On February 8th, 2008, Kevin Garnett made a memorable entrance into the Target Center. This time was different, however. In street clothes, the anointed Big Ticket stepped foot onto the floor as a member of the Boston Celtics, his first time there not as a Minnesota Timberwolves.
It didn’t matter what he was wearing or which team he represented because the fans knew who he was at heart. As the single greatest Wolves player ever, everyone in Minnesota had a place for K.G. within them, thus the A-class reception to his introduction that night. The memories, the success, the statistics, the rivalries, the drama; everyone took interest in those years dominated by the self-appointed “6-foot-11″ (My ass) power forward. He poured his heart and soul into every game on both ends of the court and expected nothing but the same from every one wearing the same jersey as he. And it worked. He made the players around him better, he made fans, both die-hard and bandwagon, care, which was the root of his prominence for 12 years around these parts.
Sadly, the era had to end because of extenuating circumstances but, luckily, the next in line happened to be another guy named Kevin. This one different; a tad pudgy, maybe out of shape but with an elite skill set of his own, different to that of Garnett’s that fans fell in love with. This Kevin could rebound as well as the other one ever could but had a secret weapon Garnett never quite honed: The three-pointer. As the NBA’s game grew faster and the post game’s importance has become nearly obsolete, Love’s unique inside-out game as a legitimate power forward has garnered league-wide attention. For some reason, there’s always this white dude shooting threes, completing bizarre put-backs, that keeps climbing the points rankings behind only the elite scorers in the game.
Love’s numbers with the Timberwolves were outstanding, and to give you a better scope of his accomplishments, just remember that Garnett was here for 12 years, while Love just six. He’s third in total scoring (6,989) in franchise history behind just Garnett (19,041) and now assistant coach Sam Mitchell (7,161). He ranks second in three-pointers made (440) and attempted (1,215) behind Anthony Peeler (465/1,226). He’s second in offensive (1,345), defensive (3,108) and total rebounds (4,453) behind only Garnett (2,571/7,971/10,542), as well as free throws made (1,913) and attempted (2,346).
Statistically speaking, Love is undoubtedly the second-best player to ever have worn a Timberwolves jersey. That’s an awfully high honor considering the only guy above him. But besides all those ungodly statistics both Kevins posted during their time in Minnesota, that’s just about where the comparisons end.
It’s hard to compare Love to Garnett in terms of intangibles because they’re two entirely different players from different backgrounds. Garnett came straight out of Farragut Academy in Illinois, while Love hails from Oswego High in Oregon, a top-notch basketball program, to UCLA where, well, history can speak for itself on UCLA’s importance to college basketball’s history. Garnett fought his way to the top through a lot of adversity, while Love grew up in a significantly better environment. His uncle’s a Beach Boy, for God’s sake. One thing still remains, once they got to Minnesota, it was time to work. Both players struggled through their ups-and-downs early on in their careers but triumphed through it all.
The biggest difference between the two stars is simply the likability factor. Garnett was adopted by the Twin Cities. During much of his reign, there was already an anti-superstar hanging around town named Randy Moss. So all Garnett really had to do was steer clear of trouble, continue his individual success moving forward and help his team keep winning games. In Love’s case, the opposite scenario happened. Adrian Peterson is the city’s knight in shining armor, while he had to endure the role of the anti-star. It started with things like poor defense, a lack of emotional intent on the court, whining on no-calls — whether they were right or wrong — and the unforgettable “knuckle pushups” injury. When Love first started his ascent into basketball stardom in 2010, the Timberwolves had no rep at all due to all the losing, and no one really wanted to cheer for the chubby white guy who didn’t put as much heart into the games as the previous Kevin did. But once the numbers started to rise, people paid attention. It still wasn’t quite enough but at least people had a reason to watch basketball again in Minneapolis, because they perhaps had a chance to spring back into relevancy on another Kevin’s shoulders.
Sadly, it just never happened. Love failed to make the playoffs, and struggled to even elevate the entire team to win more games. Part of that has to do with poor management from David Kahn and company but the fact still remains that, even without Kahn and Kurt Rambis, Love failed to bring this team into contention or even bring hope to a once-thriving basketball fan base. In all honesty, it wasn’t even until Ricky Rubio, the Spanish Unicorn, came overseas that local attention started to grow at all. People wanted to see Ricky and all his flash in action instead of the numbers mogul Love. Once the two finally had some time to play together — albeit sparingly due to injuries — the fans started to come around. A hall of fame coach, Rick Adelman, joined the stable and the Wolves were pushing relevancy even on a national level. The thought was, “if they’re not good now, they will be very soon!”
Too bad ‘soon’ never came. Love grew sick and tired of the all the losing. For a guy who had won his entire life — not just in basketball, mind you — losing can take a really hard toll on your mind, which led a lot of people to believe that Love’s efforts were somewhat half-assed, especially when things didn’t matter anymore. He was always the most difficult interview in the entire locker room because his sulky, sad responses weren’t much of a scoop. The losing got to him, which leaked to the rest of the team, who were looking for their best player to also become their leader. And with the entire team searching for a spark, the whole fan base got down and began to point fingers. It was a cycle of perpetual sadness, and nobody involved had an answer.
Love’s last few years in Minnesota will soon be forgotten personally with the success he’ll likely see in Cleveland. And for that, I’m very happy for him. As hard as he’s worked, he deserves that at the very least. But for the Minnesota fans and the remaining teammates left over from the Love era, they deserve even better.
So what do you make of the Kevin Love legacy as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves? His time here was scarred with injuries, pathetic rosters and failed coaching staffs but was also filled with exciting, record-breaking numbers as well as the complete transformation into yet another NBA superstar with ties to Minnesota.
Later that year after Garnett had made his return to the Target Center, he and his Boston Celtics won the 2008 NBA Championship. Tears rolled down Garnett’s face in jubilation because he, like Love, just wanted to taste what it’s like. Once Michelle Tafoya caught up with the Celtics’ big man, he had this to say:
“This is for everybody in ‘Sota”
Kevin Love’s legacy as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves won’t be determined by all those statistics or even all those losses. Just like Garnett, it’ll be determined once he makes his first appearance at the Target Center and the fans’ appreciation — or depreciation — as a whole, as well as what his response is to winning his first championship.