But as the surefire future Hall of Famer embarks on his 18th NBA season, he is the subject of constant monitoring, probably even more so than he was as a teenager in 1995. Back then, after all, nobody knew what to expect out of him. Now he often faces questions about why he does not do more during games to prop up his team, or less during practice to preserve his energy.
Do not fret, however, Boston fans. Garnett is not tempted to alter his style.
“Eighteen years in, it’s gotten me this far,” Garnett said Tuesday.
Anyone with a television and a passing interest in the sport of basketball knows that Garnett is one of the most intense players in the NBA, which is one of the reasons Celtics coach Doc Rivers must resist the urge to play him more. Less often seen, either by the public or by opponents, is Garnett’s intensity in practice, which matches the passion he brings to games.
“He practices like he plays,” said Jason Terry, using a line that would be repeated several times in speaking about Garnett. “I think that’s very hard to do, especially for as long as he’s done it for. I know myself, I’m not a practice guy, so to watch him go out every day and go hard in practice just makes me work even harder. That’s something I had to work at, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.
“Does it hurt? Yes, it does. But you see why he’s been in the league as long as he has and why he’s been so effective, because he creates good habits and it starts in practice.”
Garnett’s serious approach was on display Tuesday during a rare open practice. He and fellow veteran Paul Pierce were the most talkative participants, making their “green” team (composed of the nominal “first unit”) by far the louder group, both offensively and defensively, when they were together on the court. It should be no coincidence that those two also happened to be the only players in attendance who are absolute dead-solid locks for the Hall of Fame.
It says a great deal about Garnett — and by extension Rivers — that tough practices are taken for granted in Boston. Every once in a while, though, a newcomer like Terry arrives to remind everybody that this is not the way it is everywhere. At this point, slacking off in practice would be difficult for anyone, most of all Garnett, because the Celtics have become so used to his contagious fervor.
“Habits,” Garnett said. “We practice the way we play.”
There was that line again.
“Since I’ve been here, the culture’s been, ‘Come in here, bust your [butt], accept your role, fulfill your role to the fullest and practice hard for two hours,” he continued. “We’re not going to change that culture — well, for as long as I’m here, we’re not going to change that culture. When I’m gone, that’s another story, but for right now this is the way we are.”
During full-court drills late in practice, Garnett received the ball at the elbow, shot-faked, pass-faked and then, looking uncharacteristically off-kilter, missed a rushed jump shot. It was not obvious what made him hesitate on the play, but it was obvious he was not happy with himself. He yelled a four-letter word for excrement, which made a few of the fans who were allowed to watch practice look aghast and a few — who apparently know a little bit more of Garnett’s background — chuckle.
After being subbed out for the next possession, Garnett continued to berate himself on the sideline. He paced back and forth, talking to himself, as his teammates gave him a wide berth. For almost any other player, such a gaffe might prompt a momentary expression of frustration followed by a shoulder shrug. It was only practice, after all.
For Garnett, though, there is no such thing as “only practice.” There is only the game of basketball, and being on the court for Garnett, no matter the reason, is serious business.