What struck me was not the perspicacity of his answers but rather the intensity with which they were delivered, his eyes blazing now, as the hour approached midnight. He lamented that the T-Wolves have never been able to keep a worthy supporting actor—"a partner in crime," as he put it—who could elevate the team. He was a little uncomfortable talking about his contract, but he made it clear that he would not demand maximum money as long as management got him some help. And he said that when the postseason came, he absolutely, positively would continue to give up his shot if a teammate had a better one. "Versatile players can win championships," Garnett said, his sturdy jaw set. "I can win a championship that way." Did he believe it? Or was he trying to convince himself?
As it turned out, Minnesota did make off-season moves, adding veterans Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, and Garnett did sign for less than the max on Oct. 1 (even if $100 million over five years sounds pretty max). As 2003 ends, the Timberwolves are an improved team that is near the top of the league's most competitive division, the Midwest. But given their history, one can reasonably expect that—despite another spectacular year by KG—at season's end they will once again be looking up at the defending-champion Spurs as well as the two elite teams in the Pacific, the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings.
When anyone asks me if I think athletes are overpaid, I say, "Of course they are. Just like movie stars, politicians, broadcasters and CEOs." But celebrity and bloated bank accounts come with a price for pro jocks: They must prove themselves publicly and explain themselves endlessly, all the while enduring the slings and arrows of daily criticism. Let's not start addressing sympathy cards, but let's not forget that either. The scrutiny is maximized for athletes like Garnett. He's near the top of his game, but he will never truly get there unless he wins a title, which so few do. He knows that, and it gnaws at him, maybe even consumes him. But he doesn't pretend it doesn't, and for that I appreciate him.