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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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He stood unsteadily, putting on the T-WOLVES baseball cap that someone handed him. He accepted kisses, shook hands. He felt the weight of everything he ever had done in his life. He thought about the father he barely knew...about his mother cleaning lavatories, working the third shift as a domestic...about playing basketball on Beachwood Drive in Mauldin...about going across the street with a ball to pick up his best friend, Jaime (Bug) Peters, at six in the morning, ready to start, trying to beat the South Carolina heat...about playing in a neighbor's driveway until the neighbor came out, still half asleep, to stop the noise...about copying moves from Bug's Michael Jordan video, Come Fly with Me, kicking out the legs on the dunk, trying to look like the MJ silhouette on the Nike clothes...about Bug always telling him he was the best, the best on the street, in the neighborhood, the county, the state, the country...about playing against the big kids at Springfield Park...about high school in Mauldin...about high school in Chicago...about practice, practice, more practice...about work...about fate.

Garnett noticed Corliss Williamson of Arkansas, Ed O'Bannon of UCLA, good players he had watched on television. They were still sitting, awaiting the call. He was walking past them. How had this happened? He began to pray. "You can see it if you watch a film of the draft," he says. "My head is down, and my lips are moving as I walk. I'm saying a prayer of thanksgiving. Just as I reach 'Amen,' I look up, and I'm standing next to David Stern."

A strange thing had happened at the hotel an hour before Garnett left for SkyDome. The phone rang while his girlfriend, Corliss Strong, was adjusting his tie. The caller was his coach at Farragut, William (Wolf) Nelson. The coach wished the kid well and offered encouragement. Oh, yes, one other thing: Did the kid remember that last SAT test he had taken? Somehow the letter containing the results had fallen to the bottom of a pile on Nelson's desk. He had found the letter while cleaning the day before. Guess what? The combined score was 970.

"You passed," Nelson said.

The kid was stunned by the news.

"Well, it's too late now," he said.

Garnett's transition to the NBA, to Minnesota, to the Timberwolves, was easier than anyone had thought it would be. From the first day he arrived at the Target Center and found J.R. Rider shooting jumpers—"Hey, wassup?" "Wassup with you?"—the pro life was an extension of his earlier life. This was basketball. This was something he knew.

"People will always talk about 'the things you learn in the NBA,' " McHale says. "You know what you learn in the NBA? You learn how to play basketball. That's it. The only other thing I learned in my career with the Celtics was how to follow tall men through airports. You'd get your ticket from the trainer, and you'd follow the other tall men to the gate and get on the plane. It was like a herd of camels moving through the crowd. That was when we took commercial flights. Now we charter. You don't even have to learn how to follow tall men. You just learn basketball. The other learn that yourself. You'd have to learn it wherever you went."

The team had considered some options, such as having Garnett live with a family, but he'd already been living on his own with his sister in Chicago. How would this be different? He created his own family, bringing Bug and another kid, Jerome, from South Carolina to live with him. He brought his girlfriend from Chicago. He rented a two-bedroom apartment. He added three dogs. Was that enough of a family? It even had a name, the OBF (Official Block Family), which included all the kids from Beachwood Drive in Mauldin, even the ones still back there.

"My idea is, I shine, you shine," Garnett says. "If I'm doing well and you're with me, you do well. I don't have a lot of friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, but that's different. Friends have been with you forever."

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