What KG Meant to Me: The Young Wolves Reflect on Kevin Garnett’s Lasting Impact

Kevin Garnett with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS — At the The Courts at Mayo Clinic Square, the Timberwolves’ one-year-old practice facility, the walls of the entrance to the business offices are covered with specially-designed photos of the team’s history.

Most feature Kevin Garnett, the franchise’s most important figure, from the moment shaking David Stern’s hand as a draftee in 1995, to gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated with teammates Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell in March 2004, to standing on top of the scorer’s table on his 28th birthday, when he led the Timberwolves to a Game 7 victory over the Kings in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Game 7 win, led by Kevin Garnett, was the Timberwolves' biggest in franchise history. (NBPA)

The signature moment from the Game 7 win in 2004 (highlighted in the Timberwolves’ training center), which was the team’s biggest in franchise history. Kevin Garnett was also named MVP that year. (NBPA)

This past week, Garnett announced his retirement from the NBA after 21 years, ending his final chapter in Minnesota where it all started—this time with one of the youngest teams in the league.

So what was his lasting impression really like in the NBA among the baby-faced Timberwolves?

While in Minneapolis, the NBPA spoke with each current Timberwolves player, who spent time with Garnett in the past two years, to learn about his impact on each of them and to go inside the mind of the future Hall of Famer. While most of the Timberwolves believe Garnett will focus his first stages of retirement on his family and traveling—he recently returned from Rome—at least one player has another idea.

“I still think he plays basketball,” Zach LaVine said. “I think he goes and shoots, I think he lifts, works out. He has such a regimen, keeping himself healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s at Lifetime Fitness hooping.”

Along with LaVine, his teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica all shared candid thoughts about Garnett. Their reflections are presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns

Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The personal impact KG has had on me is life-changing. He’s been the most important piece to my career in the NBA and one of the best friendships I have in my life. So I’m always blessed to say that he’s my brother. We bonded so well because of how passionate and emotional we both are.

My favorite memory of Kevin Garnett is not a memory—it’s more of the experience I had with him for a year, just enjoying that moment of being his teammate, conversing with him every single day, learning from him every single day. There’s no price that you can pay, no money that can buy you the experience that I’ve been gifted with my first year in the NBA.

Offensively, KG has taught me how to be patient, how to pick my spots better and how to use my body better and more efficiently. With those teachings he gave me, I’m able to stay healthy and use my energy in better places.

Then on defense, KG has taught me how important it is to be in the right position at the right time, and also little tips and tricks of how he’s been Defensive Player of the Year.

Other than basketball, I just come to KG for advice on life, just understanding how business works and understanding how I can be a better leader and also be a better human being.

Kevin’s impact on the NBA has been felt around generations, including mine. His tenacity, his passion, his love for the game, the energy he brought every single night is something that will be felt for generations to come, possibly forever.

 

Andrew Wiggins

Garnett and Andrew Wiggins. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Wiggins' Instagram)

Garnett and Andrew Wiggins. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Wiggins’ Instagram)

Growing up watching him play, you would think he’s crazy. But KG is a real one. He treats everyone with respect, he protects you, he does it all.

Him just coming in here changed how it was for our team. KG is Minnesota basketball, he is the Timberwolves—what he did, just the intensity he brought to the game. He was the realest one to me and on the team. He was teaching the young guys. It didn’t matter who you were, whether you were playing, not playing. He was the best teammate to everybody.

I learned so much from him about the game of basketball. He takes his craft seriously. His passion for the game is crazy. At the age he was, still coming to the gym, being the first one in the gym, the last one to leave, still having that same pre-practice routine with lifting, means he really loved the game. He didn’t have to do all that. He paid his dues, he’s legendary.

He would teach me about different moves in the post. I would do them in the game and look at him after I finished them. He would look at me, “Yeah, I taught you that.” He taught me a lot, even defensively—how to guard people in the post, how to get away with certain stuff.

Even with him not here, I’m his little bro, so whenever I need something, a question, I can just call or text him. He doesn’t take long to answer back. He said he’s always here, and that’s how it’s been since day one.

