Kevin Garnett is two years removed from his NBA career, but you don’t have to look too far to see The Big Ticket’s influence on the league. The emerging crop of star big men led by Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and Kristaps Porzingis are all following in the footsteps of Garnett when he came in the league 21 years ago as a 7-footer hoisting jump shots and doing his best work facing the basket.
Garnett now watches games from home, except for Thursday nights when he comes to Atlanta to watch from his own section of the Turner studios called “Area 21” for TNT’s Inside The NBA broadcasts. The atmosphere is “lounge meets basketball court,” which is perfect because it allows for a more laid back vibe than a traditional set, while also allowing the always energetic Garnett to move around and, at times, talk to guests while they shoot baskets, with additional videos airing on “Area 21” Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the night as well. Plus it includes a “Cuss Button” that he can smash to mute the mics when the language goes beyond PG.
On Thursday night, Garnett will host three WNBA stars on “Area 21” when Sue Bird, Lindsay Whalen, and Cynthia Cooper drop by. Garnett spoke with Dime Magazine on Thursday morning about the importance of providing more of a platform for WNBA players and their voice, as well as his thoughts on the early season struggles from some of the league’s top teams and how much pride he takes in watching those young star bigs doing things on the court that he started (as well as the influences that shaped his style).
You have a special Area 21 tonight with Sue Bird, Lindsay Whalen, and Cynthia Cooper. What are you looking forward to talking with them about the most and why is it important to you to have a WNBA presence on Area 21?
First off, anybody that knows anytime you’re going to have a celebration or an opening knows you want to have a Ladies’ Night. Right? It runs everything. So it’s only right that we have a Ladies’ Night on Area 21. I’ve been talking about wanting to highlight the WNBA, but more importantly the players, what they do in the offseason, and I don’t think we’re educated enough to understand women’s sports a lot. So this is just bringing attention to that. Not only giving it a platform, but having the girls in — we rarely hear from our women, well, I do and I’m strictly speaking from a fan perspective.
So, I’m eager to hear how the girls see their league and where they’re going. I’m eager in learning on the transformation from where it’s come from to where it is now. You know, Sue Bird’s been in the league a long time. Coop’s been in the league a long time. They’ve been around the game a long time, so I’m just eager to hear and get their generational talks on how it was when she first started in the inaugural season to all the way up to where we are now. And just where they see it. Their views on some of the social stuff that’s going on. Obviously I love to hear about the international game, so I just want to hear from the women and get their take on how they view the league and the guys, their two cents. They have a two cents, so it’s Ladies’ Night. It’s about getting it from the women’s perspective. It’s always important and try to highlight that tonight.
There’s a section of male NBA fans that scoff at the WNBA and women’s basketball. Why do you think that is and what’s your message to fans that tend to write off women’s hoops?
Well all the fans that I know of sports love women’s sports. I’ve yet to run into someone who’s negative about women’s sports. I think you have two types of fans, you have the male who loves women and loves looking at women and the beauty a woman brings, and a guy that loves sports and can appreciate skill level. I think I’m a combination of both. I think me and my friends, we see the beauty of women. But when it comes to skill level and passion and drive and work ethic, and when you start to see this uncanny skill level connected with a passion and a drive, that’s everything.
When I watch young kids play, women play, other guys play, I’m looking for that temper, that appetite, and that dominance. And, I’m just speaking from my experience, but I’ve yet to run into a true fan of sports that can’t appreciate that. Now, I can understand or see if someone just doesn’t actually like a sport as a whole, but when you see some of these women soccer players play and the skill level or when you see the WNBA girls play and check some of these games out these are high intensity, passion driven games. And that, you’ve got to respect. And that’s sports.
How important is it having NBA players supporting the WNBA and giving that platform to the women’s game and showing that support, league to league?
I think it’s important to show continuity. I think in any sport that you have men’s and women’s, they support each other. I think the women support us and their fans, and vice versa. I just don’t think you hear from us supporting the girls enough, or you don’t get to get us in a forum where we’re able to get away and enjoy some of the women’s games. But I think it’s very important for both sides to continue to support each other. I think the more time and the more avenues for the guys to be supportive of the girls, I think you’ll see that. I think any time if you ask any of the players currently or guys that have played the game it will be supportive and positive. I don’t ever see a time where it should be negative or would be negative. We’re all one. The WNBA is our sister league. The NBA is their brother league, so I think they go together and they’re parallel and belong side-by-side. They need to be cohesive.
