EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 1, 2013

The end of a basketball love affair

Tonight could be last chapter of Boston, KG story

On Pro Basketball
Michael Muldoon

---- — With the possible exception of the Buffalo Bills, nobody symbolized playoff ineptitude like Kevin Garnett.

Garnett, better known as “KG,” was wide right (and left) far too often as the woebegone Minnesota Timberwolves lost in the first round of the playoffs seven times, didn’t even make the playoffs four times and once made the conference finals in his dozen years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The relationship between Minnesota and the hyper hoopster who blazed a trail from a Chicago high school to the NBA ended due to irreconcilable differences.

But then he came to Boston and it was the best marriage since Howard Cunningham and Mrs. C.

If, as many NBA insiders suspect, he calls it quits soon after a season-ending loss tonight to the Knicks, what a torrid six-year love affair it has been.

On May 19, the former teen heart throb will be 37, ancient in the world of pro basketball.

He came to Boston in the summer of 2007. The Celtics were NBA nobodies 21 years removed from their last NBA title. The glory days had passed them by. The franchise and the fandom could never move past Larry Bird and the Big 3. It was an almost perverse attachment to the past. But what else did we have?

KG was cool, crazy, the exciting bad boy with the filthy mouth ... the latter point many an unsuspecting family sitting courtside discovered the hard way.

But he was deeper than that. Beneath the caricature scowl and howl was a leader the likes of which even this once iconic franchise had never seen.

All-Star gunners Paul Pierce and Ray Allen put their Hall of Fame egos aside and fell in line they were so awed by the white-hot KG intensity. Three losers became winners in selfless lockstep.

KG showed us anything is possiblllllllllllllllle!

Suddenly a Celtic game was a Big Ticket. Pardon the heresy, but he was a modern day Russell. Or as close we’re likely ever see. His forte was never necessarily hitting that big shot, but Boston had Allen and Pierce for that.

He was a rare combination of size, quickness, athleticism, smarts and intensity. He was listed at 6-11, but you always got the feeling it was the Bill Walton 6-11, a 7-footer who thought that extra inch made you a freak.

He was supposed to be good. You aren’t traded for a record seven players if you can’t play. But he was 31 when he and Allen came aboard to create a new Big 3 back in the summer of 2007.

His statistics weren’t off the charts like they were in Minnesota, but that wasn’t the point. For Boston to be great, it needed KG, Pierce and Allen each to take a step back. There could be no Carmelo Anthony 42 shots in a game.

KG led with his blue-collar work ethic, suffocating defense from the paint to the 3-point arc and his team-first, team-second, team-third outlook.

One title, just one title. That was always the deal with the devil.

Minnesota, we’ll give you budding young star power forward Al Jefferson, four other players and two first-round draft picks. We’ll inherit contract of two years for $48.5 million and almost immediately tack three more years and $56.5 more million on it.

We just needed that title. It had been far too long without being able to share some champagne, a warm hug and a long smooch with the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Just like Larry and Hondo and Red and Russ and the Cooz used to do seemingly every spring.

KG and Co. exiled us from the chains of mediocrity and irrelevance.

Despite him earning an obscene amount of money, did you ever hear a fan complain about his contract?

Never.

You never left a Celtic game saying Kevin Garnett is what’s wrong with sports. No, he was what’s right with sports.

And that deal with the devil? Paid in full ... and then some. Garnett, who the estimable Bill Simmons three years ago ranked the No. 22 player in NBA history, doesn’t owe us a penny.

It was perfect, embarrassing the despised Lakers 131-92 in the Game 6 clincher at the Garden to win their first title in 22 years. The year prior to Garnett and Allen’s arrival, Boston was 24-58.

My, how times had changed.

Soccer bills itself as “the beautiful game” but basketball fans know the truth. Only it couldn’t have been uglier than years of watching doughy, entitled Antoine Walker launching hideous deep 3-pointer after hideous deep 3-pointer.

And his smarmy explanation why he shot those 3-pointers missed the target worse than one of his ill-fated bombs.

“Because they don’t have a 4-point shot.”

The New Big 3 changed all that. They never could raise that 18th banner, but you knew it was never for a lack of trying. Injuries, LeBron James, Kobe, a questionable Kendrick Perkins-for-Jeff Green trade, whatever. It just wasn’t in the cards.

But the five years with KG, Allen and Pierce did bring a title, a near miss (lost to the #^&*-ing Lakers in 7 games in 2010) and pushed King James and the Heat to seven games in the East finals last June.

Garnett could have left Boston after last year. Nobody would have blamed him. He could have bolted for a sexier offer.

But he didn’t.

He said no to the 27-year-old platinum blonde to stay with the forty-something who is hoping nobody notices the varicose veins and crow’s feet.

He was loyal and we love him for it.

He’s limping through these playoffs but has grabbed a man-sized 17 rebounds in each of the last two games. A warrior to the end.

He’s homely, loud and a bit deranged, but God did we love him. And always will.

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Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.