Before there was LeBron, there was Kobe. Before Kobe, there was The Kid.
Kevin Garnett’s success made it possible for the latest wave of high school phenoms to easily jump from homecoming court to basketball court. But his leap wasn’t easy, nor was it the route he planned. BEYOND THE GLORY: KEVIN GARNETT looks at how a skinny kid from South Carolina who couldn’t put the ball into the hoop overcame obstacles to sign the richest contract in the NBA. The Emmy-nominated series continues Sun., Apr. 11 at 11:00 PM on Fox Sports Net.
He’s now the leading candidate for the MVP award in the NBA and hoping to lead the Timberwolves to the NBA title, but Kevin Garnett wasn’t even allowed to play basketball in high school. Raised only by his mother, Garnett found solace on the basketball courts near his house, playing from sunup to sundown. But at school, his mother made sure sports took a backseat to education. Towering over everyone else in Mauldin, South Carolina, his friends convinced Garnett to try out for the basketball team. Hiding his clothes outside and telling his mother he was at a friend’s house, Garnett was really starting for the varsity squad, averaging an astounding 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots per game.
When his mother found out what her son was doing, she immediately went to the court to pull him out of a game, but instead she saw what the rest of the country would soon see: unreal athletic ability combined with unlimited potential. Garnett made a name for himself across the state and went on to dominate the best talent in the nation at the Nike high school camp that summer.
But the shining star started to dull near the end of Garnett’s junior year when he was charged with an archaic South Carolina law: second-degree lynching. Garnett had been part of a group who saw a fellow student get beat up, but he never took part. Under state laws, people who witness a group assault can also be charged.
Garnett’s mother had her son agree to a pretrial diversion program and took him from South Carolina, where he had just become the first junior ever to be named the state’s Mr. Basketball, to Chicago. It was at Chicago’s Farragut Academy that Garnett, already a national name eliciting hundreds of letters from college coaches, found that failure could turn into success.
He failed to reach the minimum SAT score to qualify for an NCAA scholarship and instead of going to junior college, Garnett declared for the NBA draft.
Garnett wowed scouts and was selected fifth by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He immediately earned the nickname The Kid, as veterans sought to take advantage of the youngster — talking trash and repeatedly trying to show Garnett he should still be in college. But it didn’t take long for Garnett to prove to the rest of the league he belonged. He became an all-star. He signed the then largest contract in pro sports. And he has led the Timberwolves to the playoffs for eight straight seasons and turned himself into an annual MVP candidate.
Those interviewed in addition to Kevin Garnett include: mother Shirley Garnett, sister Ashley Phelps, childhood friend Jaime “Bug” Peters, former Mauldin High School coach Duke Fisher, Farragut Academy coach William “Wolf” Nelson, high school scout Bob Gibbons, Timberwolves General Manager Kevin McHale and head coach Flip Saunders.
Excerpts from show
Kevin Garnett: “The way I was taught, it was go out and try to rip somebody’s head off and throw elbows. I wasn’t taught to do it with joy.”
Garnett: “Don’t ever get bigger than the team. Without the team, you’re nothing.”
Garnett (on his early NBA days): “At times I didn’t think I was going to make it. I’m going to make it, I said. If I gotta die here today, I’m going to make this.”
Garnett: “I always tell the young kids who are thinking about coming to the NBA, that it is difficult…not just basketball, that’ll be the easiest. Life, it’s a whole other game.”
Flip Saunders: “He came in as ‘The Kid’ and he’s now The Man.”
Saunders: “We ended up in the lottery getting the fifth pick. We were going to tell everyone that we were taking this high school kid with the idea that somebody else in front of us would get excited and say maybe they see something that we don’t. Somebody else would take him and we’d be left with one of those other four players. About 10 minutes into the workout, I turned to (Timberwolves GM) Kevin McHale and said, ‘We better hope this kid is still there at No. 5.'”
Duke Fisher, Garnett’s coach at Mauldin High School: “You dream of coaching someone like that.”
High school basketball scout Bob Gibbons: “He started this trend of high school players skipping college and going to the NBA. Players now are more tuned in to their reality of their chances of success in the pros.”
Jimmy Jam, friend: “He has a desire to be a great basketball player. And he has a sense of history. And a respect for the game. The same things that make him a great basketball player also make him a great person. He has a sense of community about him and he wants to be a good citizen.”
Future episodes of BEYOND THE GLORY include: Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller (April 18); Orlando Magic star Grant Hill (April 25); Boxing legend George Foreman (May 2).