Let’s talk a little bit about the early season so far. Some teams we expected to be at the top getting off to slow starts, most notably the Cavs. I know they have LeBron and they insist it’s just a matter of it being early, but do you think this team can legitimately fix their defensive problems with the guys they have on the roster or are there some actual issues they’ll have moving forward?
Listen, I want everybody to understand that the preseason was built for this exact reason. I think when David Stern and Adam Silver put in the more rigorous [preseason] schedule it was for effectiveness and cohesiveness. I think the expectation levels that Golden State has given us with how they’ve started has put them in a situation where now they have an unbelievable target on their back. Not just being champions, but obviously with Draymond coming out and taunting the league and pushing it in everybody’s face. Guys remember that, and if you’re motivated, it’s going to affect you. What I think, personally, is you can’t prepare for multiple months of basketball, guys being hurt, in and out of a lineup, and expect it to be 100 percent fluid.
I think we see, normally, it’s November 1 or 2, we would’ve been seeing opening night tonight. You know? We would’ve had five or six games where we would’ve been able to see more preseason basketball and it wouldn’t have counted. We’re seven or eight games into the season now, and I think these guys had two weeks to a week-and-a-half to prepare. Guys coming off of a Finals run, that’s an extra month-and-a-half and then only have a month to prepare. That’s not enough time to heal, to sit back and chill, get your mind right. I think what we’re seeing is the season being combined into a crunch bunch. It hasn’t been enough time for the broth to simmer on the stove.
You know that good broth that your grandma cooks or your mom cooks? It’s cooking and brewing, like them beans you like, it’s because she’s letting it sit. She’s letting it marinate and all that come together, and at some point it’s going to combine and when it hits your plate you know it’s going to be right.
So the pot hasn’t simmered. No one put it on low and no one’s putting it on the back eye for it to marinate. Everybody’s putting it on heat and they’re stirring fast and they’re adding ingredients. And now they’re panicking because it’s tasting like three different things. I think you’ll start to see more in January, when you get a lot more games under your belt, they start to create that continuity. But this league now is up for grabs. You’re going to see Cleveland, Golden State get on a run probably around mid-January to where they start hitting their peak and getting it rolling. But for now, these other teams that started slow can pick it up and get back into the race. This year’s probably going to be one of the closest races we’ve seen, so hold onto your belts.
When you look around the league at the crop of young bigs and the versatility they play with, you’ve got Embiid, Towns, who you know well, Porzingis, Davis. Do you take some pride in knowing you were among those that started that wave and how impressed are you with this group?
You know, everything comes from something. And I like to think watching Scottie Pippen play, Shawn Kemp, Robert Horry, these were some of the influences I took as lengthly players that were wiry strong. They were long, they played the three, they played the four. I would even throw Dream into that because of his versatility and his agility. I used to use a lot of that as curation to what I wanted. A lot of these guys were strong, so I had to figure out my game as far as someone that was stronger, someone taller, someone that jumped higher. So, I like to think evolving my game and being able to attack face-to-face from the post was something I worked on day in, day out. To the point where I started to see it in Chris Bosh a little bit. In Stormily Swift. I started to see parts of it — I didn’t shoot hooks like Pau did — but you start to see mimics of what you are.
To be able to touch guys like Thon Maker, Giannis. Work with guys like Blake Griffin and DeAndre. I worked with Embiid. You start to see, obviously, parallels to the game. I don’t have any sons, so it makes me rejoice. I do have a great feeling when I watch those guys play and I do root for those guys. I would love to, my dream is to work with every big in our league and help them create counters and understand defenses. Especially because a lot of these bigs don’t understand when they’re trapped on where the ball goes and IQs and all that. But it’s refreshing sitting back and watching these guys play with a similar style.
These guys have worked their butts off to get to this league, and it’s great to see they’ve used or picked some of the style to be able to carry them throughout their career in the league. It’s refreshing, I ain’t even gonna lie. It’s dope.