His presence in general will be missed. He’s a voice, he’s a personality, he’s a person that can’t be replaced with all the experience, being a mentor to all the young players on the team. No matter who we bring in, no one can fill those shoes. There’s no one like him in the league anymore—at all.

 

Zach LaVine

Garnett and Zach LaVine. (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Garnett and Zach LaVine. (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

From growing up hearing stories about him and watching him, and then actually being his teammate, it was crazy. I didn’t know how funny he was. He’s hilarious, he’s a clown and he has a lot of stories. He was just one of the best teammates. He was like a big brother in the locker room to us and it’s definitely going to be a piece missing.

Those moments with KG where it was just us two one-on-one, it was just life-experience stuff. He was such a great teacher, he was like a big brother, taught us NBA valuable lessons and then off-the-court lessons, life lessons. He hit the whole spectrum and you can’t replace a guy like that.

The biggest things I learned from KG were just work hard, always be intense and be ready to play and come and do your job. He was so great at defense, just being able to talk and communicate. He was always the loudest, most vocal on the team. Offensively, he said be strong with your move, be determined with your move and just work on your game. Even at his age, he was such a hard worker on his body and on his game. It was just crazy.

Even with KG not here, I know for sure I’ll call him and text him, ask him questions and he’ll definitely respond. He’s someone that you can talk to at any time for anything, so it’s great.

With his great career, I wish him all the best in retirement and I want to see that golf game.

 

Ricky Rubio

Garnett and Ricky Rubio. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Garnett and Ricky Rubio. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

When he came over here, it was a dream come true for me because I used to watch him when he was on the Timberwolves. I remember him in 2004 reaching the conference finals and winning the MVP.

When he came back to Minnesota, I was so excited. The next morning, I went to the gym like an hour before practice, but he was already sweating out there and I said, “Wow, he’s 40 years old and he’s sweating like it’s Game 7 of the Finals.” It was a big impact for me. So I learned what hard work means, I learned how to be vocal in the locker room.

Actually, after he talked to me the first time, the next day I called my dad and I said, “Dad, you won’t believe it. KG was talking to me about what I could improve and he actually said I did a couple things right.” KG was really proud of how I ran the team, how I was willing to sacrifice a lot of things to win. I remember a couple of actions in the game where I dove on the floor, and he was proud of me.

KG’s two-on-two game was amazing. He made my job super easy. Sometimes when you’re playing two-on-two, your big man just wants to get the ball and he doesn’t set a good screen. But I saw on the point guard’s face that he didn’t want to get screened by KG, so it was easy for me. He had a jump shot, too, from the elbow.

It was great having him as a teammate. I’ll always remember him with Stephon Marbury or Sam Cassell or Rajon Rondo in Boston, playing two-on-two, and I had a chance to get some assists with him. It was amazing.

I know he loves this organization and this team, so if I have any questions, I have no doubt I will pick up the phone and call him, knowing that he’s going to give me the best advice. KG’s a Hall of Famer, so it’s always good having good advice from a person like him.

 

Shabazz Muhammad

L to R: Rubio, Garnett, Shabazz Muhammad and Wiggins. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

L to R: Rubio, Garnett, Shabazz Muhammad and Wiggins. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The personal impact KG had on me was not only on the court, but off the court. He would talk to us about life lessons—playing hard and being a better person and being a good teammate.

Being KG’s teammate I learned about his intensity level. A lot of people said he’s very intense, but until you interact with him, you really see how intense he is as a person. The way he practiced was second to none. Him being 39 last year and having knee problems, he was still practicing as hard as he can. Coach had to tell him to sit out, but he still wouldn’t sit out. He’s a warrior and he’s a true champ.

KG was always telling me he loves my intensity, my energy. He said you can find a knack in this league with just how hard you’re working and playing hard. That’s something he thrived off of, so that’s something that I watched him do.

After every shootaround, he would come and work with me on my footwork for 10 minutes and just tell me what moves to do. So he really watches. For him to even watch me or even say anything to me is a blessing and I really appreciate it.

He liked my hook and my spin to the left, and he was really trying to develop my spin to the right. So that’s something that we were working on, and I’m going to work on it to perfection to make sure the Big Ticket approves.

What I’m going to miss most about him is just his overall energy—always being up here in the morning. He was great for that. It’s sad to see him go, but he had a great career, one of the best I’ve ever been a part of. I’m just happy that I played with him for a season.

