Six years ago, when he was nearing the end of a career that can’t be described as anything less than a transcendent, sport/league/culture-altering expedition, Kevin Garnett’s former head coach Doc Rivers had this to say: “There's the Hall of Fame and then there's a table at the Hall of Fame and Kevin Garnett is at the table. There's very few people who get to the sit at the table.”
Praise for a basketball player can't reach a level higher than that. And Thursday night at 8 PM, Garnett will be joined on Area 21 by a few legends who know exactly what that rarified air smells like. Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, George Gervin, Bernard King, and Lisa Leslie all plan to stop by and hang out under the same roof.
Beforehand, Garnett caught up with VICE Sports to talk about why he loves Area 21, how much NBA basketball he actually watches, which players remind him of himself, why Karl-Anthony Towns is struggling, whether or not the Boston Celtics can reach the NBA Finals, and so much more.
VICE Sports: How much NBA basketball do you watch? Are you consuming two games almost every night? Are you checking in here and there on your own time? How much is it a part of your life?
Kevin Garnett: Listen. For the second time in my life, I’m a fan. Before, I was watching basketball like "this is where I want to go." I loved watching it and I’m watching it for the creativity and all the other things, right? Now I watch it for the love of it, like, I would love to see Deion Sanders and Randy Moss go up against each other, you know what I’m saying?
I watch it now for the competition of the individuals and the match-ups I love to see. I was programmed to watch and catch tendencies—see if he can’t use his left hand vs. his right hand—and was like a walking scouting report. Now I can actually sit back, chill with some friends, have some conversation, and just be watching the game.
I probably catch, in seven days, I’m definitely watching NBA basketball six out of seven days. If I don’t catch it there’s probably a birthday party or, you know, Sundays when they play like at 12 and two and six, and I can’t, you know, and I’ve got a day off and the days are loopy and I don’t know what day it is or something [laughs]. Other than that I’m watching. I’m definitely keeping up with the guys, my own personal friends in the league. I text them to see how they’re doing, check up on them. Blah blah.
I have not gotten to actually go and see some games live which is what I really want to do because I’m traveling so much. But I’ve got my schedule slowing down a little bit. I got to Minnesota a little late yesterday [Tuesday]. I wanted to see that 76ers-Minnesota game, but I didn’t get to make it. I got home a little late. But I love watching basketball. I love it.
VS: Are there any teams out there that you have an eye on, that pique your interest?
KG: You know what? I’m more with individuals versus the teams. I’ve gotta admit that. I’ve gotta say that Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jokic, Porzingis, Damian Lillard, Curry, Durant, I’m enjoying the young bucks, watching young Ingram get better and watching little L. Ball figure it out, you know what I’m saying? I’m checking it all out. I like individuals, not so much on the organizations. Obviously I’m gonna be with Minnesota and the players. Not so much upstairs. I don’t really deal with Minnesota’s upstairs. They suck. But Boston, all day. You know I’m a C ‘till I die. I always root for Brooklyn. But other than that I don’t really get into too many of the upstairs. I’m more watching the guys and watching their progression.
But I love the competition. I love how the big is coming back. For a while the point guard position had it dominated for like four, five years. Now we have some promising bigs come into the game, starting to change the game a little bit.
VS: When you look across the league is there anyone who reminds you of you?
KG: [Long pause] Nobody plays with that anger. I always say this: Westbrook plays angry, and that’s how I thought I played. I don’t know, man. In my younger days I was having fun and when you start to make a lot of money that starts to take the fun away from it because you have real responsibilities now. People are expecting things versus it being potential. So I started playing angry. So when I watch Westbrook play, he plays with that type of vengeance and that type of [growls], you know? That worked for me. I’m an energetic guy. I played with force. And I wanted to be remembered! I wanted for it to be that when I left this sport, I want you to remember me.
And I will say, I’m impressed with Embiid. I’m impressed with Karl-Anthony Towns. I’m impressed with Jokic. Porzingis. The Greek Freak. Thon Maker. The skill set of the big now, one-legged fadeaways, off glass, off the spin, like, it feels like the big can do more and is expected to be more versatile these days. And it’s impressive. I’m very much impressed.
VS: You’ve mentioned Karl-Anthony Towns a few times.
KG: That’s my young boy. That’s my little brother.
VS: He’s still only 22, but has struggled a little bit on the defensive end, perhaps more than some expected based on the physical tools he displayed as a rookie. What does he need to do to be a consistent impact player on that side of the ball?
KG: Listen, every rookie, not just rookie but every three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18…I’m joking [laughs]. But my point is that every guy that’s playing up until their year five is still going to make these little small [mistakes] if not have flaws. And I just see that he can shoot the ball from deep. He can take the ball off the dribble. He can do so many other things. He’s very agile. But one of the things he’s just not good at is just keeping the consistency about the defensive end, and he’s just gonna have to grow into that.
He’s doing so many other things really well. You can’t tell me that some of these flaws, he’s gonna have to start shedding them as he gets older, smarter, starts to understand the game, so this is just one of his flaws. Defense is about focus and will. This is something that you’ve gotta want to do.
Now, I will say that his defense in the game last night against the 76ers was not that great. But when he had to get stops and when he had to go up against Embiid and get stops against him and not foul, I thought he did a really good job in the second half, getting stops when he had to versus overall. But man, listen. The game is so complex that this is just one of the many things that some players think they don’t do well, but you’ve gotta get confidence and it’s just consistency. It’s a mind thing. You’ve gotta put forth more of a focus towards defense versus offense sometimes. Believe it or not.
I don’t really deal with Minnesota’s upstairs. They suck.
VS: I’m sure you’re asked about the Celtics quite a bit, but what’s been your reaction to how they’ve played this season and how far do you think they can realistically go in the playoffs?
