Garnett's legacy lives on through young NBA stars

Garnett's legacy lives on through young NBA stars
February 18, 2013, 5:49 am
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HOUSTON As the elder statesman at this year's NBA All-Star Game, Kevin Garnett knows his days attending such events won't last much longer - if ever again.

That was the message he tried to deliver last week, only for it to come out as though he was thinking about retirement.

But for players who have been in the NBA for as long as Garnett has, to have the kind of individual and team success he has garnered through the years, is a reminder as to what he has meant to the league as a whole.

Although he played just six minutes for the East in their 143-138 loss to the Western Conference All-Stars, that in no way should diminish the impact he has had on the NBA.

But to fully embrace Garnett's impact on the league as a whole, look no further than the NBA's top young big men who played in Sunday's All-Star Game, most of whom in some form have benefited from Garnett.

"The most difficult thing in the NBA is to be consistent," said Golden State's David Lee. "His consistency and the way he has been on winning teams, the way he has been a leader, those things are tough to come by especially for as many years as he has done it."

And while Garnett admittedly has slowed down some in recent years, his impact on the game remains a strong one.

"Everyone in this league respects KG so much," said Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. "His fire and passion for the game. And his skill."

All those qualities have certainly contributed to what has been a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

But what often separated Garnett from other superstars was his passion and intensity for the game, the kind of intangibles that serve as the hallmark for the body of work that is his NBA career.

"He's a Hall-of-Famer," said Memphis forward Zach Randolph. "He plays with a chip on his shoulder. That's the way guys need to approach the game. He's like that in the game and in practice. He always brings it. And he's a leader."

And it is that last trait - leadership - that Garnett has displayed with the same steady, relentless focus that he has managed to do throughout his 17-plus NBA seasons.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan is another All-Star this year who may be playing his last one.

Like Garnett, he too is considered one of those players whose play stood head and shoulders above most.

And as competitive as Duncan can be when facing Garnett, it's clear that he has a strong amount of respect for him.

"He's had a great career," Duncan said. "He's blessed with a championship. We've had our battles back and fourth, but every guy that has played with him ... the die-hard teammate and the passion and the energy that he brings to the game. He has had a great career."

Garnett is quick to shun all the talk about his career as though retirement will be coming quickly.

He has two years left on the three-year, 36 million deal he signed last summer. But as has been the case in recent years, he will spend some time this summer evaluating whether he wants to return or call it career.

When Garnett does walk away, you can find his imprint on the game in the games of several of today's young stars.

"I grew up watching him play and I took some of his moves and made them my own," said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge. "He's been big for the game of basketball and for young big men."

And what makes Garnett's longevity all that more impressive has been that he suffered a major knee injury and bounced back to continue being a high-impact player at both ends of the floor for Boston.

"He was one of my favorite players," said Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard. "I'm happy to see him come back from injuries and stuff like that, to be able to play; to be able to play as well as he's playing."

Added Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin: "He's been unbelievable for a long, long time. At the power forward position, there haven't been many like him who have accomplished what he's accomplished. He's definitely left his mark, with his intensity. Everybody knows his skill and how good a basketball player he is. But the way he approaches the game and the level of professionalism he has is second to none."

But as flattering as the All-Stars are to Garnett's game, he has gotten under the skin of all of them at some point during their careers.

"KG is one of those guys that's once in a lifetime," said Clippers guard Chris Paul. "I'll never forget the first two or three times I played against KG when I came into the league. We both got techs every game just because of the intensity. He'd say something to me, and I wasn't going to back down. He's one of those guys that I genuinely appreciate and always said this, I'd love to have KG on my team. He's focused and I love that about him."

And while players may indeed grit their teeth at some of Garnett's in-game chatter sessions, there's no question they all would not mind if he were donning the same jersey as they wore.

Lee recalls how Garnett was especially tough on him his first couple seasons in the NBA.

"He was a guy that when I came in as a rookie, when I immediately stepped on the floor, he said, 'Hey rookie, what are you doing out here? Completely started giving me trouble."

For the seemingly always-colorful trash talk that Garnett brings to the game, that's extremely mild.

"Maybe not in those words," said a grinning Lee who added, "The biggest compliment you can say about him is if he's on your team you love him, and when you play against him you hate him. That can be looked at as a bad thing. But it's really one of the greatest compliments you can give."