BOSTON — The post-retirement accolades have been raining down on Kevin Garnett over the past handful of years.
The 15-time NBA All-Star, one of the catalysts of Boston’s 2007-2008 team that raised the franchise’s 17th championship banner, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.
This year, he was honored as a member of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team and wrote an intimate memoir that’s a national bestseller.
Now, at 45, KG will add another chapter to his legacy when he becomes the 24th member of the Celtics organization to have his jersey number retired in a ceremony before the game with Dallas on Sunday. His No. 5 will be raised to the TD Garden rafters in the open spot next to, and four years after, former teammate Paul Pierce saw his No. 34 enshrined among the Celtics legends.
It left a player who was the undeniable emotional centerpiece of the Celtics during his six seasons in Boston grasping for ways to describe the moments.
“I’m just trying to soak it up, being honest, I’m trying to be very humble. I don’t know. I’m just it’s all a shock to me, you know what I mean? When kids come up to me and they express their appreciation for different things. I don’t really know what to say other than, ‘Thank you,'” Garnett said in a recent interview. “I just stayed true to what I was and who I was. It was the easiest thing to do. I didn’t want to be something I wasn’t.”
While he retired from the NBA following the 2015-16 season in Minnesota, where his career began, his time with the Celtics transformed his career.
“I was always conscious of the ones that have come before me, laid the path for me,” Garnett said.
When Garnett was drafted fifth overall by the Timberwolves at 19, he ushered in a new era in a league that had never seen a 6-foot-11 player with his skillset.
As agile as he was lanky, Garnett moved like a guard, creating the archetype of the power forward capable of stretching opposing defenses with his ability to shoot from the perimeter. It revolutionized the league, so much so that players with that ability are now a must when building the modern NBA roster.
Though he was never a true center, he still used his 240-pound frame to impose his presence in the paint on both ends of the court despite making the jump straight to the pros out of high school.
But after leading the Timberwolves to eight playoff appearances in 12 seasons, Garnett wasn’t quite able to get them over the hump. Coming off his 10th All-Star selection in 2007, he was dealt to the Celtics as the final piece of an offseason shakeup that teamed him with future Hall of Famers Pierce and Ray Allen.
It formed the latest incarnation of the Big Three blueprint that NBA teams had followed to championships for years — from the Celtics reign in the 1960s, the 1980s Showtime Lakers to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls’ six titles in the 1990s.
In hindsight, Garnett acknowledged he wasn’t sure their version could live up to the championship-or-bust expectations placed on them in ’07.
“I had a lot of confidence in myself. I had a lot of confidence in my ability. I think my big worries were how would I mesh with Paul? How would I mesh with Ray? How to mesh with some of the young guys here?” Garnett recalled. “(Former general manager Danny Ainge) had a plan. I don’t know if that was the exact plan, but it worked out.”
Garnett said doing his homework on Boston and the environment he was stepping into helped prepare him mentally for his first season in green and white. It fueled his intensity, whether challenging his teammates in practice or pushing them in games.
“I never went at the game nothing less than 100 percent,” Garnett said. “I heard Larry Bird say one time in his early years in Boston … the reason why he loved playing in front of the fans in Boston is because you couldn’t fake them. You couldn’t fool the fans. They knew when you were playing hard. They knew when you were giving your all. They had a sense of basketball history and they have high basketball IQs. They care. And I never forgot that.”
Story by Kyle Hightower