Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury had been best of friends for three years. They had occupied different universes—Marbury was the little man from the big city, Garnett the big man from the small town—but they were conscious that they were soul mates, one the alley to the other's oop. Garnett called his buddy Starbury or sometimes X, a reference to Marbury's middle name, Xzavior. Marbury called Garnett KG. They would talk for hours, gabbing about hoops and sneakers and girls and things they figured only they could understand.
They also had never met. "Anytime you can talk to somebody on the phone without seeing their face and have the relationship we have, we didn't have to meet," Garnett says. "He could have been a damn thief, or a murderer, but he was good for me."
Then, late in the summer of 1994, the two having forged a bond with phone bills that were as large to them then as the checks they receive from the Minnesota Timberwolves now, their parallel lives were about to intersect. Marbury was visiting Chicago, where Garnett had just moved. The phone pals made an appointment to measure their friendship over 94 feet, and as Marbury approached his new old friend outside a West Side gym, he spat out words appropriate to the occasion.
"Ready?" Garnett replied.
"Yeah, I'm ready."
"Let's go play some ball."
The salutations were spare but poetic in their directness. High school haiku. They were basketball players, and now they finally would get to play in a pickup game that meant nothing and everything to two teenagers, each of whom had already guessed that the other was his destiny. They shook hands, hugged and walked inside.
The first time downcourt, against a team of "thugs," as Garnett recalls, Marbury pounded his dribble, marking time at the top of the key. Marbury is impatient by nature, but at this moment he waited, looking for Garnett, a 7-foot tangle of legs and arms and facial expressions who is impossible to miss. The geometry of the court was changing—teammates whirled to the hoop, defenders bullied for position—but Marbury and Garnett sought only each other's gaze. "It was almost like I could hear Steph saying, 'Spin. Spin. I'm waiting on you,' " Garnett recalls. "I could feel it. 'Spin. Spin.' "
Garnett spun off the blocks and headed along the baseline as Marbury lobbed a rainbow toward the hoop. Garnett clutched the ball above the rim and stuffed it through emphatically, as if he were taking a yellow Magic Marker and underlining the play, making sure everyone grasped its significance. The first time down, without a word between them, Marbury and Garnett had run a perfect alley-oop.