KG: As part of Celtic tradition and being part of Celtic history, I’m very prideful sitting back and watching what they do, and more importantly how they play. If you watch Celtics basketball over the years, it’s just very consistent with how Brad has his team with the history of how Red and how Doc and how coaches have come in and tried to have the same consistency throughout. It doesn’t shock me when you know Brad Stevens’s system and his pedigree, where he comes from. It doesn’t shock you. But when you see how they’ve rallied around Hayward’s injury and been able to put games together, hell yeah they’re gonna be a force to be reckoned with in the end, and I think it’s gonna be Cleveland and Boston in the Conference Finals to be able to dictate who represents the East. And I think it’s gonna be one to where it’s unprecedented. And I don’t think we can all guess. I think it’s just gonna be one where we gotta sit back and enjoy it.
But I’m not shocked. I’m very proud because I come from that same pedigree…I like how that team is built up. Obviously the head of the snake is Kyrie, and he’s leading them by example and I love it, and the dynamic seems to be cool, but I love more the progression of the younger guys, having a chance to play in real games, real experiences. No practice will ever give you that, so the fact that they’re growing up before our eyes is something special and I think we all need to have our eyes pinned to the television and to the season, with their progression.
VS: Do you believe this Warriors team is unbeatable in a seven-game series or is there a team out there that can match up pretty well against them?
KG: I don’t see it. I see probably Cleveland, I see teams getting better, I will say that. But when healthy? Locked in? I don’t know it’s tough, man. To bet against Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. And they’ve been there before, and they know how to win? That’s tough. I’m gonna have to see that. They’re gonna have to show me that. I’m gonna have to see that. You know what I’m saying?
VS: Changing gears, you’ve said before that going on TV wasn’t something you looked at as an option or what you wanted to do as you were nearing the end of your playing career. Now that you seem to be having a lot of fun with it, what do you like most about working on Area 21?
KG: The creativity. You know, each week we have the challenge of…not saying every show is great, but we consider every show to be great. We go into it with an intent to teach and be creative on top of it with some uniqueness. We try to be very, very authentic, as possible. It’s very hard to do that in television, especially in production. But I like to think that no one’s actually heard me speak about the game. Teach, talk about the game. And that’s why I said in the beginning it wasn’t something that I thought would be a platform for me, but when you think about my involvement in the game and what I know, sharing that and putting it in a form with a way to entertain and have different guests that you wouldn’t necessarily think knew that [much] about basketball. You would think that, no one knew Birdman knew basketball, just thought he was a fan. Or Candace Parker, hearing her views. Just getting a wide range, a variety of people to come onto the show. From football players to artists to WNBA stars, I just like to think I’m doing something different that’s not on TV.
VS: Do you have an idea in your mind of what you want Area 21 to be, or what you want to do in the media landscape, three, four, five years down the road?
KG: I want to be able to look back and have Area 21 be one of the platforms that not only had the dopest shows but the hottest guests, and talked about some of the real issues. Not only that, but have some fun. I’m going for fun and teaching here. I want to be able to hold your attention for as long as I can, but at the end of the day I want you to be able to learn something from the show. So I guess if I’m recalling it or looking back on it, I would hope that you could be interested or stimulated in watching whatever it was, but having a variety, too.
VS: You’re hosting Oscar Robertson, Dr. J, George Gervin, Bernard King, and Lisa Leslie on Thursday night. What excites you the most about having such an impressive collection of Hall of Fame talent under one roof and, even though I assume this isn’t your first time meeting each of them, is there anything you’re looking forward to asking off camera, when you all are just hanging out? What can you learn from these iconic people?
KG: Listen. I was excited when Shaq came over with Tigger, and they freestyled. That was a dope night. I was super excited when Baby came on because I know our chemistry. I was even more excited when I had all the guys come on, you know, Perk and Rondo, everybody made some time and showed me some love. That was dope. But I’ve never been excited about a show, or been excited about something like I am about this show. More than anything.
I don’t know what I’m going to ask. The only thing I’m knowing is I’m going to be very present in the room, and it’s going to be so impactful for me. Like, this is everything. I come from this. This is my DNA. These guys have laid the platform for not only me, but another generation, and hosts of generations to come through. From creativity to standards to the ability to, no matter how big or tall you are, this is everything for me. And then to have Lisa Leslie top it off like a cherry on top, this is probably going to be…I’ve never been [more] excited about a show.
This is when I want Sheed here because I know we’re both like little kids in the room with Dr. J and Oscar Robertson. It’s almost like being in a room with your, I don’t know my pops so I guess it’s like being in a room with your uncles or whatever. This is one of them ones. I’m totally going to be present in the room.
VS: Do you ever think about your own Hall of Fame induction? How the speech will go, what that will feel like emotionally?
KG: I don’t. I guess when the games stopped, everything stopped for me. And I kind of changed gears and started to see the next—if the lord spares me to live—the next 20 years and the next 30 years, I just quickly hit that switch. I haven’t actually sat back and recalled all the things I’ve done in the league. Until I sit with Paul and Perk and Baby and we’re all talking trash or something like that. I’m with Chauncey and T. Lue and we’re all just reminiscing or something. That’s the only time I really go back in the day. You know, Sheed gets to talking some trash and he’ll bring up something. But other than that I don’t live in the past, man.
I’ve got a great vision of what I want my next 30 years to be like and I’m working towards that. I’ve been an NBA basketball player before and now I’m trying to see what the CEO life is like. This chairman game, you know? Moving and establishing partnerships with companies.
I enjoy it though. I enjoy watching these young guys go at each other, and the competition, I can sit back and kind of relax and just look at it, you know? I do love that.