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Kevin Garnett: The Story Of How The Big Ticket Became A Big Star In The NBA

Kevin Garnett: The Story Of How The Big Ticket Became A Big Star In The NBA

In 1995, the NBA saw the first high school player skip college and enter the NBA Draft in 20 years. That's right, the first and last time this happened was in the 1975 NBA Draft, where Darryl Dawkins (5th pick, 1st round) and Bill Willoughby (19th pick, 2nd round) skipped college and entered the NBA.

Dawkins had a fine 14-year career, while Willoughby had a mediocre 8-year career. After the 1975 Draft, many in the basketball world decided it was better for players to attend college before entering the NBA.

A high schooler from Farragut Career Academy would change this narrative for the foreseeable future. This high schooler's name is Kevin Garnett.


The Big Ticket Grows Up

On May 19, 1976, in Greenville, South Carolina, a future NBA legend was born. This legend was named Kevin Garnett by his mother, Shirley Garnett. Garnett's mother and father, O'Lewis McCullough, never married, and they split shortly after Garnett was born.

Shirley Garnett eventually met Ernest Irby, and they married shortly after. This wasn't too good for Garnett, as he and his stepfather didn't get along too well.

While in middle school, Garnett fell in love with the game of basketball, but he didn't try out for the school's team. Garnett's mother was rigorous when it came to schoolwork.

If Shirley found out her son's attention was on sports, she'd surely beat him, so that's why Garnett stayed away from basketball.

This changed once Garnett reached high school. Garnett tried out and made Mauldin High School's basketball team as a freshman.

Basketball became an escape for Garnett. On the basketball court, he could be himself and have fun without the drama that followed him at home.

As a freshman, Garnett never told his mother about making the basketball team. He was so fearful of what Shirley would do that he kept it a secret.

One day during practice, Shirley entered the gym to find her son playing basketball. This didn't sit well with her at first, but once she saw her son play, she became his biggest fan and supported him nonstop.

Garnett would play three seasons of high school basketball for Mauldin High School. In fact, Garnett led Mauldin High to a 22-7 record during his junior season.

Garnett's game was really coming together, as he averaged an incredible 27 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks per game. As a junior, Garnett was dubbed “Mr. Basketball” of South Carolina, and college scouts started to take notice of him.

After a rough start to life, Garnett finally found peace and happiness with the game of basketball. Then, Garnett's life would flip back toward the negative side in a blink of an eye.

Garnett and three other African American students got into a fight with a white student at school. This fight was racially motivated, and the outcome was the white student ended up with a fractured ankle.

Now, witnesses of the fight stated that Garnett did not participate in the fight, as he was only an observer. This, however, did not stop the police from arresting Garnett and charging him with second-degree lynching.

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“It was the last day of school for seniors,” Garnett said. “Seniors got this thing where at the end of the year, you know, they're seniors, they're about to graduate. Whoever they got problems with, they go find this person, you know, they get it on."

Garnett went on to add, “The next day in school, a couple teachers come up to me and say, 'we hear that the police want to talk to you, and you was caught in this altercation or whatever. What happened?'”

Garnett was taken down to the police station, but he continued to state his innocence. He claimed he was there and saw the fight, but he did not participate in the fight.

Luckily, for Garnett, after going through a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders, the charges against him were dropped. This was a sigh of relief for the Garnett family, but his mother knew a change was needed.

Garnett's mother moved her family to Chicago to start fresh and to get her son away from the trouble that surrounded him in South Carolina. This change would be big for Garnett.

In Chicago, Garnett attended Farragut Career Academy during his senior year. Garnett had an incredible year, averaging 25.2 points, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 6.5 blocks per game.

Farragut Career Academy finished with a 28-2 record with Garnett on the team. Garnett's play earned him the honors of being named National High School Player of the Year by USA Today and Illinois Mr. Basketball.

Garnett's time in Chicago was crucial to his development as a basketball player. Not only being around an entirely new set of people, but Garnett also wanted to take advantage of his “second chance”.

Many kids don't get another chance as Garnett did. And for that, he was genuinely grateful.

