The force of nature, the human laser beam that is Kevin Maurice Garnett had an immediate and palpable effect on not only the personnel of Boston Celtics and TD Garden, but the entire city of Boston in the autumn of 2007.
The trade that brought him to Boston on July 31, 2007, owed as much to Celtic past as the desire of ownership to live up to the promise expressed in their ownership moniker of Banner 17. It was the close friendship between Boston Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge and his former Celtic teammate and Minnesota Timberwolf counterpart Kevin McHale that was a major factor in the deal sending the former NBA MVP to Boston, in exchange for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, Boston’s 2009 first-round draft pick (top 3 protected), and the 2009 first round pick that Minnesota had sent to Boston in a previous trade. The seven for one deal represented the largest number of players ever exchanged for a single player in NBA history, and also represented the placement of the proverbial jewel in the championship crown that lay in the team’s future.
Garnett arrived for a mid-summer press conference with Celtics brass, newly acquired All-Star guard Ray Allen, and team captain Paul Pierce that immediately inspired the assembled media to anoint them as the franchise’s latest Big Three, alluding to the eighties championship trio of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale.
Within weeks of the start of the 2007-8 season, the KG effect was immediate and inspiring, as the Celtics won nine of their first ten games with the lone loss a two-point squeaker to the Orlando Magic.
Their tenth game came on the evening of Wednesday November 21st at TD Garden.
The eve of Thanksgiving.
It was the day I got to witness the mechanism behind the KG effect firsthand.
On that afternoon I was working on the ninth floor of the TD Garden refreshing several of our displays. This is the top level of the arena, and houses not only much of the press and broadcast seating but also hundreds of chairs offering what Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber would have called the “catbird seat.”
As this was the busiest travel day of the year, the Garden would only start to fill gradually around 5:00 PM or so, with vendors and ushers arriving for the nationally televised 8:00 PM tap off.
At 3:00 PM the Garden was chapel quiet.
But at 3:05 PM the silence was broken when hip hop tunes cascaded from the arena sound system. Thinking it was a control desk sound check, I thought nothing of it until the music was soon joined by the echoing thump of a basketball on the parquet.
I knew before I walked to the balcony that this surely had to be Kevin Garnett, the team’s highest paid player, doing what only his Celtic predecessor Larry Bird had done before nearly each and every game in his career. Namely, working on his game, primarily his shot selection, with the rebounding help of a locker room assistant.
I’m sure I may have been one of fewer than a half dozen witnesses to his routine, as he swiveled and bobbed around every square foot of the perimeter of the the key while lofting shots from a variety of angles. His grace belied his height, as his ¾ hour workout was nothing less than choreography worthy of Alvin Ailey or Bob Fosse.
I wanted to applaud, reminded of the U2 sound check from a year or two before in the same building at roughly the same time of day, after which the applause of myself, my friend Michael, and several cleaners prompted Bono to execute a courtly bow and address us with “That’s why we practice.”
The Celtics beat the Warriors seven hours later by a score of 105-82 for their sixth consecutive home victory. Two days later, Garnett led the team with 21 points and 11 rebounds as they beat the Lakers by a score of 107-94.
Even the undefeated Patriots had to elbow their way through the newsprint for headlines as the newly revitalized Celtics eventually executed the greatest single season turnaround in NBA history, finishing with a regular season won/lost record of 66-16, a whopping 42 game improvement over their previous season.
And in the best Celtic tradition, it was capped by an NBA Finals win over the rival Lakers capped with a remarkable 131-92 smash down in the sixth and deciding game at TD Garden.
All of which was inspired by a player of whom the great Bill Russell said he would give one of his eleven championship rings if he didn’t win one in Boston.
The player whose idiosyncratic post-anthem pre-game ritual included pressing his forehead into the padded stanchion of the basket before heading to the scorer’s table, where, seconds before the tip, he poured talcum powder into his hands before raising them in a clap releasing a small cloud.
The player whose fierce warrior cry was the final segment of each and every pre-game video intro.
The one and only.
He complemented the skills of, and made his teammates and made them better, especially his old friend Paul Pierce who finally won the banner he’d long sought.
I’d argue that Kevin Garnett made everyone in Greater Boston and Celtic Nation work a little harder; such was his intensity and the force of his character.
And today, though I can’t prove this is true I know in my bones that the current Celtics hot streak has to, just HAS to, be attributable in some small part to the fact the team will be performing before Mr. Garnett on the day his number five will be raised to the rafters of TD Garden.
I’ll be working at the Garden that day as well. With a tad more focus and hustle than usual.
KG will be in the house, then, now, and forever.