By Daniel Paiz
Growing up I legitimately thought that you could grow to be any height that you wanted. With that wistful thinking in mind I modelled my game after the Big Ticket, the first star of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Garnett. I too was going to be 6’11 (he has to be 7 feet, I don’t care what stats say), have a huge wingspan, slap the ground on defense and use a spin fadeaway to knock down jays all day.
Sixth grade led me to finally realize that I was not going to gain an additional foot or more of height, but that didn’t stop me from using KG’s fadeaway and Kareem’s sky hook on the playground. The way Garnett approached the game with his intensity, focus and vigor for the sport has been a mentality I’ve utilized in various ways and I know I’m not the only one.
The nominees are…
Besides Kevin Garnett there are a few other standout players that basketball fiends across the globe modelled their games after. One of San Antonio’s famous twin towers alongside David Robinson was “The Big Fundamental” himself, Tim Duncan. Plenty of guys in the league had focus in the 2000s, but Duncan’s quiet determination at times was the loudest action on the court.
Whether he was playing against KG, Kobe, T-Mac, Iverson or some other standout, Duncan found a way to make things happen. It helped that he had a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich, but the result on the court tells if you the player is worth the hype. Duncan is one of the best big men to ever play the game and he did it without the usual aura surrounding superstars. He went to work.
Speaking of work, there’s some other gym rat on this list as well. Somebody that for the rest of their organizational history, the Charlotte Hornets are going to wish they didn’t trade away. While he only spent some 40 plus years on this Earth, Kobe Bean Bryant was unquestionably one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball.
It’s fair to consider guys like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as that top tier of basketball; but, you can not exclude Kobe from this conversation. That Mamba Mentality is one that transcends across sport and into literally every aspect of life and chasing one’s goals. KG and Kobe for me are the two guys from their era who are the standard of how one mentally approaches the game, and life in general. Kobe also helped bring some awareness that women in basketball are not to be ignored.
Just look at the career of fellow 2020 class member Tamika Catchings. A 15 year career in the WNBA is impressive, and so is being a WNBA champion and Finals MVP (2012), League MVP (2011), Defensive Player of the Year (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012) and Rookie of the Year (2002). Plus, throw in four Gold Medals (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016) with Team USA for good measure. A lot of players do not earn one of these awards, much less all four major awards. Catchings was a prolific scorer who played hard on both ends of the court. Defense wins championships, and several NBA players could take a page from Catchings’ storied career.
Basketball lessons outside the court
A big part of sports is what you learn from playing and coaching the game. Lessons you can take off the field of play and apply to any situation in life. Basketball taught me the fruits of repetition and how staying prepared sets you up for challenges that’ll come your way throughout life.
It’s also how mental everything is. Whatever you think about yourself and your skill set are likely what you’re going to produce. Practice isn’t about what you’re supposed to do, it’s about figuring out how you’re going to achieve what you are seeking. Kobe focused on the outcome. Garnett and Duncan grinded towards their goals. Catchings pursued her best. That’s why a lot of us are basketball fans and sports fans in general; sports are a tool and a way to achieve, together.
Congratulations to Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Tamika Catchings and everyone else who entered as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020.