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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 had a fine mixture of exuberance and common sense. He was off on a basketball adventure. The Timberwolves had extra room on their charter flights, so they sometimes let members of the OBF come along. Garnett went shopping for cars with Fleisher, and Fleisher persuaded him to turn down the beauties of a Mercedes for a more reasonable Lexus. ("That idea lasted until he went to his first practice and saw the other cars in the parking lot," Fleisher says. "What is it with guys in the NBA and cars? That got him thinking Mercedes again in a hurry?') The OBF slid around the Twin Cities in the Lexus in the snow, listening to music, or went home and played video games.

Garnett didn't know much about Minneapolis except Kirby Puckett and Prince and...oh yeah, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the Grammy-winning record producers for Janet Jackson and Boyz II Men and all kinds of singers. They were big, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

"One night, we stop in this grocery store," Garnett says, the excitement of the moment in his voice. "We're walking the aisles and there are Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and their wives. We can't believe it. We're like...Jimmy Jam! Terry Lewis! Then Jimmy Jam spots us, and he says, 'Hey, Kevin, how are you?' He puts out his hand. He's a Timberwolves season-ticket holder, which I know already because I've seen him there. He's glad to meet me. He's amped. I can tell. I try to be quiet, polite. I say, 'Uh-huh, Uh-huh.' Then he gives me his card. He says to give him a call. I say, 'Uh-huh.' Then, after he leaves, we're all screaming, 'We met Jimmy Jam! He gave us his card!' Bug wanted to call him right then. I said no, we'd wait three days, until Wednesday, seven o'clock. Then I'd call."

He waited three days. Seven o'clock. He called. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis became mentors, rich and important black men who could point the way. Garnett reports that Jimmy Jam's house is "as big as the Target Center."

"Kevin says I'm a father figure, but I don't know if that's right," Jimmy Jam says. "Although I'm old enough to be his father, I feel more like a brother. I'm not sure how to describe the relationship. He spends a lot of time in the house. We have what we call a media room, maybe six small TVs and a big one. Kevin likes to spend time there. We have a movie theater, too, that he likes. He spends the night sometimes, sleeps in the same guest room where Janet stays when she comes to town to record. His great dream is that sometime he'll be in bed and Janet'll come to town late at night and come into the room. I tell him to keep dreaming."

The T-Wolves' plan was to bring Garnett along slowly. Their first job was to decide what position he should play. His size and coordination enabled him to play...well, just about anywhere. On offense, he seemed best suited for small forward, where shorter men would have great trouble containing a 6'1"opponent. On defense? He could guard...well, it turned out he could guard just about anyone: centers, forwards, guards. Other teams tried to pound on him, overpower him, but he stood up to the punishment just fine. He played with a teenager's gusto, running everywhere, bounding, diving. He punched himself in the head when he missed foul shots.

McHale brought in Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell, a pair of NBA veterans, to share their knowledge with Garnett in the locker room. Mitchell was given the locker next to Garnett's. He also was given the starting job at small forward. Garnett came off the bench. "That lasted for about 35 games," Mitchell says. "Then I went to the coach and told him that Kevin should be starting. The reason was simple: He was better. I was playing against him every day in practice, and I knew how good he was. He was bigger than me, maybe quicker. He was better. It's no shame to say that."

In the final 42 games of the year the kid, as a starter, averaged 14 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.26 blocks. He was the youngest player in the league. He still had not reached his 20th birthday when the season ended. In his second season, he blossomed.

Minnesota had acquired another kid in the first round of the draft, Garnett's friend Stephon Marbury, a point guard fresh from only one season at Georgia Tech, and now the team had the foundation of its operation. Inside and outside. The T-Wolves rolled, winning 14 more games than they had a year earlier, making the playoffs for the first time in their history. Garnett averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, more than two blocks per game. He played in the All-Star Game.

Minnesota looked set for a bright future. If, of course, it could keep its foundation intact. That was a problem. The kid was ready for some money.

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