I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Kevin Garnett’s tough-guy persona. Or fake tough-guy persona, whatever you want to call it.
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the fact that Garnett does a lot of huffing and puffing, and also that his most memorable displays of trash talk and tough-guy behavior have always been to the league’s weaklings. Jose Calderon, Anthony Peeler, Rick Reickert (who?), Jerryd Bayless — the list of weak opponents that KG has scuffled with seemingly never ends.
On the other hand, whenever someone KG’s size stands up to him (read: Zaza Pachulia or Antonio McDyess) KG backs away. Real or not, the perception exists that KG is the classic playground bully. As long as he’s picking on tiny nerds with glasses, the majority says, then KG acts like a tough guy. But the second someone as big as Garnett steps in the ring, KG runs in the other direction.
Adrian Wojnarowski described how the average person feels about Garnett very nicely.
For years, he’s gone after smaller, younger players. He never goes after tough guys. Never. For some reason, he reveled in going out of his way to abuse European players. So many young Euros grew up idolizing him, loved the range of his versatility at 7 feet, only to have images of him shattered with cheap shots and trash talk on the floor. A few days ago, this happened to the Knicks’ Timofey Mozgov. It happens all the time. Pau Gasol. Jose Calderon. The list is long and the act is tired.
Kelly Dwyer, a long-time Garnett fan and supporter, felt last year that Garnett had taken his schtick to another level, one that Dwyer could no longer support, one that often leads Garnett to harrass, yes, European players.
Of course, the list of misdeeds doesn’t end there. There was the woofing from the Boston bench during the playoffs last season, an embarrassing display. There’s the incessant trash talking and harrassment sent the way of — yeah, I’ll say it — European players almost as a rule. There was the time he made Glen Davis cry on national TV because he wasn’t happy with Davis’ defensive rotations in a game the C’s were up 20.
Dwyer’s list goes on, but the sentiment remains. Garnett loves flexing his muscles — and by that, I mean he loves to flap his jaws. But whenever people his own stature stand toe to toe with Garnett, the tough guy puts his tail in between his legs and turns away. You’d never see him use his antics against Reggie Evans or even someone established like Tim Duncan. He picks on the meager, the small, the less talented.
Quentin Richardson echoed similar feelings to reporters last season after Garnett elbowed him.
I’m just real curious to see what those guys will be saying if we weren’t in a basketball league, and didn’t have referees. I mean it wouldn’t be the same story. I mean they are the world champions and rah-rah-rah, but the tough part I don’t factor. I come from a neighborhood where you can say what you want to say, but ’til you do something, it don’t mean nothing. Some of those guys are happy to get a ring, but you ain’t been in the league long enough to talk to people like that. I don’t have a lot of respect for that. Like I said, I’d be curious to hear what they have to say in a different setting, I’d be very curious to see that.
Most everyone is in agreement that Garnett is nothing but a spineless, cuss-spewing punk, someone who picks on the small and sprints away from the big. His spat with Charlie Villanueva — no matter what KG said — lends credence to that notion. Garnett was taunting a bench player from an 0-4 team, in what turned out to be a 23-point win.
But what if Garnett has another reason for picking on the weak? What if he picks on them not because they’re smaller or European or frail, but because he thinks that’s the best way to give himself an edge?
Ray Allen made an interesting point about trash talking in an interview with WEEI this morning.
“One thing, MJ was nice with his trash talking,” Allen said. “There were certain guys that he couldn’t stand, but if you said something to him, then he was going to shoot the next 10 shots in a row. The coach on the other side was like, ‘Man, why did you say something to him? Leave him alone. Do not push his buttons.’ So everybody knew don’t talk trash to MJ because he’s going to be able and score and dunk on you, whatever.
“Guys in the league, you just know who to mess with and who not to mess with. Some guys just go crazy. Some guys just use it. They look at you and say, ‘I’m going to attack you from here on out just because you said something to me.’ That’s part of the game and people love the personalities of [athletes], but everybody’s different. ”
Maybe Kevin Garnett isn’t picking on the Jose Calderon’s of the world because KG’s a seven-foot tall pansy who needs to feel like one bad-ass Mo’fo. Maybe he’s picking on the Calderons of the world because they’re the types of guys who would be negatively affected by KG’s antics.
I was talking with my brother about KG’s reputation as a fake tough guy, and he said, “You know what, KG’s a lot like Flave.”
Flave (named that because he looks just like Flava Flav) is a really muscle-bound guy who plays in our summer league. When I first started playing in the league, Flav was relentless while trash talking me. “You’re a f***ing p**sy,” he used to say. (Oookaaay.) “You aren’t man enough to fight me.” (Alrighty then.) He maintained the string of never-ending trash talk for two straight games. Why? Probably because I was new, young, pretty good, and he’d never seen me before, and probably partially because I was one of a handful of white players in a predominantly black league.
I thought Flave hated me for some reason I didn’t know, but he was only testing me. He was seeing whether I would crack under his intimidation. Two games later, I’d finally passed the test, and you know what? Flave hasn’t talked smack to me since. I’ve played against him for five or six years now since the day he realized I was tough enough to handle his criticism. And Flave has been a perfect gentleman.
I think my brother’s right. Garnett is a lot like Flave. He doesn’t taunt Europeans, small guards and cripples to pretend that he’s tough; he taunts them because it might give him an edge. At the same time, he stays away from taunting the Tim Duncans and Kobe Bryants and Dirk Nowitzkis of the world, because that would accomplish nothing. Those guys are immune to trash talk. If anything, it makes them play better. And why didn’t he fight Pachulia and McDyess when it came down to it? Because he uses trash talk as an intimidation tool. His crazy words don’t mean he actually wants to fight anybody. Like Flave, Garnett’s trash talk is ultimately hollow. It means nothing. Unless you are weak and let the trash talk get to you — then it gives Garnett an edge.
Am I giving Garnett too much credit? Maybe. He could be just as big a fake tough guy as a lot of people would lead you to believe. But I’ve got a feeling his trash talk is a lot more than just the crazy ramblings of an insane man. I’ve got a feeling it’s actually a tactic utilized specifically to help the Celtics win games, to help Garnett earn an edge over his opponent any way he can.