Divergent paths of KG and Steph
Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury were once close teammates with the Wolves
Their careers have played out much differently since they parted ways
While KG went on to win an NBA title, Marbury is in a standoff with the Knicks
I haven't written about the NBA long enough to have covered players whose shorts had belt buckles, coaches wearing leisure suits or referees invoking the three-to-make-two free-throw rule. But I have written about the league long enough to remember vividly the days when teams would plead with Stephon Marbury to stay, rather than to stay away.
Such a long time ago.
Tracking the trajectory of Marbury's career since his arrival in the NBA in June 1996 is like following the stock price of your average American metropolitan newspaper over pretty much the same time period. Started out high, showed tremendous promise for a few years, then began a tumultuous slide of churning, setbacks, redefinitions, bonehead mistakes and now, at the end of some seriously negative slope, ashes and rubble. Sticking with the business jargon, the balance sheet of Marbury's assets and liabilities at the moment screams "Sell!'' and any sports biography that gets written about him should end, symbolically if not financially, at Chapter 11.
Compare that, now, to the trajectory of Kevin Garnett's career. Plot it on a graph and superimpose it on Marbury's. Then try to tell me it doesn't look like an overlay of Facebook on Enron or Seth Rogen on Eddie Murphy, a crazy "X'' lopsided to the right, one line trending upward, the other trending nowhere.
The remarkable thing is that Marbury and Garnett started out, in an NBA sense, in the same place. They were drafted by the Timberwolves 12 months apart, with Minnesota picking fifth both times (Marbury actually went at No. 4 but was immediately dealt for the No. 5 pick, Ray Allen, and a center named Andrew Lang). They were schooled by the same coach, Flip Saunders, and indoctrinated by the same organization, headed by Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. They shared the same agent, Eric Fleisher, and countless cell-phone conversations. The vision many had for the two of them also was shared: new millennium Stockton and Malone or, at least, a reset of Payton and Kemp.
To nudge the growth process along, McHale signed a pair of stable veterans, one a guard, one a forward, to serve as resources and mentors. Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell -- both of whom would become head coaches in the league, Porter currently in Phoenix, Mitchell until a few days ago in Toronto -- moved into lockers adjacent to the young players.
"Go figure, huh? The brain trust was smart, bringing those two veterans in here,'' Porter said recently, chuckling. "It was interesting. It was a fun time, me and Sam having a chance to talk to KG and Steph on a regular basis, and talk about the league and talk about the game. Both of them at the time were just young kids very excited about being in the league, wanting to be the best players they could be. There was a lot of excitement with those two guys around. You get all that youth in practice, jumping around all the time. It was a lot of fun.''
And if someone could have told Porter then how very different Marbury's and Garnett's careers would play out, with one getting an NBA championship ring and the other an endless string of DNPs?
"That would have surprised me. Yeah,'' the Suns' coach said, his smile flattening.
Had they spent all their wisdom on one guy, in a hoops version of the ol' "Mom loved you best'' bit by the Smothers Brothers? There was a considerable difference in duration, for what it's worth: Mitchell spent six years immediately to Garnett's right, taking him all the way through his crawl, walk and run phases as an NBA player. Porter had two years next to Marbury before the vet got neglected by Wolves management in the postlockout signing scramble in January 1999 and grabbed a roster spot in Miami. By then, though, Marbury already was kicking off his training wheels, hiring agent David Falk and deciding that Minnesota was nowhere to stay. It went like that, one way or another, in New Jersey and Phoenix, too.
This wouldn't be the first time two siblings (literal or, in this case, figurative), raised under the same roof, by the same parents, same rules, ended up drastically different. Literature and USA Network movies are rife with good-evil twins.
"We're not close at all, not really as close as we used to be,'' Garnett told a Boston reporter this week. "I haven't really been following [the Marbury situation]. I watch it here and there when I go through the locker room when it's on TV. I hear about it. It's unfortunate. But I haven't been following it or had an assessment of it.''
Garnett took and embodied the NBA's biggest gamble in 20 years when he dipped his toes into professional waters straight out of high school in 1995. Marbury arrived 12 months later as "Starbury,'' a supposed sure thing who spent most of his single season at Georgia Tech resenting the nine-inch height difference that allowed Garnett a head start. That one year became a forever wedge between them when Garnett soon qualified for a $126 million contract under one collective bargaining agreement and Marbury had the glass ceiling of a maximum $71 million contract imposed by a different CBA.
One had been raised in a semirural area outside of Greenville, S.C., where his stepdad took the backboard down from the garage. The other grew up in a basketball-driven family in Brooklyn. Garnett spent an unsettled senior year in Chicago before rolling his dice on the NBA. Marbury already was "Coney Island's Finest'' before he led Lincoln High to the PSAL championship in New York that same spring, with a coach who still is making excuses for him.
"I wish people knew him the way I know him,'' former Lincoln coach Bobby Hartstein told the New York Post the other day. "I'm not saying he hasn't made any mistakes, but you think: What did he do to bring this on himself? Absolutely nothing.''
Never forget, though, that one of these two guys came into the league wanting to be successful enough to lead a team to an NBA title, and he did that. The other wanted to be successful and star for the NBA team in New York, and he has spoiled that.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.