Kevin Garnett’s Number Retirement Proves ‘Anything’s Possible’
It’s a moment etched in the minds of every Boston Celtics fan, and a statement that is synonymous with the career of Kevin Garnett. No one will ever forget what it sounded like that June night in 2008 when Garnett, confetti falling on him from above and Larry O’Brien trophy clutched between his hands, bellowed out his now-signature “Anything’s possible!” as the Celtics and their fans celebrated Banner 17.
I was there that night, ostensibly as a sports writer but internally as a life-long Celtics fan. I stood and watched from the side of the parquet floor as Garnett leaned into Celtics legend Bill Russell, he of the 11 championship rings, and quietly said over and over, “I got mine. I got mine. I got mine” before adding, “I hope we made you proud."
I grew to love Kevin Garnett as a Celtic; in fact, he became one of my favorite players of all time. However, with his six seasons in Boston and just the one championship, I thought it was only an outside shot that he’d get his No. 5 raised to the rafters of TD Garden alongside Russell, teammate Paul Pierce, and all the other Celtic greats. He was a great player, but he was only Boston’s for a part of his Hall of Fame career, so it seemed unlikely he’d join the longer-tenured Celtics on those retired number banners.
But I guess it’s true, anything’s possible, and Garnett raised his No. 5 last night at the Garden, and honestly I have no idea why I ever doubted it would happen.
I spent about a little over a decade covering the Boston Celtics for the Standard-Times. I began when the Celtics were at a low point, having just fired Rick Pitino a season before. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals my first season covering the team, and made it to the playoffs in each of the next three seasons.
However, then the bottom fell out, and the Celtics missed the playoffs the next two seasons, including a horrendous 24-58 season in 2006-07 that at one point saw the C’s lose 18 in a row. Something drastic needed to happen that following off-season, and it wasn’t going to be just drafting someone with the fifth overall pick in the upcoming draft – which, by the way, was the worst-case scenario for the Celtics in the draft lottery, meaning they missed out on a shot at Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
On Draft Night, then-Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge made a move that, on the surface, appeared to make the Celtics significantly better, sending that fifth pick (eventual Celtic Jeff Green) along with Wally Szczberiak and Delonte West to the Seattle SuperSonics for future Hall of Famer Ray Allen.
Yet that was just the first domino to drop that season, as a little more than a month later, Ainge pulled off what might be the single greatest trade in NBA history, and was certainly the largest trade for a single player ever in league history, when he sent about half the team to Minnesota in exchange for Garnett.
Honestly, I was less than excited about this deal when I got the email notifying me that there would be a press conference later that day at TD Garden. I hopped in the car and began the drive from Wareham to Boston, thinking not about what a great player the Celtics now had coming to town, but rather, how he seemed like the wrong guy for what Boston needed at the time.
There was no doubt that Garnett was a great player; he was a dominant scorer and a lockdown defender. What worried me, though, was that he was overly emotional and wasn’t the leader the Celtics so desperately needed – or so I thought. All I was thinking at the time was that Paul Pierce had not yet shown he could really step up to be a true captain, and how Allen was a quiet, reserved player, and that they needed a real general on the floor.
I didn’t think that KG fit the bill, although I was so very, very wrong. I guess my opinion of him was always tainted by this interview he did in Minnesota with John Thompson, where he started crying because his team lost so much. I saw it then more as whining that for what it really was – a guy who wanted to win so badly that it physically pained him not to.
That reality didn’t take long for me to realize once the Celtics started that 2007-08 campaign. Garnett was indeed the heart and soul of that team, setting the tone with his intensity and his willingness to do anything to win. He also raised up Pierce – who really did become a true captain – and Allen, as the new Big Three found a way to sacrifice a little of each of their own games to become stronger as a team. The Celtics went 66-16 and won the NBA championship that year, but also gave the franchise an identity it still carries to this day.
Garnett didn’t really put a name on it until 2012, but it was something the Celtics had been displaying since he first put on the green and white: grit and balls. That’s how he described that team, but it’s really the indelible mark he left on the franchise.
He personified intensity. You couldn’t speak to him before a game; other players might be willing to have a chat with the media in the locker room, but not Garnett. If you saw KG in the locker room pre-game, you’d better not even get caught looking in his direction. Every moment until tip-off was building to a crescendo of intensity, from the infamous chalk toss to banging his head against the stanchion.
Sure, KG had his fun, too. Nobody got more excited for “Gino Time” at the Garden, when in a blowout, the JumboTron would show a clip from an old ‘70s episode of “American Bandstand” featuring a disco dancer in a Gino Vannelli t-shirt and the crowd – and Garnett – would explode with cheers. And who could forget the way he would needle his way into the psyche of the opposition? I bet Carmelo Anthony never allowed another box of Honey Nut Cheerios in his home ever again, even if his ex-wife La La and KG deny the story (we can’t reprint it here, so you’ll have to Google it).
Looking back on his time in Boston, yes, Garnett was only here for six seasons. Yet in that time, he truly both lived up to and redefined what it meant to be a Celtic.
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