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Kevin Garnett explains why he’s making sure WNBA stars get the spotlight they deserve

Garnett’s hosted many WNBA greats on his TNT segment, ‘Area 21.’ He talked to SB Nation about that, his talks with Sue Bird, and his outlook on the Ryan Saunders Timberwolves.

Kevin Garnett is set to feature WNBA superstar and reigning champion Sue Bird Thursday night on his TNT segment, Area 21. The Seattle Storm point guard has been on the show several times before, but this time’s different, as she’ll discuss her new “offseason” role as a basketball operations associate with the Denver Nuggets.

When Bird spoke to SB Nation about the position after she landed it in November, she didn’t know what to expect. Her role was welcomed with excitement, especially by guard Isaiah Thomas and others.

So, Garnett paid a visit to Denver to catch up, which Area 21 viewers will see on Jan. 17.

Since the 2016-17 season, Garnett’s Area 21 segment has hosted several current and former WNBA talents. KG brought Sparks star Candace Parker on the show frequently before she landed a job at Turner Sports as a regular covering NBA and college basketball games from the studio. Parker’s quickly become a fan-favorite in her new role.

“The game of basketball has to be celebrated from both sides,” Garnett told SB Nation in a phone interview. “You can’t just tell one side of the story. I don’t think the WNBA gets celebrated on the level that it should be, so I try to tell both sides, highlight both sides, give the women their due.”

Garnett spoke to SB Nation about his relationship with Sue Bird, why he spotlights WNBA talent on his show, what he sees from Candace Parker as a broadcaster, and his feelings on the new-look Timberwolves.

SB NATION: When did you start following the WNBA?

KEVIN GARNETT: I first fell in love with the women’s game with Dawn Staley. She was my inspiration. I was infatuated with the point guard position, I always wanted to try and become the first 6’11 point guard. She was my first inspiration when it came to women’s basketball, and I used to wear my rubber band around my head like her. That’s where it started.

SB: How was catching up with Sue Bird in Denver?

GARNETT: It was a day in the life. I wanted to piggyback her and see what a day in the life with her was like. When I first heard she got the position, I reached out to the producers and I said ‘Ayo, Sue Bird just got a player personnel position in Denver, can we ask if we can follow her around to kind of see her day in the life of a new position?.’

Once I started talking with her, it wasn’t just one particular position, it had multiples within it, from scouting to assessment to intangibles. Being a point guard, she’s been able to pick up on a lot of things, so she let us piggyback and have access to the court and see the players and workouts and her perspective.

I feel like opportunities when things align like this have to be celebrated, it has to be shouted. She’s dope people. She’s cool people. We’ve done Olympics. She’s always been A1. It’s nice I can be able to do something like this for a friend, for someone cool like her.

SB: Did you talk to any Nuggets players about what they’ve learned from Bird?

GARNETT: I didn’t get into the in-depth of that. I asked guys how they felt about Sue being in there. It wasn’t even about having a woman in there, just having Sue in there.

All of us are fans, and that’s the first thing you have to realize. Everyone was a fan of Sue Bird and it was dope to have her around. Good energy around that, ya know.

SB: What should young players pick up about Sue Bird’s game?

GARNETT: Sue is patient. She’s not the fastest, but she’s very patient. Most point guards who are very good have a rhythm to them. And she is our female version of Magic Johnson or [Allen Iverson] and [Stephen Curry], having the handles, the perception, the perspective. Her knowledge, she’s done it at all levels, in college, the Olympics, the WNBA. There’s no better fairytale than hers. She’s battled through injuries.

Come on man, she’s dope. She’s proven, bro. And she’s little as shit, man. She’s little as shit. You gotta have a presence, that’s nothing easy.

The point guard position is the hardest because you have to demand everybody to do what they’re supposed to do on top of whatever you’re doing. Natural leader. She’s fit for the position.

SB: To you, why is it important that NBA teams hire WNBA players to put in front office and coaching roles?

GARNETT: I think it goes both ways. The WNBA should take on men as we’re taking on women in positions. It helps it all. I think the NBA needs to invest more into the WNBA. It’d be nice to see them on a shinier stage, a shinier plateau.

If I was the WNBA, I’d be more aggressive towards sponsorships. If you can’t get those dollars, I’d be aggressive and try and grab dollars where the partnerships fit and think outside the box and be innovative about the whole thing.

There’s no better game than the WNBA, and I love celebrating it. It’s basketball at the end of the day to me. I don’t see it as gender.

