Or: A Sloppily-Written Tribute for One of My All-Time Favorite Dudes
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before the inevitable happened. After 21 years of professional balling, my most favorite, all-time idolized athlete in the whole wide world! has announced his retirement from the sport.
I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but this news hits me all the same.
My first exposure to the NBA was in a hospital room in Manila. My family was there to visit my grandfather, who’d fallen sick and had to get about a million surgeries to get better – useless in the end, because he died anyway.
And me, still in high school and selfish and self-centered and shy about all the gathered adults in the room, found myself sticking with my father the whole time we were there. He was watching TV. And on the TV, there was a basketball game on.
The first thing that caught my attention was the huge, bright decal decoration of a wolf in the middle of the floor. It was, as I would find out later, the logo of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
My first NBA game. And already, the first team I was watching league had one of the coolest logos I’d ever seen.
And then, there was Kevin. He had many names, all of which were little indicators of how good he actually was. He was called KG for his initials. The Big Ticket, for his ability to draw huge crowds to the game whenever he played. Da Kid, because he was the first “prep to pro” player – one of those types who leap to play for the NBA straight out of high school.
He was amazing. And it didn’t matter if I remember his moves from that game, or the antics he caused on the court. After some due research on the team, I found out that he was their best player. And after I’d found that out, I already knew I’d found a player to follow.
I’m not sure why I decided to stick around with the NBA after that visit to my grandfather. I’m no athlete, but I’m pretty sure I have the blood of one running in my veins. After watching that game, I became addicted with basketball and the idea of coolness it so aggressively presented.
I was a high school nobody back then. No real friends, no outstanding hobbies, no fixed identity. Not like everyone else, who seemed to have it together. And if not, then they just grouped up together and talked loudly, hoping their bullying would distract everyone from the fact.
All-girl high school were vicious. Basketball gave me a way to escape all that and allowed me to pursue that image of coolness I was so obsessed with, even before.
So, when I got into basketball, I dove into it, hard. I dug up the history of the sport and found out all sorts of cool trivia about it. Found out that James Naismith, father of basketball, was actually Canadian and that we shared the same birthdays. Looked up Jerry West, who was the figure that inspired the NBA logo. Learned to cherry-pick which teams to root for and which ones to despise. Basketball became a way of life for me.
And then, at a small essay-writing contest a teacher started, I decided to shoot for it and submit something for the heck of it. As expected, I wrote about basketball, and while I don’t remember winning a prize, I became known as a writer because of it.
So now, I had a talent I could flaunt about in front of other people. I became known as a writer. And it’s all because of the sport that it became so.
But I was supposed to talk about Kevin Garnett.
I had very shallow, childish reasons for latching onto him. Besides admiring him for his talent, it just so happened that he was the leading contender for MVP at the time. The first magazine I bought with my own money was a magazine about basketball. KG was on the cover, posing with the MVP award he’d recently won.
This guy was legit. So now, I had a favorite player. Favorite players, I knew, had to be good. And because I figured Kobe already had too many fans, I went for KG, who was in the first basketball game I ever watched and then, in the first magazine I bought.
It was a love to last me a while.
I learned to admire more things about the man – things that went beyond his stat sheet. KG was intense. Gave his everything for every game, and demanded that his teammates do the same. He was passion incarnate. Wild, incomprehensible fury for anyone in the opposite jersey. Nobody else could love the game more than he did.
I was in love. This, I knew, was a man to follow and proclaim loyalty to ’till the end of time. Even as he switched teams later on in his career, he still showed his new cities the same loyalty he had for his original home team.
Loyalty, intensity, passion. It’s because of him I learned to value these traits in others. Because of him, I tried to embody these same values in things I love to do.
As I dove deeper and deeper into the sport, I’d come to have two more favorite teams, besides the Wolves – the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics. I also learned to have other, different favorite players.
But my love for KG remained constant. He’s the first name I think of when I think of the NBA, and the first person I think of when people ask me about public personas I look up to.
And now, the man is retiring. Even if he was already so old and so banged-up from years of unforgiving playing time, that his retirement was already an inevitability – the news still hits me. I’m not as surprised as I was when Tim Duncan announced his retirement, but KG hanging it up for good leaves me with a good deal of sadness.
My favorite player in the world is no more and his retirement solidifies the end of an era, where people I grew up watching on TV won’t be playing on the court any longer.
There are many things I wish I could say about KG. Many more things I wish I could thank him for. But there are already so many other tributes floating around out there that are better-written than this. So many other better-written words of thanks and love for the big man who impacted the game so much.
But this here’s my piece and I’m glad to have said it. Glad to have put my love for him into words like this. But I’m even more glad about all the memories he’s left me with.
I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me.
But this news hits me all the same, if only because he’s hit my life in so many other ways. Like how he’s left his mark on the game with his sheer presence, so he’s left his mark on me. It’s because of him that a fire’s been lit inside me, pushing me and burning me to show a little bit more passion for anything I love to do.
Salud, KG. Thanks for everything.