 

Gorgui Dieng

Garnett and Gorgui Dieng. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Garnett and Gorgui Dieng. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In the beginning, it was kind of hard to get to know him because he didn’t talk much to us. With him, it’s all about trust. He’s got to know what kind of person you are first and foremost before he starts talking to you.

But after, he was just socializing more with us. KG was a good guy for us, including me and Karl. We always came early in the morning and he taught us a lot of stuff. He was always telling me and Karl, “You two are the defensive anchors.”

Mentally he told us what to do, like, “Bigs stay together. Bigs help bigs. Bigs have got to be vocal.” Literally, he’d give us the answer for all examples we were going to face. So I think we have a good basis right now.

He gave me so many little things I need to do to cut down my traveling. He told me to make the game simple—pump fake, drive, stuff like that. He just showed me a lot of tricks that I can use in the game.

I think he gave our team all the answers already. Now, we just need to keep doing repetition because every time he showed me stuff, he said, “Now, you’ve got to go do it on your own every day when you’re home, when you’re hanging out with your family. Everywhere you’re at, you do it and you’re going to get it.”

If he showed me something, he always looked around to see if I did it by myself. If he saw me doing it, he was going to come tell me more stuff. But if he didn’t see me doing it, he said, “I don’t want to waste my time. If I tell you something, that’s because I want you to do it.”

When he teaches you stuff and you do it wrong, he gets so upset, like, “Don’t mess up my stuff.” He wants everything to be perfect. It was life-changing learning from KG.

 

Tyus Jones

KG’s impact that he had on me was a very big one. As a kid growing up in Minnesota, I was a big Timberwolves fan and big KG fan. He was an idol of mine. So to be able to have a relationship with him is still surreal, and it’s something that I’ll never forget and that I’ll forever cherish.

Those times that KG pulled me aside, it was always heartfelt and it was always for my best interests. And that’s something that I noticed from the beginning. He’s a very genuine guy and just wants the best for you both on and off the court. So there were a lot of times he was giving me pointers or tips on things that don’t have to do with basketball.

He taught me that a lot of what you do in this league is your mindset and mental. So it’s the outlook you have on the game, the confidence that you have, how you need to prepare for the games, reading your scouting reports through and through—making sure you know each and every player on the court no matter if it’s your position.

As someone who’s that accomplished in his career, you would think he could care less about a 19-year-old kid coming into the league as a rookie. But that just goes to show how great a guy he truly is.

Just his presence will be missed. He’s got so much experience in this league. I saw a stat he played in 143 playoff games, so he’s been through any situation you could name on the court.

I think we’ll still have a great relationship. I talked to him on the day that he retired and he told me if I ever need anything, he’s still here for me. He said, “Don’t be afraid to call me or text me,” so once again that just goes to show how great of a guy he truly is.

 

Adreian Payne

L to R: Wiggins, Adreian Payne, Muhammad and Garnett. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wiggins (second from left), Adreian Payne, Muhammad and Garnett. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The effect that KG had on me personally was really trying to make sure I was grounded and understood the things of how the NBA worked—just always to be able to come in here and do what you’re supposed to do, work, be yourself and know that this is always a job. I also learned to be on time, put in extra work and things like that.

On the court, and after practice, he showed the players how to basically cover a ball screen, different coverages and things like that. So he took time to spend time to teach us and help us. So that meant a lot, too.

The most meaningful thing about KG is really just him spending that time with me. That’s the main thing—just to be able to have a Hall of Fame player, an all-time great like that just spend time with you, want to talk to you and try to help you. That meant the most to me.

 

Nemanja Bjelica

Nemanja Bjelica (right) stands next to Garnett. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nemanja Bjelica (third from right) stands next to Garnett. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

When I was a kid, everybody liked KG and I can’t believe that I had that opportunity to spend one year with him to be his teammate. He helped not just me, but everybody.

He gave me a lot of advice, especially about defense because the NBA is a very different competition than Europe. So he helped me a lot last year. I learned from him to be in great shape and to work hard—that you just need to work hard every day and to just be ready for every game because the season is very long.

He’s a great guy and I wish him all the best.

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