen/kevin_garnett_bio.html (November 27, 2002).
"Kevin Garnett Player Info." NBA.com. http://www.nba.com/playerfile/kevin_garnett/ (November 27, 2002).
"Olympic Bio: Kevin Garnett." CNN/SI.com. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/news/2000/05/25/garnett_bio/ (November 27, 2002).
Sketch by Julia Bauder