Before Kevin Garnett made a decision that altered the NBA’s trajectory forever, he made one that altered his own.
His choice to move to Chicago and play his senior year at Farragut Academy followed a fight he was involved in before his senior year at Mauldin High School in Mauldin, South Carolina. Garnett’s mother had two options for where her son could finish high school: Los Angeles or Chicago.
His senior year at Farragut, which ended with him going straight to the NBA, is a well-documented story, especially in Chicago. The announcement that Garnett was turning pro came on May 16, 1995, at a Home Run Inn pizzeria on Chicago’s West Side.
More than 30 players followed suit in the 10 years thereafter, including Kobe Bryant in 1996 and LeBron James in 2003.
What’s less documented — until now, with the release of the new documentary “Kevin Garnett: Anything Is Possible” on Showtime — is how close Garnett came to finishing his high school career in California.
“My mother wanted me to have a different setting,” he said this week in a conference call with reporters. “We considered California. When considering California and all that goes into it, L.A. in particular, it was a lot — a lot of distractions that she thought would be overwhelming for me.”
Chicago didn’t lack distractions, he added with a laugh, but he felt he’d have a better support system there as the top-rated high school basketball player in the country.
It helped, too, that he was joining a program coached by legendary William “Wolf” Nelson and would be playing alongside star shooting guard Ronnie Fields.
Farragut, Garnett said, was a better fit. That didn’t stop his future Celtics teammate Paul Pierce, then an AAU teammate, from trying to sell him on the idea of California daily the summer before his senior year.
“When I found out he was going to Farragut, I was like, ‘Man, what could have been?’ ” Pierce says in the documentary.
Chicago is woven into the film from start to finish. Nelson and Fields are key storytellers, painting a picture not just of Garnett’s time at Farragut but of all the ways Chicago influenced who he became as a pro.
The person and player fans came to know Garnett as — a loud, charismatic, trash-talking, hold-nothing-back competitor — is who he always was. Nelson and his teammates valued those parts of his personality instead of trying to quell them, as previous coaches had.
“Chicago has those built-in rivalries,” Nelson said. “It becomes who is going to bark the loudest. His trash-talking was warranted.”
Nelson used to take Garnett, Fields and other Farragut players to Kennedy-King College to play pickup games on the weekends with some of the top players in the city, including another local high school star and future NBA champion: Kenwood’s Nazr Mohammed.
Every time Garnett walked into the gym, Nelson recalled, someone would tell him Mohammed was looking for him. It wasn’t until months later in a preseason tournament that they finally met on the court.
“When they jumped the ball up, Nazr started talking right there,” Nelson said. “He told Kevin, ‘I’m your welcome-to-Chicago party.’ It went nuts after that, and Kevin had something like 30 points.”
The two-hour film takes viewers through pivotal moments in Garnett’s career, starting with his early basketball days, when he hid from his mother that he was playing. His decision to go pro is followed by a detailed account of his 12 seasons with the Timberwolves. One particular highlight: the $126 million contract he signed in 1997. Not coincidentally, the next collective-bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players’ union included, for the first time, a maximum player salary and a five-year rookie scale.
His 2008 NBA championship with the Celtics — marked by his famous “Anything is possible” quote — is how the story ends. In the final minutes, Garnett reflects on a Hall of Fame career that earned him a spot on the league’s 75th anniversary team.
As he does, he thinks back to a pivotal moment in Chicago. It was a weekend like so many others, and Garnett was looking for a gym to play in. He ended up at one of Michael Jordan’s. Sitting on a bench, watching, was Isiah Thomas.
All year, reports had surfaced about Garnett considering skipping college, but that afternoon, Thomas shared advice that gave Garnett added confidence to make that decision.
It’s one moment of many that almost didn’t happen. If one decision had been different, Garnett’s story — starting with his time in Chicago — might never have been.
“Countless categories in which you have to have expertise in, I built while being in the city of Chicago,” Garnett said. “It gave me this armor, if you will — a second skin, as I call it. I attribute a lot of my growth to the city of Chicago.”