Is this it? Is my childhood finally over? You would think graduating high school, then college, then grad school would signify it. But the news today that Kevin Garnett would not be returning for the 2016-17 NBA season really puts a stamp on it. Back in July, I wrote “I can’t even remember an NBA without Tim Duncan“. Maybe that was a little hyperbole. But it’s definitely true for Garnett, who made his debut two years before Duncan and one year before Kobe. With Duncan, Kobe, and now Garnett all retired, it really hits home. All the stars I grew up watching are done playing.
Sure, I remember Jordan, Pippen, and their six championships in Chicago. I remember Barkley, Ewing, Olajuwon, Stockton, and Malone. But they were never my NBA stars. They all came into the league in the 80’s. Some of their most memorable moments came before I was born. I never watched Barkley in a Sixers uniform. However, I saw the careers of Garnett, Kobe, and Timmy all the way through. Now it’s over for them, and just about every star that got their start in the 90’s. First went Gary Payton, the 90’s best hope for stopping Jordan. Then Shaq and AI, the newest hall of famers. Soon after went Jason Kidd and Ray Allen. All we have left from the 90’s are Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Paul Pierce.
This isn’t about all of them though. This is about KG, the Big Ticket. Garnett will be remembered as an all time great, but he was even better than that. Among the three players named in the title, Garnett would be considered a distant 3rd to many NBA players. But that’s just not fair. Titles aren’t everything. If Kobe’s mid 2000’s run, where he had to carry a talent-less Lakers team to the playoffs, as a bright spot in his career, then you have to recognize Garnett’s run from 1998-2003.
He might have been the best player in the NBA, but no one noticed because he was left all alone in the Minnesota cold. No, he never won a scoring title or a defensive player of the year award during that time, but he was clearly the best “two-way” player during this time, before that was even a thing. Duncan was the defensive anchor for so many great Spurs defenses; controlling the paint, steadying the defense allowing everyone else to do their job. Garnett was more like a missile defense system, tracking and eliminating threats all over the court. He had a skill set that no one of his size could match. He may not be the best big man ever, but he had the most rounded game of anyone 6’10” or above to ever play the game. KG blocked shots and stole from guards. He could shoot, pass, handle the ball, and dominate the glass. In 2002-03, he became the 3rd player to lead his team in every major statistical category (Lebron has since become the 4th). If you need a modern comparison, think Blake Griffin if he could defend like Kawhi Leonard and was three inches taller.
It’s truly the end of an era with the loss of Garnett, Kobe, and Duncan in one offseason. Never have wee seen a collection of talent all leave the game in the same year, in any sport. Had Brady and Brees joined Manning in retirement this season it sill wouldn’t have matched this loss. But now they will all enter the Hall of Fame together. That’s going to be a special event five years from now.