* Editor’s Note: Kevin Garnett announced his retirement from the NBA after 21 seasons on Friday. You can read more about his storied NBA career in the SI Vault and his unbreakable bond with Kendrick Perkins.
Kevin Garnett retired Kevin Garnett's 2015 return to the Minnesota Timberwolves was an effort to rectify a strained relationship. The best player in franchise history had left on complicated terms after a trying, 12-year stay culminated in anger and frustration. Some tellings of his exit point to team owner Glen Taylor's refusal to give Garnett, then 31, the three-year, $60 million extension he had pushed for. “If he wanted $12 million, $12 million and $12 million instead, I would have signed him," Taylor said then.
Garnett received just such an extension from the Celtics after being traded in 2007. At his introductory press conference, Garnett was quick to characterize his ideological rift with Wolves' ownership and management. "The more I continued to talk to Minnesota about the future ... it contradicted how I saw it, or what I thought was best for making the team better," Garnett said. KG may never have wanted to leave Minneapolis in the first place. And while he wanted to stay on his own terms with the full clout of a superstar, it was made clear that he didn't have much interest in playing for the kind of developing outfit the Timberwolves were looking to build. "At this point in my career," Garnett said, "I can't do young."
For years Garnett drew a hard distinction in his Minnesota associations. "It's always special to come back to true fans and sort of your foundation," Garnett said in 2012. "But as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say." Every passing season brought more return visits, more questions, and no closure. Then, in 2014, Garnett's resentment began to thaw enough that he publicly considered a return—perhaps as an eventual minority owner.
One specific factor made it all possible. "I have ties there," Garnett said. "Flip's there."
Flip Saunders was the only lasting bridge between Garnett and the Timberwolves. Their bond was strong enough that Saunders convinced the infamous competitor to waive his no-trade clause and return to a team with little chance of winning. It was Saunders who then sold Garnett on returning for two more years and $16.5 million as a champion of internal development for Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Gorgui Dieng. Theirs was an agreement made from nearly 20 years of friendship.
Rare Photos of Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett starred at Farragut Career Academy in Chicago, where he led the squad to a 28-2 record his senior season and earned National High School Player of the Year honors. Though the T-shirt may indicate he had dreams of playing in Ann Arbor, he instead chose to enter the NBA straight out of high school.
Kevin Garnett was named Mr. Basketball for Illinois after averaging 25 points, 18 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks his senior season at Farragut.
Kevin Garnett poses outside of Farragut Career Academy. KG played for Mauldin High in South Carolina for his first three seasons but transferred to Farragut before his senior year.
Kevin Garnett became only the fourth player to jump directly from high school to the NBA, following Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby.
Kevin Garnett was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth pick of the 1995 NBA Draft. KG was joined in the Top 5 by Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace.
Kevin Garnett was joined the next year by Stephon Marbury and the two were expected to be the future of the organization.
After Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury led Minnesota to the playoffs in 1997 and 1998, Marbury was traded to New Jersey after a dispute with management.
Kevin Garnett's entourage — called the OBF (Official Block Family) — includes friends from Beachwood Drive in his hometown of Mauldin, S.C.
Kevin Garnett strikes a pose.
Kevin Garnett in a profile portrait.
Kevin Garnett puts his arm around Vince Carter after leading Team USA to the gold medal in Sydney.
Tim Hardaway, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen smile on the floor after leading Team USA to the gold medal in Sydney.
High school star Darius Miles skipped college for the NBA and immediately drew comparisons to Kevin Garnett for their style of play. Those comparisons proved to be incorrect as Miles played nine injury-plagued seasons and is now out of the league.
Kevin Garnett shows his skills during an NBA clinic in Tokyo.
Kevin Garnett poses with Ludacris during an NBA All-Star Party in Los Angeles.
After years of first-round playoff exits, Kevin Garnett was joined by Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell for the 2003-04 season. KG was named NBA MVP after averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. The Timberwolves advanced to the Western Conference Finals before bowing out to the Lakers.
LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Bernie Mac chat backstage during the 2004 ESPY Awards in Hollywood.
Kevin Garnett travels to New Delhi to debut his limited edition 'Adidas KG basketball shoe.'
Kevin Garnett chats with Barry Bonds before the 2007 All-Star game in Las Vegas.
A day after being traded to the Celtics, Kevin Garnett reconnected with his old Minnesota buddy David Ortiz after throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park.
After the trade, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were immediately dubbed "The New Big Three" in Boston and became one of the favorites to win the 2008 NBA title.
Kevin Garnett offers words of encouragement to Serena Williams at the Matt Leinart First Annual Celebrity Bowling Night in Hollywood.
Kevin Garnett averaged 20.4 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game during the 2008 playoffs.
A 15-time All-Star, Garnett finally won his first and only championship in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.
Kevin Garnett and his Celtics teammates meet President George W. Bush after winning the NBA Championship.
Kevin Garnett poses with his wife Brandi at the 2008 ESPY Awards. The couple married in 2004, which forced KG to miss a chance to defend the gold medal in Athens.
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett dominated the power forward position for over a decade.
Kevin Garnett poses with then-Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning during a promotional press conference for Wheaties.
Kevin Garnett and LeBron James share a laugh on the bus ride to the stadium prior to the 2010 NBA All-Star game in Dallas.
Kevin Garnett poses for a portrait as part of the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
Kevin Garnett battles it out at the first ever Call of Duty XP at the Stages at Playa Vista in Los Angeles.
Kevin Garnett and his wife Brandi attend Day 8 of the 2011 U.S. Open.
Fans wearing masks of Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett pose during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Heat in Boston.
Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant talk during the NBA All-Star practice in Houston. Garnett made 12 consecutive All-Star appearances from 2000 to 2011.
Kevin Garnett poses with Magic Johnson befoe the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Canelo Alvarez fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas,
Kevin Garnett looks on during his first preseason game in a Brooklyn Nets uniform.
Jay-Z congratulates Kevin Garnett late in the fourth quarter of the Brooklyn Nets 97-83 win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Eight years after being traded to Boston, Kevin Garnett returned to Minnesota in a trade with Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young.
Kevin Garnett throws out the first pitch prior to the Minnesota Twins game against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Kevin Garnett poses with Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns for an SI cover shoot in Minneapolis.
Saunders passed away on October 25, 2015, taken far too early by Hodgkin's lymphoma. A franchise was left in limbo. Everyone that Minnesota had hired had been brought in to work with Flip and every player the Wolves had drafted or signed had been hand-picked by him. Garnett, at long last, had come home. That home was hollowed by Saunders's passing, no matter the mourning and dedications. The Timberwolves even kept Saunders's office in the Timberwolves' practice facility intact. Memory alone could not fill it.
This summer has brought Minnesota's first formal attempts to move on. Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden are the stewards of the franchise now, and with that comes changes across all levels of operations. Sam Mitchell, a friend and former teammate of Garnett's who coached the Wolves last season, was dismissed under regrettable circumstances. Until Friday, Garnett had since kept quiet— even with regard to conveying his intentions for this season to the team, according to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press.
All that has taken place in the last year (along with Garnett's characteristic resistance to change) pointed to this particular outcome. Injuries limited the 40-year-old legend to just 38 games last season. His presence was of value as a leader and luminary, but KG signed up to work in partnership with Saunders. The bond he shares with Thibodeau, healthy though it may be after working together so swimmingly in Boston, cannot help but be different.
Only Garnett can parse just how much that matters—and what it would mean to be a Timberwolf now that his very reason for returning is gone.