On the surface, Kevin Garnett and Tom Brady share little in common besides their status as professional athletes in Massachusetts.
Garnett’s a wiry-strong, seven-feet tall black man, with arms that extend to the sky. He prefers to keep his personal business, well, personal. I know nothing about his marriage, nor do I know anything about his family, nor do I know much of anything about his off-court personality. And that’s the way Garnett wants it. He prefers to live his life away from the limelight, outside the media’s scope. Shaq calls Garnett the funniest person in the world, but very rarely does Garnett let the public see his inner self. And, again, that’s the way Garnett wants it. The less we know about his personal life, the better.
On the other hand, there’s Brady. I know far too much about his personal life, far too much about his wife and his children and the actor he impregnated and then parted ways from. He’s tall, but normal-person tall rather than basketball-player tall. He’s white, and a heartthrob, and could probably make a living as an actor or model if he weren’t so damn good at throwing a football. He plays the sport with “Hey Arnold’s head”-shaped ball, while Garnett plays with a round ball.
The two players are so different, in so many ways.
They are also more similar than many people realize.
Consider what Antonio Cromartie said regarding Brady’s on-field behavior. (New York Daily News)
Ryan set the tone by saying it was just “Brady being Brady,” referring to his finger-pointing to the Jets sideline after his touchdown pass gave the Patriots a 38-3 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter on Dec. 6 in Foxborough on the way to New England’s 45-3 humiliation of the Jets in their first-place showdown.
Cromartie, in his first year with the Jets after four years with the Chargers, backed up Ryan Tuesday when he was asked by the Daily News if he’s ever seen Brady pointing after the Patriots score.
“We see that a lot. He does it a lot,” Cromartie said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. We really don’t give a damn, to tell you the truth.”
Okay, what kind of guy is Brady?
If you switched a few words around, and the pointing was chest-pounding, and it was done after a slam dunk instead of a touchdown, that exchange could be Joakim Noah talking about Garnett.
Garnett’s talent and mentality have polarized people for a long time, and he continues to grow more polarizing as his on-court antics continue to rub many people the wrong way. You either love him for his passion, or hate him for his over-the-top delivery of said passion. Garnett doesn’t just want to beat you, he wants to demoralize you. And in the process, he will bark and clap in your face, and he will cuss for days, and he will throw his elbows, and he will start fights he has no intention of ever finishing. He wants to get into opponents’ heads, to offer himself any edge he can. And yes, sometimes he gets carried away.
But he’s as competitive as any current NBA player, and dialing that competitiveness down could prove counter-productive. Last season, the Celtics piled up technical fouls like they were glorious. Rasheed Wallace berated the refs at every opportunity, and Kendrick Perkins wasn’t very shy either. Yet Doc Rivers didn’t mind all that much. He didn’t want to tell his players to tone it down, because toning their attitudes down might have decreased their competitiveness, and decreasing their competitiveness would have made winning more difficult. Garnett’s the same way. His act can grow tiresome, but you can’t tell him to tone it down. Because toning it down would mean losing a portion (however small) of his edge.
Competitiveness separates the LeBron Jameses from the Lenny Cookes, the Kobe Bryants from the Vince Carters, and the Kevin Garnetts from the Andray Blatches. It also separates the Derek Fishers from the Luke Ridnours, and the Kendrick Perkinses from the Patrick O’Bryants.
There are thousands of players with 40-inch verticals, and many who can run like the wind or hold onto the net without jumping. There are many seven-footers, and many guards with quickness galore and skills to pay the bills. But the players who succeed — and I mean succeed in a way that our grandchildren will read about in NBA history books, or in a way that contributes to championships — all possess that extra gear inside them, that competitiveness that drives them not only during games but also during the offseason, when many players rest on their laurels.
It’s that extra gear that forces me (although I hate him with every inch of my soul) to begrudgingly respect the hell out of Derek Fisher, that allows Kobe Bryant to continually improve on facets of his game, that lets Ray Allen maintain 4% body fat as a 35-year old, that makes the difference between winning or losing.
It’s the same extra gear that lets me forgive Brady and Garnett for crossing the line. There are few things I can’t forgive an athlete for, and at the top of that list is a lack of competitiveness. With both Brady and Garnett, I know I’ll never worry about that.
Perhaps Cromartie, the same player who thinks Brady’s an asshole, said it best.
“He’s doing the pointing at our defensive line and stuff like that,” Cromartie said. “That’s the kind of a guy he is. He’s a competitor, he loves what he’s doing. He’s going to compete. When you’re competing, you are not worrying about anything else, about what anybody else is doing. You’re just worried about what you have to do.”
You are not worrying about anything else, about what anybody else is doing. You’re just worried about what you have to do.
Is berating an opponent what Brady and Garnett “have to do”? No. I don’t think anyone would argue that it is. But if all the extra-curricular noise is a byproduct of their psychotically-driven mentalities, I’ll gladly take the good with the bad.