Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Do We Baby Kevin Garnett?

Let's get this out of the way.

First off, I'm not a Kevin Garnett "hater." While I can in no way deny that I hate Kobe Bryant with the passion of a thousand love songs, KG doesn't inspire anything but intrigue in me. I rooted for him in Minnesota, just like everyone else. I was happy that he's getting his chance for a ring in Boston with this ridiculous Disneyland of talent he's found himself in. I love the fact that he puts so much effort on the floor, and I think his spot up J is one of the most terrifying things I'll ever see. So I think hardly anything negative about Kevin Garnett, most of the time.

No, my question today is not directed at Kevin Garnett, nor to Glen Taylor. It's directed at you, at me, at us, the fans, the blogosphere, the world.

Why do we baby Kevin Garnett?

And make no mistake, we do. Take a handful of performers. Tracy McGrady. Jason Kidd. Dirk Nowitzki. Steve Nash. All of these guys have superstar talent. They're all amazing performers. They all give insane amounts of effort on the floor. And all but McGrady have had more success than Kevin Garnett. Yet all have faced astounding criticism on an almost daily basis from fans, the blogosphere and the "media." And there's nothing wrong with this, in my opinion. They're paid millions of dollars to play the game of basketball and to attempt to win championships. When they fail to do so on the largest stages, they should be criticized, just as they should be complimented and applauded when they succeed and pull of the seemingly superhuman feats that make them superstars.

No, the problem is that for some reason, Kevin Garnett is above this same criticism. And that's our fault, not his.

Rest assured, he gets the positive spin from everyone and anyone. It's hard to go two feet in these here series of tubes without running into someone discussing the precision of his post work, the phenomenal nature of his leadership, the overall transcendent way he plays basketball.


Not so easy to spot.

This latest fracas has really cast this into the light. When Glen Taylor made what can be considered a tasteless comment about Garnett tanking, I knew the reaction from folks would be intense. And I knew who's side they'd be on. Sure enough, here they come. You're not finding anyone questioning whether this is true. You're not finding anyone asking if, even though Taylor's comment was unnecessary given how both the franchise and Garnett have moved on, possibly this was true. Garnett's injury at the end of last year was rumored to not be serious enough to keep him out. And Garnett knew this was the end, my only friend, of him in Minnesota. So he exaggerated an injury to stay out, rest up, and do whatever it is Kevin Garnett does in his spare time. (I imagine it to be something like that scene in the '89 Batman where he's swinging from the pole by his feet upside-down, and brooding, but that's just me.) I'm not saying it's what he did, but I think it's very possible. I also don't think it takes a lot of "gall" for a former owner to say something critical of a former player who ditched his franchise, woeful management or not.

That's not very "super-intense" and "stand-up," now, is it? This wouldn't make him any less of those attributes we laud him for, it just means that this one particular instance, he was human.

Yet we've reacted like Taylor accused him of purposefully missing shots, or kicking babies or something. And the most common reason for this is one that makes me livid.

"Kevin Garnett is the most intense guy you'll ever meet! He's intense every second of his life! He's constantly committed to winning!"

Really? Have you met him? Do you hang out with him? Is he like that when he orders a danish from Panera? Is he 100% committed to greatness when he's folding his laundry? And if so, shouldn't he back off, so he doesn't injure himself in some freak folding accident? Seriously, though, if he's so committed to winning, and so super-intense, why is it that he shrinks away in clutch minutes in big games? It used to be acceptable to throw out the "He's a big man and that's not what they do" comments, but Dirk Nowitzki is better at it than Garnett is, and still gets more flak about it.

When someone says, "Kevin Garnett is obviously so intense" I ask them why they say that. And the answer has something to do with the fact that he screams a lot on the court, and seems really distraught over losses in interviews.


Well, I've got news for you. All that proves is that Kevin Garnett is remarkably capable of showcasing himself as intense. This isn't to say he isn't. He is. I'm terrified of the man. There's a reason we call him El Tigre Monstruoso around here. He haunts my dreams, and devours me within them, gnashing his teeth and screaming as I am destroyed by his intensity before I wake up crying and clutching my Pokemon pillow. (Note: Where "Pokemon pillow" is "my wife, who is very annoyed and promptly kicks me off, muttering about canceling my league pass"). The point is that to assume that Kevin Garnett is any more or less intense than any of the players I listed above is a fallacy, based on perception.

Now, there are tons of ways to refute Taylor's claims. The noble way Garnett killed himself with MVP-worthy performances on wretched teams year after year in Minnesota. The undying respect he garners with Minnesota fans which has eerie similarities to an abused wife who repeatedly sleeps with her ex just because they had a few good years before he ran off with her TV. The constant praise from owners, players, coaches, and teammates like Paul Pierce. But the point is that it's at least worth considering whether Kevin Garnett tanked last year. And it's worth considering why he doesn't receive more criticism for the failures he faced in Minnesota. I've heard over and over again how terrible the team that surrounded him was. Yet two posts later I'll read about how Sam Cassell is such a terrific player and adds so much to a team. And you do remember how talented Latrell Sprewell was, before he went batsh*t insane, right? Because the guy could ball, family to feed or not.

Even then, I'm not necessarily sold on the idea that Garnett should shoulder a tremendous amount of blame for those failures. But if he's off the hook, so then should Tracy McGrady not be crucified for switching teams and for his repeated playoff failures. All I'm asking for is a little bit of consistency here. It's fine to say that KG carries his team for 44 minutes, and maybe someone else should step up with 4 minutes left. But then maybe we should step off Dirk's nuts about the same thing, especially when Nowitzki at least asks for the ball. And I've got no issue with someone questioning Taylor's class when he comes out with a comment like that, or when a Superstar does something that's just a jackass thing to do.

But then, shouldn't we be criticizing Garnett for the classless way he's been popping his jersey constantly, even in wins over the T-Wolves?

Again, I don't mind necessarily if Garnett pops his jersey after beating the Pistons. That type of braggadocio is admirable, in my opinion, and makes the game more entertaining.

It's also kind of a d*ck thing to do.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's time we stop babying Garnett. Glen Taylor, his former owner, who's worked with him for almost a decade, made a comment that he shouldn't have made about Garnett tanking last season. And he's probably wrong, and there's no reason for him to have said it, a year later. (Taylor has obviously moved on to the stage where the ex wife now repeatedly calls the ex a dipsh*t when he calls and moves his stuff out on to the lawn in the rain.) But it's also not something that should be dismissed outright, just because it's Kevin Garnett. He's capable of failure, just like Kobe, just like LeBron, just like everyone else. He's fallible.

All I'm trying to say is, maybe we should treat him that way.

Criticize him when he deserves it. It'll make his glory that much greater when he finally earns his place among the greatest of all time with a championship.

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