Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves announced his retirement last week after 21 seasons in the NBA. At 19 years old, Garnett entered the league with highly touted athleticism. He is leaving the game revered for his intelligence and intensity.
Garnett played sparingly his final season. He knew his limitations and maximized what he did best. He tutored young teammates, organized the defense, antagonized the opponents most emotionally vulnerable player, philosophized with referees on behalf of his team and checked out of the game within minutes to perform the same duties from the Timberwolves bench. The team was better when he was on the floor, but KG hardly resembled the dominant scorer, high-flying rebounder and ferocious dunker he had been a decade ago. In his first 22 games upon returning to the Timberwolves, Garnett didn't have a single dunk.
On the night of Dec. 7, 2015 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, when Ricky Rubio came from the weakside to intercept J.J. Redick's pass, Kevin Garnett hadn't dunked as a member of the Timberwolves since 2006.
The only player back on defense for the Clippers that night was Blake Griffin. Blake is a physical dynamo who jumps over cars and specializes in the combative art of dunking over and through defenders. The term 'mozgoved' was coined as the only way to describe Blake's ridiculous 2010 dunk over 7-foot-2 Timofey Mozgov.
Blake had to know Rubio was going to look for a trailer to pass to. Rubio is a gifted passer with below average ability to score at the rim against big defenders. But, Rubio had the angle to the basket. If he made Blake hesitate, Rubio could fake the pass and probably score with his left hand. Probably. Blake could also spike Ricky's attempt and squash a mustard-covered pretzel onto the Rubio jersey of a Twolves fan in the 19th row.
Basketball is a mind game. Athletic players get anxious to show their athleticism and smart players will use their over-anxiousness against them. When Blake bent his knees, he twitched at the poker table. Blake's commitment towards a possible superhero block on little Ricky left him too close to the basket. This is when Rubio deftly flicked his wrist and turned his dribble into a bounce pass to the trailer: a hustling, 39-year-old legend named Kevin Garnett.
The mighty Blake Griffin was off balance and could merely cower from the physical and spiritual force powering towards the rim. The Basketball Gods rumbled from the heavens, "The ruthless posterizer is destined to be posterized himself!"
Boom! The Timberwolves players and the Target Center crowd jumped in maniacal unison. Popcorn, beer and sports drinks spilleth everywhere. The old man did it and we all rejoiced as children. Kevin Garnett dunked on Blake Griffin!
Garnett's gifted protege, 19-year-old Karl Anthony Townes, repeatedly threw down his hands in animated disbelief, and said later, he had switched bodies with Garnett during the play. KG certainly had the look of someone just transported through time and space. He seemed to be speaking in tongues as his body instinctively carried him to the defensive side of the floor. Paul Pierce reacted from the Clippers bench before quickly recollecting himself as Garnett's opponent. Doc Rivers (Pierce and Garnett's coach on the 2008 champion Boston Celtics) jumped off the bench and called timeout for the Clippers. Whoop and hurrah. The Target Center was going crazy.
Speaking in tongues was deemed taunting by the referees, and Garnett was issued a technical foul. Nobody cared. KG just dunked on Blake Griffin. The arena was buzzing. Strangers slapped high-fives. We recognized each other as witnesses to a moment that would be forever etched in the scant pages of Timberwolves lore. The night a 39-year-old KG dunked on Blake Griffin.
It would be Kevin Garnett's last dunk in the NBA. The legends last legendary moment. One final poster for the Hall of Fame. A big outro for The Big Ticket. A farewell moment for the alpha Timberwolf.