Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Not Easy Seeing Green

In 1996, Freelancer and I went to a Target store somewhere way off the beaten path to see Kevin Garnett in person. The line stretched halfway around the store by the time we got there, which was fairly late, but we got our stuff signed (a photo for Freelancer, media guide for me--I still have it). We'd seen the Wolves earlier that year, and Freelancer, who has forgotten more about basketball than I know, said, "That kid can play." Seeing him in person, up close, was weird in the same way it's weird to see any professional basketball player up close. They just seem to be built on a different scale (I once saw David Robinson in an airport--same deal. You never ask "is that a basketball player?" You ask "which basketball player is that?").

Garnett was huge, not only in person but for the state of Minnesota. He became, like Kirby Puckett, the face of a franchise. When he went silent the summer of the salary negotiation that would soon change the collective bargaining agreement, the state held its breath. He wasn't committing to staying, but he wasn't signaling his departure, either. It felt difficult to get at the truth: he was a 21-year-old kid, still, who was doing the best thing a kid can do in that situation. He was letting the professional he'd hired to represent him do just that.

The huge contract he signed was worth it. I was living in Minnesota when Kirby Puckett entered free agency for the last time, and the suspense was similar, the relief even more pronounced this time, because while Puckett was just sliding off the edge of his prime, Garnett had yet to reach his, and this was a guarantee that it would be spent in Minnesota.

Sadly, it became clear after several years that "wasted" might be a better word than "spent." Apart from one run to the Western Conference Finals, the Wolves got to the level of "first-round playoff team" and stayed there. Things deteriorated, but Garnett was always the face of the Timberwolves. I don't think it's possible for anyone who hasn't lived in Minnesota to realize how much he represented that franchise. He carried them for years, overcoming McHale and Taylor's borderline-incompetent management until recently.

I discovered about a month ago that I can't watch him in Celtics green. It's a painful reminder of what the Wolves could have been, what they gave up, what they are now. Maybe I'll get over it later this year, but right now, it just seems wrong, like the hue is wonky, and I need to adjust a dial on my set to get that uniform back to blue or black. It's not that I hate the Celtics or anything; just seeing Garnett in a different uniform hurts. I don't begrudge him the chance to go somewhere where he has a chance to be winning a title, nor to start over with new management. I'll be rooting for him to get that ring someday, somewhere. But I won't be watching.

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