"I shouldn't have started shouting like that. They all think I'm a kid. Or uncontrollable. Or something. Why'd I shout? I blew it."
"You did fine," the agent said. "You did great."
He had seen the looks on the famous faces. They were impassive no more.
"We had no idea we were going to take him in the first round," McHale, vice president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, says. "I didn't even want to go see him. I thought it was a waste of time. Then we went, and Flip Saunders [then Minnesota's general manager] and I were in the car afterward, and we just looked at each other. I said, 'Wow, we're going to pick a high school kid in the first round.' It was that obvious.
"This was our first draft. Flip and I were both new. Our owner was also new. How do you tell him that the first thing he's going to do is sign this high school kid? I think we figured if it went bad, we'd just say, 'Hey, it was our first draft. We didn't know what we were doing.' "
The Timberwolves were a team badly in need of an image. The sixth-year expansion club never had made the playoffs. The excitement of simply being part of the NBA show was long gone. A succession of No. 1 draft choices had landed in the Twin Cities with a thud, from Pooh Richardson to Luc Longley to Christian Laettner to the latest, Donyell Marshall. McHale, the former Boston Celtics All-Star and University of Minnesota legend, had been hired to rebuild the operation.
Taking the kid was a risk, but taking anyone in the draft is a risk. Michael Jordan wasn't taken until the third pick. McHale and Saunders, who would soon become the Timberwolves' coach, went from being skeptics about Garnett to worrying whether he would still be available when they drafted fifth. "Had everyone seen what we'd seen?" McHale says. "We didn't know. We didn't know what to do. Should we announce right away that we were going to take him? Or should we lie, say we weren't interested, so no one made a trade to draft in front of us? I can't remember what we did. I think we lied."
The draft was held at SkyDome in Toronto. Garnett did not know what McHale was planning, but he knew something good would happen. Interest had picked up the day after his workout: phone calls, visitors, people asking him to take psychological tests and be interviewed. His picture was on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, with the line READY OR NOT.... Garnett knew he was a hot commodity.
As he sat with family and friends, waiting to discover his fate, he felt overwhelmed. He felt as if he had stepped inside his own imagination. He had watched the draft for so many years on television, tall young men in new suits walking toward their glorious futures to standing ovations. This was where he had always wanted to be. This was where he was.
"Washington took Rasheed Wallace with the fourth pick, and then all of a sudden all these cameras were around me," Garnett says. "All these lights. I didn't know what was happening. Then I heard the announcement, 'With the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select Kevin Garnett.' "