It’s a proven model in today’s NBA — assemble three unselfish stars, get them to gel together, build around them, and sooner or later you’ve won a championship.
Or maybe it’s not that simple.
Kevin Garnett knows better than anyone how to win with the Big Three model — it was his trade from Minnesota to Boston on July 31, 2007 that vaulted the Celtics to the top of the basketball world. And if you ask him, it takes a lot more than just three stars to build a championship basketball team. The challenge of winning a title might be greater in Miami for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh than it was in Boston for Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
“I think what most people don’t understand is that yes, our talent came together, but for the most part it was our bench, and our team, that came together,” Garnett said. “When you’ve got guys, and you’ve got talent, that’s one thing, but how the talent interacts with each other off the floor, their chemistry, their respect for everybody on the floor, the guys that come off the bench, the respect for them, practice and the bench making the first team even better, that’s another.”
Turning three superstars into a winning team requires selflessness, something that all three Celtics stars had after enduring losing seasons on undermanned teams in their late twenties. It requires a coach that knows how to manage personalities, and no one in the NBA’s done that better in recent years than Boston’s Doc Rivers. And perhaps most of all, it requires the urgency to settle for nothing less than a championship. Garnett served as a ringleader to bring all those properties together and channel them into a title-winner.
“We didn’t have none of the egos, none of the nonsense to distract us. And when we did, Doc did a good job of squashing it right there,” Garnett said. “It helped us to have ‘ubuntu,’ it helped us to say that, ‘This is us. This is ours.’ It was very paramount to what Celtic pride is about. This is a storied franchise, and coming in here, you know that the tradition here is about the banners, not the division titles or other nonsense that comes with the game.”
To win a title, you need the right personalities. You need guys who know when to defer to each other, and when to take over. And you need to have the right teammates to fill in the cracks — as the Celtics had in youngsters Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis.
“When it came to Ray, Paul and myself, we understood each other and we respected each other,” Garnett said. “I’ve known Paul since I was 14 or 15, and Ray since I was 13 or 14. That helped. We know each other’s families off the court. We would go out to dinner a lot — not just the three of us, but Rondo, who was very young at the time. Big Baby, who was young at the time. Perk, who was young at the time. Showing those guys how to be professionals. Then you have Eddie House, James Posey. I know this is a long answer, but I’m just giving you how we made that happen. That was the formula, and we’ve been building that formula ever since.”
What Garnett gets at is an idea that’s often lost amid all the national media hype that surrounds the Miami Heat. It’s an idea of where the Heat and the Boston Celtics differ. Being a Celtic isn’t about hype in October; it’s about results in June. The Celtics are a proud franchise, and have been for six decades. But their pride isn’t motivated by outside forces. The men in green aren’t driven by what everyone else says; they’re driven by their own desire to win. That’s the way it’s always been.
“I can’t speak for other franchises other than the ones I’ve played for,” Garnett said. “But I know that when you come in here and you see all the retired numbers and the banners, and the dedication and the sweat and tears that have been poured into the sport, that’s responsibility. All the guys that have been here since day one, they let you know that from day one.
“As a person who’s a historian and who understands the league and is a huge fan of just the history, I take this very personal. When the older guys come in here and watch us play, I want them to get a sense of pride when they watch us, and not only just in practices but in games. Putting on this jersey is a lot of responsibility. I don’t think people fully understand that.”