If you were an extremely tall, imaginative, basketball-playing kid growing up in the ‘90s, Kevin Garnett made a great role model. Unlike the lumbering stiffs populating most NBA frontcourts, Garnett was versatile and exciting. His wealth of position-agnostic skills was matched only by his unwavering intensity.
Joakim Noah was such a kid. He wore a KG jersey, and hung KG posters on his walls. By the time he became a big-deal basketball recruit, he was almost 7-feet tall. But like Garnett — because of Garnett, it would seem — Noah didn’t play like any old 7-footer. He could step out and shoot, handle the ball and pass on the move, and defend multiple positions. He was part of an early wave of dynamic big men that’s flooded the modern NBA. Noah owed so much of that to Garnett’s inspiration.
And then he met Garnett. And Garnett was a jerk. Noah’s childhood hero mocked his long hair, elbowed him in the stomach, and generally disrespected a player 10 years younger who’d previously lived in awe of him.
Thus began a beef that spanned several years, before Noah came to realize, if not totally understand, the on-court/off-court split of Garnett’s personality, and the hostility that fueled his dominance.
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