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howlin' wolf
Leigh Montville
May 03, 1999
Why is this man hollering? It could be his jackpot contract or the exuberance of youth or his T-Wolves fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Or maybe Kevin Garnett is just having the time of his life
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May 03, 1999

Howlin' Wolf

Why is this man hollering? It could be his jackpot contract or the exuberance of youth or his T-Wolves fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Or maybe Kevin Garnett is just having the time of his life

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"Fine," Fleisher said.

They talked for a long while. Fleisher explained how hard it would be to make the NBA right out of high school, how college might be the best option. Garnett talked about his life in South Carolina, his life in Chicago, his hopes, his dreams. Garnett liked Fleisher's no-nonsense style. Fleisher liked the way the kid expressed himself, the way he thought. They agreed to meet again in two weeks, when Fleisher was back in town.

"I'd never seen him play," Fleisher says. "I knew nothing about him. When I came back, I took him to the Lakeshore Athletic-Club, this place where a lot of guys play. I wanted to put him through an NBA kind of workout to see how good he was."

The workout went badly. Fleisher ran the drills that NBA clubs run when they test potential draft choices. The kid was inexperienced, nervous. Frustrated. As he missed shot after shot, as his feet became tangled during the simplest tests, he looked toward another court, where a game was being played by college kids and men. "Look," he finally said, "just let me play in the game."

The kid joined the players on the other court, and the awkwardness disappeared. The shots went in the basket, one after another. The rebounds belonged to only one set of hands. The kid moved around the floor with the agility of someone a foot shorter. He dribbled and defended and picked and rolled. This was the dance he knew. "Ah," Fleisher said. "Yes."

You think about it now, and it's crazy. Four years ago nobody knew if this kid could play. Nobody. He has come from an uncharted nowhere to change the entire NBA, maybe change all of professional sports. A high school kid. He is the highest-paid athlete in any team sport, $126 million over six years. He will be the highest-paid player in the NBA for the foreseeable future, thanks to the new labor agreement, which came out of the lockout that delayed this season for three months and two days.

He was the final reason for the lockout. He signed a contract for so much money that the people in charge scared themselves into action. "Where will all this end?" they asked. They risked the future of the league, shut down operations. Because of him. He is the kid who broke the NBA bank.

Fleisher wanted other people to see what he had seen. He still wasn't convinced that the draft was Garnett's best option. The common guess was that some team at the bottom of the first round, top of the second round, would say, "Oh, hell, let's give the high school kid a shot." Fleisher didn't like that idea.

"If you go that low," he told the kid, "you're better off in college for a year or two. Sometimes picks that low don't even make the team. If you go to the NBA, you want to be a lottery pick."

To gauge the lottery teams' interest, the agent set up a special workout. Helped by the fact that a bunch of general managers, coaches and scouts were in Chicago to attend a predraft NBA camp, Fleisher sent invitations to the 13 teams with the highest picks. He borrowed the University of Illinois-Chicago gym and brought in Detroit Pistons assistant John Hammond to run the drills. Fleisher invented the procedure as he went along. No one ever had done anything like this.

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