On Saturday, Kevin Garnett was selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. There is no higher honor in basketball. For observers of Minnesota sports history, the honor seems inadequate.
The Timberwolves want to retire Garnett’s number, whenever he will deign to return to Target Center for a ceremony, but even that event would feel trifling, given his impact.
Shouldn’t the entire state retire his jersey? Shouldn’t it be draped over Spoonbridge and Cherry, or across Paul Bunyan’s back? Shouldn’t we at least name one of our lakes after him?
His Hall of Fame induction is the latest reminder that Garnett is the most valuable and indispensable Minnesota athlete since … well, maybe ever?
Before their season was halted because of the pandemic, the Timberwolves were meandering through another rebuilding phase.
Feel free to believe in this one, whether because you like Gersson Rosas’ resume, or D’Angelo Russell’s skills, but don’t forget that whatever promise this team has displayed is countered by fact: The Timberwolves are next-to-last in the Western Conference, ahead of only a team that wasn’t trying to win (Golden State).
Even with Garnett’s contributions, the Timberwolves rank as one of the worst franchises in the last 30-plus years of American professional sports.
To contemplate what the Wolves would have been without Garnett is to contemplate oblivion.
The Wolves probably would have been shuttered, or relocated. They may still be without a victory in a playoff series.
The Wolves selected Garnett with the fifth pick in the 1995 draft. He spent one season interning. As he entered his second NBA season, the Timberwolves had been in existence for seven seasons and had yet to win 30 games in a season.
For the next eight seasons, featuring Garnett’s all-around dominance, the Wolves would win between 40 and 58 games. They would make the playoffs for eight straight seasons. They would stage easily the best season in franchise history.
In 2003-04, the chance to play with Garnett lured Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota, and the Wolves advanced to the Western Conference finals. Had Cassell not injured himself, the Wolves may have advanced to the Finals.
The next season Cassell and Sprewell, angered because they didn’t receive contract extensions, imploded the organization, getting Flip Saunders fired. The Wolves went into decline and traded Garnett on July 31, 2007.
Without Garnett, the Wolves have played in one playoff series — losing to the Rockets in four games with Jimmy Butler as their centerpiece player.
Without Garnett, the Timberwolves would have been the Washington Generals, only not as entertaining.
Who would even rank second on the list of most important Minnesota professional athletes?
Randy Moss was exceptional, but he might touch the ball five or eight times a game.
Football players work in shifts and require extensive help. They can’t dominate the way a great basketball player can.
No one in Wild history rises to Garnett’s level, because of the nature of the sport and the mediocrity of the franchise.
Maya Moore became one of the world’s best basketball players with the Lynx. She also played alongside multiple stars and Olympians. She may be the closest Minnesota has seen to another Garnett, but she received much more help on the court.
Kirby Puckett was the most impactful Twin in recent history. Baseball-Reference.com lists comparable hitters to Puckett as Don Mattingly, Cecil Cooper and Magglio Ordonez.
Three quality players and hitters. Three non-Hall of Famers.
Puckett gets points for excellent fielding, entertainment value and his otherworldly Game 6 performance in the 1991 World Series, but not enough to consider him the equal of Garnett.
At Basketball-Reference.com, Garnett’s comparables are Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Julius Erving and Tim Duncan.
All no-doubt Hall of Famers.
And Puckett is not the greatest Twin of all-time. That distinction belongs to Harmon Killebrew.
The Killer is a worthy challenger to Garnett in terms of greatness and impact. If Garnett has an advantage over The Killer, it would be that in baseball it is more difficult for one player to elevate a franchise.
Garnett’s anger over the way the Timberwolves treated him has kept him from agreeing to be honored by the organization.
Here’s hoping that when basketball resumes, Garnett will have softened his stance. It’s long past time for our state, and the Wolves, to celebrate Minnesota’s most valuable player.
©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)