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J.A. ADANDE

Lakers Turn Combination Into a Lock

Garnett, the dressing who holds it all together with Timberwolves, says he's not about to leave.

November 25, 2000|J.A. ADANDE

If you want to understand why Kevin Garnett still wears a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform, even after Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta left, after the NBA forced Joe Smith to leave, and after his best friend on the team, Malik Sealy, was killed in a car crash, perhaps you should head to the produce section of your local supermarket.

For most NBA stars, the response when a situation started collapsing like some ruins in an Indiana Jones movie would be to hold a news conference to say they want out. Not Garnett. He's staying put. And to explain his value system, all of the components that make him the loyal, accountable, stand-up person he is, he uses a little food imagery.

"If I was a Caesar salad, the croutons would be my friends, the lettuce would be my family and the dressing itself would be my mom," Garnett said. "Because you can have the lettuce and the croutons, and it can be called a Caesar, but until you have the dressing and it actually tastes like a Caesar. . . .

"So my mom would be the dressing. I was taught by old people the [ways of the] game. With those people, respect was a big, big component. That's the way I approach this game.

"It's easy to run when the [stuff] is bad, you know what I mean? Just think about, when you have a bad day, someday you've got to stand up to it. That's the only point I'm trying to make.

"I've just got to stand up to it. I'm the type of person that thinks that way."

It's because his mother raised him that way. And because his crew makes sure he stays that way.

While most NBA players' posses are seen as a detriment, Garnett's buddies are a positive part of the package. Most of them work for him and with him, in their group known as the OBF (Official Block Family), and they go back to his days in Mauldin, S.C.

But his basketball family is all gone. They had something in Minnesota once, a reason to think those winter nights would feel a little warmer.

The Kid, KG, was in the early stages of a superstar career. Marbury was one of the league's best point guards, Gugliotta was a versatile forward.

But Gugliotta knew Marbury wouldn't stick around, so he left as a free agent to Phoenix before the 1999 season. Marbury wanted more attention and a team closer to Coney Island, so he proved Gugliotta right and forced a trade to New Jersey that year.

Sealy died on his way home from Garnett's birthday party on May 20 when a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road hit his car head-on.

Then David Stern wielded his hammer on the franchise for violating the salary cap by signing Smith to a secret contract. Even though Smith wanted to come back to the Timberwolves, Stern made it clear that he would make life miserable for everyone involved if Smith didn't pack his bags and head elsewhere.

We could have two more presidents before the Timberwolves get another first-round draft pick.

And Garnett's huge contract alone will practically keep Minnesota at the salary cap.

If the Timberwolves couldn't get past the first round of the playoffs when they had everyone, how are they supposed to do anything now? Will his gifts--his soft jumper, one-on-one moves and aggressive defense in a package that reaches almost 7 feet, one of only nine players to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a season--go wasted?

Could this be another Ernie Banks situation, a special career without the added wrinkle of a championship?

Why would he want to stay?

"I'm not saying I want to stick around; I'm going to stick around," Garnett said. "I'm here. A lot of people tend to jump ship when they see things are bad. I'm not one of those type of people.

"I don't know why everybody expects me to leave when stuff is bad. You go through life dealing with bad days, but you still go. I've got a great perspective of the game. I just don't jump ship when things are bad. The future is a very bright future."

This is why we like Kevin Garnett. He's that rare figure who is both a hero to the hip-hop set and beloved by the old heads.

The kids like him because he was the first of the new generation of players to head from high school directly to the pros when the Timberwolves made him the first prep player drafted in 20 years.

The veterans like him because he shows the proper deference to those who came before him. When Karl Malone moved into third place on the all-time scoring list last season in a game at Minnesota, Garnett waved his arms, imploring the crowd to cheer this accomplishment.

Yet somehow Garnett always gets linked to what's wrong with the NBA. Too many kids skipping college? Garnett's fault. The NBA lockout in 1998? Because of Garnett's humongous, $126-million contract, we were told.

"People want to put big contracts on me, like I was the first [guy] to get a big contract," Garnett said. "People want to put coming out of high school on me, like I was the first to do that."

He isn't the first guy in the free-agency era to stick it out when things get tough, either. Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres comes to mind.

As long as they remain the exceptions, however, it's worth pointing out the ones who do keep such a good attitude.

"We've still got life, we've still got our health, we're still in the NBA, still playing the game that we love," Garnett said. "That's my perspective."

That's not a bad view, considering it comes from inside a salad bowl.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: ja.adande@latimes.com.

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