“Chicago gave me my swag. It gave me my attitude. It gave me a different presence,” Garnett once said in a press conference. “Playing so many different types of players, so many intense players, players that were well-deserving of being right here where I'm at (in the Hall of Fame). I have never actually encountered that level of competition in that variety of different players. Nor have I played that many different areas of a place like Chicago.

"I played on the South Side, even though I was living on the West Side, which is something you don't really necessarily do -- a lot of times when you do that, you have to have permission. So a lot of times I was crossing barriers and getting the South Side and the West Side to actually interact, which was like a no-no. But I learned a lot, man.

“I feel like coming from Chicago, I was able and prepared to play in the NBA after that. I had so much exposure to survivals, lessons, and I like to always give Chicago the credit that it gave me that 'it' to actually go from high school to the league. So I always give homage to the West Side, I give homage to the South Side, the whole city of Chicago for my progression and me being ready for the NBA.”

After Garnett finished high school, colleges all around wanted to bring him in, to use his greatness on the court. Garnett, though, had other plans.

Chicago toughened Garnett up. It helped him develop his skills to another level. Because of this enhancement in his game and his maturity, Garnett felt that the time was right to skip college and head straight to the NBA.

Was Garnett ready to play in the NBA? No one, including Garnett, knew the answer to that, but Garnett, still riding high on his second chance, was ready to give it a try.


Kevin Garnett Becomes An NBA Star

In the 1995 NBA Draft, the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves took a chance and drafted the first high schooler since 1975. Yes, I'm talking about Kevin Garnett.

Many thought this was a bad pick, as they didn't trust a high school kid to come in and perform at a high level. But remember, Garnett was riding high on his second chance, and he'd make the most of it.

Garnett proved the doubters wrong by having a solid rookie season. He averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game, in only 28.7 minutes per game.

Was Garnett the best rookie in the league? No, Damon Stoudamire of the Toronto Raptors won Rookie of the Year. Garnett finished sixth in rookie voting, but for being a player who skipped high school, Garnett's play was impressive enough to earn him a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team.

The Timberwolves also slightly improved with Garnett on the roster. The previous season, the Timberwolves finished with a 21-61 record. In Garnett's rookie season, the Timberwolves finished with a 26-56 record.

Garnett's play would continue to grow in his second season as his points (17.0), rebounds (8.0), steals (1.4), and blocks (2.1) averages were all larger than his rookie averages. The Timberwolves as a team also improved as they won 40 games.

The Timberwolves' 40-42 record was their best record in franchise history up to that point. Minnesota also reached their first playoffs, as they finished the season as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

Garnett performed well in his first playoff series, averaging 17.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. The problem was the Timberwolves met the more experienced Houston Rockets.

The Rockets swept the Timberwolves 3-0 in the first round. This would, unfortunately, be the start of an alarming trend for Garnett.

Despite being a 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) average player for five of the next six seasons, with highs of 23.0 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, the Timberwolves would lose in the first round each year.

Even though Garnett's team continued to get beaten in the first round of the playoffs, Garnett blossomed into a star. He was even named the All-Star Game MVP in 2003 after dropping 37 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals.

Season after season, Garnett saw his team get bounced in the first round. Then, the 2003-04 season arrived, and Garnett set out to have the best individual season of his career. Garnett played ferociously, on his way to averaging 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks per game. This performance earned Garnett the MVP Award of the season.

The MVP Award wasn't all Garnett earned with his play. He led the Timberwolves to a 58-24 record, which was good enough for the number one seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

As the top seed in the West, the Timberwolves held the home court advantage, and they would take advantage of this. The Timberwolves, led by Garnett, defeated the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-1 in the first round.

Garnett's Timberwolves would have a much tougher time in the Semifinals as they took on the Chris Webber-led Sacramento Kings. The series would go the distance to a seventh game, and here is where Garnett would shine.

Garnett scored 32 points on 12-23 shooting in Game 7. He also grabbed 21 rebounds while adding 4 steals and 5 blocks. Garnett's performance would go down as one of the best in Game 7 history.

For the first time in Garnett's career and the first time in Timberwolves history, the team reached the Western Conference Finals. Here, they'd face the dangerous Los Angeles Lakers.

In 2004, the Lakers were not only led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal but also Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Garnett played well in the series, finishing with averages of 23.7 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game.

