Last night, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard got tangled up. After they unknotted, Garnett gave Howard a little shove and Howard responded with his biggest mistake of the new year, a half-hearted counter slap.
In that brief moment of absentminded decision-making, Howard broke a code of conduct that has endured in this league for almost two decades: Don’t F*ck with KG.
After the slap, Garnett paused a moment to process the unthinkable disrespect Howard had just shown him, then KG hit him back, threw the ball, and head-butted him in the jaw.
Garnett responded with such ferocity beacuse it has been a long, long time since anyone tested the NBA’s resident cannibal. He took down Howard like Vito Corleone snapped at Sunny during the meeting with the Turk.
The message was clear: KG may be old, but he will still try to break your face with his head on television if you test him.
KG used to be a perennial top five player in the league. From ’98 to ’07, KG averaged 20 points and 10 boards a game. He’s been an All-Star 15 times and First Team All-Defense 9 times. He won MVP in 2004 and a championship in 2008.
Along with Dirk, KG started the trend of nimble, mid-range-jumper-stroking power forwards in the NBA. His ability to step out and hit shots, bolstered by his quickness in the paint made the plodding, back-to-the-basket power forwards of NBA’s past obsolete.
His unique, borderline unguardable offensive skill set was complimented by his manic defense. Prowling the floor with purpose, Garnett’s condor wingspan and panther mentality made him the most intense defender we’ve seen in some time.
He was so talented and so ferocious that he poured concrete into the holes of any spongey defense. His individual play was always stellar, but it was his cult leader motivational skills that made career slackers move a step quicker when they were on his team.
We won’t ever get another KG. He looks like a Frankenstein monster of basketball perfection. He’s seven feet tall, weighs 250 lbs, and moves like an alpha antelope. Had he been born in an earlier time, he would have kicked Achilles’ ass; people would have written myths about him. But, he was born 38 years ago, and he’ll have to settle for being a legendary basketball player.
This season, we’ve seen the cosmic implosion of Kobe Bryant’s career, but KG’s end has been less spectacular. As his unparalleled athleticism faded, so too has his dominance. In comparison to Kobe’s mushroom cloud, KG has diminished like a roaring fire turning into coals. Most of his power is gone and all that’s left is the heat.
KG’s molten competitive rage used to terrify opponents in his prime. Now, that same spirit comes off as a faded star’s desperate attempt to keep up with a league that has left him behind.
Kobe’s end is a tragicomedy of delusion, but KG’s is a realization of mortality. The 20 and 10s have turned into 7 and 7s. In his twilight years, we have grimaced when KG struggles to complete what used to be routine. He still looks the same– the impeccable statuesque frame topped by his bald head and long-faced, Jafar features– but he’s a husk of himself. Watching this demi-god crumble is a sobering reminder of time’s lack of compassion.
After KG landed his sweaty head butt, he steamed with fury as he was restrained by all those looking to prevent a homicide. He closed his eyes, exhaled some vapor, and ran his fingers through his non-existent hair. He begged to finish Dwight, but that’s not what he really wanted.
Ten years ago, nobody would have pulled what Dwight did last night because KG would have eaten his organs. But, Garnett no longer puts the fear of God into opponents like he once did. The toothless barking at Dwight made KG look like Uncle Rico throwing footballs in the middle of a wheat field. He looked like a man pining for a time long passed.