SB: What made you decide to bring WNBA players on Area 21?

GARNETT: The game of basketball has to be celebrated from both sides. You can’t just tell one side of the story. I don’t think the WNBA gets celebrated on the level that it should be, so I try to tell both sides, highlight both sides, give the women their due. If the women have something exciting I’m always trying to highlight it or repeat it.

In order to progress, we as a league have to do our part. This is a big ol’ fraternity and a family, and it’s basketball at the end of the day, you know. At the end of the day, I’m always trying to motivate people to be better and give opportunities. This is my chance, I have a platform. I’m able to highlight things I think are interesting and cool, and show their perspective.

SB: Do you feel like what you’re doing is breaking open people’s minds to watching the WNBA? Everyone in the NBA and WNBA are such fans of each other, but the fans sometimes miss that.

GARNETT: I don’t think it translates into television, or translates into views. You see some of these highlights with the young girls in high school and college coming into the WNBA, man, these girls are catching oops. The line has been pushed as we speak. We’re in the midst of transition. At some point, the momentum has to go this way, and I feel like I’m ahead of it.

At the end of the day it’s basketball to me. It’s all basketball, you’re learning from it whether a man is doing it or a woman is doing it.

SB: What was your relationship with Candace Parker before you brought her on the show?

GARNETT: Candace, that’s the little homie. We’ve always had cool energy. She’s always had an opinion when it came to basketball and when it came to certain moves. I respect her a lot in what she’s accomplished, but more importantly, her mind and how she sees it. She sees the game alike, and when we talk basketball, it’s King and Queen shit. I can’t describe it no other way.

We’re on that level where we just go back and forth on how we would guard something, defenses, offenses, strategies, passing, moving without the ball. She definitely has a high IQ for basketball. I love talking basketball with her.

SB: Did you see her potential as a broadcaster before?

GARNETT: It didn’t surprise me at all. This job we’re doing is nothing but what we’ve been taught our whole basketball career. We’re able to articulate and have a fanbase, and from that articulation, we’re telling perspective. We’re letting you in the mind of great offensive players, great defensive players, and what made them great. That’s one of the dope things about listening to her. She lets you in for a little bit inside her mind on how she saw the offense and how she saw the defense, and she countered with this.

The dopest joint was when she hit Steve Smith with the shimmy fade in heels. It don’t get no hotter than that yo.

SB: How do you think the Lynx come back and compete for a title this year?

GARNETT: We’re going into a new era, and this is the first process of that. I think there’s going to be more changes. For them to get back to championship-caliber basketball, you’re going to have to make some changes.

The first part is identifying and growing with whoever the young point guard is going to be and the young nucleus, mixing the young generation and old generation to carry this tradition. They’ve built a tradition there, the Lynx. They have a formula that works.

It’s about transitioning position and getting that synergy. They have a formula and I look for them to fill in those key pieces and get back to what they know — and that’s winning.

SB: I guess any team with Maya Moore can figure things out.

GARNETT: That’s what I’m trying to tell you. We got the cream of the cream, ya feel me. We got buckets. She’s buckets. That’s buckets for days, you understand? However you want it.

SB: What do you think about Ryan Saunders’ early tenure with the Timberwolves replacing Tom Thibodeau?

GARNETT: I was excited he finally got an opportunity. I know his pops would be super proud. I know a lot of his determination and a lot of his will is wanting to be better than his dad and have his own mark in this league. It’s very hard to get a head coaching position.

At the same time it’s unfortunate for Thibs. Thibs is a really good coach. The new era is going to contest a lot of the coaches who are kind of yesteryear into making a transition. But he’s a good coach and I see him landing on his feet. I don’t see him having a problem being back in the league.

But I’m glad Ryno got a chance. He’s doing a great job. He’s vibrant. He’s young. He understands this era of basketball, and I see him making adjustments when he has to. He’s not one of these know-it-alls. He’s always been a person trying to be better and learn more. I look for big things coming from Ryno and the Wolves.

SB: What does Karl Anthony-Towns have to do to lead this team to the playoffs now that Jimmy Butler is gone?

GARNETT: Consistency. Consistency makes us better or less than the ones who came before us.

I’ve told him to focus on hooping and playing versus chatting and talking. KAT likes to let you know a lot. He’s very confident. But man, continue to work. You never want to get in a position where you feel like you don’t have to work anymore. I’m always telling him to continue to work and be better.

Listen, they’re underachieving and they know that. They’re a better team than what their record shows, and they have to be more consistent at the end of the day.