A knock on a hotel room door at two o'clock in the morning in the first week of May 1995 was the beginning. Eric Fleisher, the sports agent, got out of bed, walked across the floor and looked through the peephole. Who could be here at two o'clock in the morning? Through the tiny opening Fleisher saw the largest kid he'd ever seen in his life.
"Kevin?" he asked.
"Yeah," the largest kid replied.
Fleisher opened the door....
Kevin Garnett entered. He was 6'11" and a spindly 220 pounds. He had a shaved head. He was accompanied by five other kids, friends from Farragut Academy on Chicago's West Side. They all were dressed in hip-hop style, big clothes hanging from their frames. They filled the hotel room.
Fleisher had been scheduled to meet with Garnett at seven o'clock the previous evening. The kid was seven hours late. It was not a mistake. He hadn't overslept or been delayed or simply forgotten where he was supposed to be. Tardiness was a strategy. The kid wanted to come in "hard." His word. He wanted the upper hand, the surprise, the control. He had figured all this out for himself. He was 18 years old.
"I didn't know this guy," Garnett says now. "He didn't know me. You hear so many things about agents, about people trying to take advantage of you. I'd had a lot of agents calling me, playing these childish games. I'd play games right back on them. I won't let you take advantage of me. I'll kill you before I let you take advantage of me."
The meeting had been arranged by a Chicago high school coach, a friend of Fleisher's. Garnett was arguably the best high school player in the country, a senior at Farragut who had transferred from Mauldin, S.C, for a variety of reasons, one of them a desire for more national recognition. He was living with his younger sister in an apartment, his father not on the scene, his mother back in South Carolina. His goal was to play big-time college basketball, but so far he hadn't scored high enough on the SAT or ACT to be eligible. This had prompted speculation that he would skip college and move directly to the NBA.
Garnett's coach wanted Fleisher, the agent for 18 NBA players, to give the kid some realistic advice. Fleisher's late father, Larry, had been the first head of the National Basketball Players Association. The son had been around basketball all his life. He knew that no player had jumped directly from high school to the NBA in 20 years, not since man-child Darryl Dawkins and journeyman forward Bill (Poodle) Willoughby had. Fleisher was pretty certain that his advice would be for Garnett to go to college, even junior college if he couldn't meet the Division I SAT requirement.
"I'm not signing anything," Garnett said at the beginning of their hotel meeting. "I'm not committing to anything. I don't owe you anything."