- Kevin Garnett retold the history of the Celtics’ rivalry with LeBron James.
- While there’s some truth to his story, it’s also almost entirely self-serving.
- What really unfolded between James and the Celtics is far more interesting.
Kevin Garnett is one of the most versatile players in NBA history. Just below seven feet with the effortless athleticism and refined ball skills of a player six inches shorter, he redefined what was possible for big men when he entered the league in 1995. Garnett didn’t just break the mold; he created a new one that changed the NBA forever.
Still, his Hall-of-Fame career relied as much as on his tirelessly intense and self-assured persona as his wholly unique game. Garnett hasn’t changed in his post-playing days; he’s still just as prone to overzealous excitement and exaggeration off the court as he was on it.
Case in point: Garnett’s wishful retelling of the rivalry between his Boston Celtics and LeBron James on The Bill Simmons Podcast.
Garnett ‘Didn’t Want the Pressure’ Either
The late 2000s and early 2010s Celtics, to be clear, really didn’t “give a f*** about LeBron.”
Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and company won a title during their first season together in 2008, and would probably have more than one ring if injuries didn’t get in their way. They feared no one, and rightfully so.
If any team “broke” James, eliciting his league-altering move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, it was definitely Boston. The Celtics beat the top-seeded Cavaliers in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, and a few years later, James admitted that playoff loss to Boston “stuck with him a lot.”
But the notion that James “was trying to consolidate because he didn’t want the pressure on him” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – and even if it did, is a critique that applies to Garnett himself.
Cleveland’s second-best player during his first stint in Cleveland was Mo Williams. The Cavaliers’ degree of success, with such an objectively lacking supporting cast around him, before he left for South Beach is actually an endorsement of James’ all-time greatness.
That same dynamic pertains to Kevin Garnett. He won nothing with the Minnesota Timberwolves during his first 12 seasons in the NBA, beset by a front office unable to build a championship contender around him. It was Garnett’s sign-off on a trade to the Celtics, to play with All-Stars Pierce and Allen, that not only inspired James to sign with Miami, but ushered in an era of super teams.
Maybe James didn’t want the pressure on his shoulders alone, but any unbiased look at NBA history proves Garnett didn’t, either.
LeBron on a Mission
James didn’t finally beat the Celtics in the 2012 playoffs because “the league had an agenda.” Miami’s back from a 3-2 deficit against Boston wasn’t due to biased officiating or any other league-related conspiracy theory.
With his team’s back against the wall and his career facing a crossroads, James simply put together one of the most dominant postseason performances of all time.
That epic personal breakthrough paved the way for the Heat to emerge victorious in Game 7, then beat the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals for their first championship – and the crowning achievement of James’ career to that point. Miami won another the following season in even more dramatic, memorable fashion.
Don’t expect Kevin Garnett to tell that story accurately, though. The same gumption that made him one of the greatest players ever makes him a thoughtful, engaging, wildly enjoyable interview.
But just like the rest of those prideful Celtics, it also makes him unable to discuss James without ignoring the inconvenient aspects of their storied team and individual rivalry.