BOSTON - Once there was a time when Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury were on the floor together, like they'll be tonight, and the chilly city they played in, long noted as a hockey town, cared about basketball. Similar to how Boston does again.
Garnett and Marbury were on the same team then. Drafted in the first round, a year apart, a couple of kids who just turned 20 were going to put basketball on the map in Minneapolis.
Marbury, a point guard who was drafted in 1996, the year after Garnett was chosen, had an immediate effect on the franchise. With Marbury's help, Garnett and Tom Gugliotta became the first Timberwolves to be selected to the All-Star team, and the team made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
A rookie named Bill Curley, the former Duxbury High and Boston College star, had a front-row seat to this show as a second-year player on the Timberwolves.
"It was obvious pretty early that Garnett and Marbury were probably going to be great players," said Curley, who recently took over as head boys basketball coach at Thayer Academy. "And then you throw Googs in, that's three stars. That was a team to build on."
But something happened, something even Curley didn't get when it happened before his eyes.
Garnett signed a huge contract for $126 million before his third season. Marbury had a problem with that.
After the Garnett deal, the NBA changed the rule regarding maximum contracts. The most Marbury's new deal could be worth was "only" $71 million.
Marbury couldn't accept the drastic difference and asked for a trade.
It was called, and might still be, one of the most selfish moves in recent memory - a 22-year-old not being happy with $71 million.
"I realize it doesn't look good, but Stephon had different kinds of pressures on him," said Curley. "He had a lot of family, brothers that he was playing for. The money was important to him, probably too important. I'm not saying it was right, but each player is his own man. It's too bad."
Garnett had no such issues. Curley says that had nothing to do with the fact that he had $126 million coming his way.
"With Kevin, it was never about the money," said Curley. "He was the hardest-working player I've ever seen. He would play 48 minutes one night and he'd be the first player in the gym the next day. I could tell you Kevin Garnett stories all day. He wanted to win. That's all he ever wanted. The contract thing was not his fault."
Curley has a funny connection with Marbury. He was part of the confusing nine-player, three-team trade that sent Marbury from Minnesota to the New Jersey Nets, who play about 15 miles from where Marbury grew up in Staten Island, N.Y.
Curley went to the Nets with Marbury ... for a few seconds.
"I was walking (after practice) and (assistant coach) Sam Mitchell says, 'Billy, Coach wants to see you.' I immediately said, 'Oh, no!'" said Curley. "But Sam said, 'Don't worry, it's going to be good.'"
Curley was told by coach Flip Saunders that the Nets were going to waive him immediately and he would be re-signed by the Timberwolves.
"It got weird for a day," said Curley. "I basically stayed with the team, but I had to hide in the bus and hotel. I never left. But the best part was I got paid off on my contract by the Nets and then Minnesota signed me to a new contract. So I double-dipped, which came in handy that year (1999), because of the lockout (50-game schedule)."
The same couldn't be said for Marbury, who was going home to the New York City area.
He never lived up to his billing as a savior for the struggling Nets. They were 70-126 in his 21/2 seasons there. He was then dealt to the Phoenix Suns for Jason Kidd, where he lasted only 21/2 seasons, making the playoffs only once there.
His four years with the Knicks have been a disaster, with only one playoff appearance. But they were swept by Kidd's Nets in four games in 2003-04, Marbury's first year with is hometown team.
Recently, the news hasn't been any better. Not only are the Knicks bad again (4-7, despite a two-game winning streak), but Marbury skipped a game in Phoenix two weeks ago and flew home alone when he found out he wasn't starting. Then he strangely claimed to have some "dirt" on his coach, Isiah Thomas, who was recently sued by a former Knicks employee for sexual harassment.
Not that Garnett had much success with the Timberwolves, but at least his teams won 50 games four times and had only two losing seasons - the last two - after Marbury's exit.
"Kevin was a 'new-school' kid because of his age," said Curley. "But really, he was 'old school.' He didn't care about scoring the most points. He wanted to win, just like the old Celtics I watched growing up.
"I like Kevin and Stephon a lot," said Curley. "Marbury is a good guy. He was well liked by the entire team when I was there. I just think money got in the way. It's too bad. They had a good thing in Minnesota. It could have been like Karl Malone and John Stockton."
Sad for the Timberwolves, but things sure did turn out OK for your Celtics, didn't they?
E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.