This, unfortunately, wouldn't be enough. The Lakers' firepower was too much, as the Timberwolves fell 4-2 to the Lakers.

After the 2003-04 season, the Timberwolves would go on to miss the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. This frustrated Garnett and the Timberwolves started to realize a change was needed.


Garnett Delivers A Title To Boston

The Boston Celtics are one of the NBA's greatest franchises. They dominated the late 1950s and 1960s by winning 11 titles. They'd go on to add two titles in the 1970s before adding three more in the 1980s when Larry Bird was leading the charge.

After Bird retired, the franchise fell apart. The Celtics did not win a title, and they only made the playoffs six times in 15 years after Bird retired after the 1991-92 season.

The 2006-07 season was the 15th season after Bird retired, and the Celtics were coming off a 24-58 record where they missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

The Celtics decided to change their fate by first trading to acquire the sharpshooting Ray Allen on June 28, 2007. A little more than a month later, on July 31st, the Celtics acquired Garnett from the Timberwolves.

A new era was upon the city of Boston, and it was a new start for Garnett. Call it Garnett's second chance in the NBA. As we already know, Garnett knew how to take advantage of second chances.

The Celtics dominated the competition during the regular season. They finished with a 66-16 record, the best record in the league.

Garnett had a stellar season as he fit well with Ray Allen and Celtics star Paul Pierce. For the season, Garnett averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game.

The way Garnett anchored the Celtics' defense was a sight to see. His presence on the defensive end is what made the Celtics so good. Garnett would be rewarded for his effort by winning the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

In the playoffs, the Celtics struggled compared to their performance during the regular season. The Celtics would play in two Game 7s in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks and in the Semifinals against a young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celtics luckily pulled off the victories in those games, and in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics faced off against the Detroit Pistons. Boston would fare better against Detroit, as they'd win the series in six games, securing their first berth to the NBA Finals since the 1986-87 season.

The Celtics would play their archrivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the 2008 Finals. This would not be an easy task, as Kobe Bryant was ready to show the world he could win a championship without Shaquille O'Neal.

Kobe would have to wait another year, as nothing was going to stop Garnett and his Celtics in 2008. The Celtics won the title after defeating the Lakers 4-2 in the series.

Garnett did not win the Finals MVP. That honor went to Paul Pierce, but without Garnett's 18.2 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game, the Celtics would not have won.

After winning the title, Garnett was celebrating on the court and screamed, “Anything is possible!”

This incredible display of emotions from Garnett won the hearts of fans if they weren't fans of his already. Garnett poured his heart and soul into the game of basketball. Ever since he was a high schooler in South Carolina, he wanted to find a way out, and basketball was that way.

Garnett wanted to make something with his life, he wanted to become the best basketball player he could be, and finally, he was on top of the basketball world.


Garnett Fulfills His Second Chance

After becoming a champion in 2008, Garnett would play eight more seasons in the NBA. He'd see the NBA Finals one more time in 2010 in a rematch with Kobe Bryant's Lakers.

This time, the Lakers would get the better of the Celtics by winning the series in seven games. Garnett would be traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, and he'd play a year and a half before being traded back to Minnesota.

Garnett was back where it all started for him in the NBA. This was a fitting way to retire from the NBA as a member of the Timberwolves.

Garnett officially retired from the NBA on September 23, 2016. Since retiring, Garnett has appeared on TV shows, like TNT's Inside the NBA, and in movies, like Uncut Gems, where Garnett played a fictionalized version of himself.

Kevin Garnett would garnish one more huge reward for his play and dedication to the game of basketball. In 2020, Garnett was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

On top of being an NBA champion, MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and the Defensive Player of the Year, Garnett also won two Gold Medals for Team USA. He won gold in the 1999 FIBA Americas Championship and in the 2000 Olympic Games.

Garnett, or as he was known as “The Big Ticket”, was exactly that. His play, his energy, and the way he played with his heart on his sleeve drew fans close to him. He was the big ticket, as he entertained all that watched him play.

Kevin Garnett grew up in a tough household, and just when things appeared to be going his way, being accused of a crime almost ruined his life. Garnett received a second chance, and he decided he'd make the best of it. Boy, did he ever.

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