Last night, Carmelo Anthony waited outside the Celtic team bus presumably to scream at/fight Kevin Garnett or perhaps to back up a promise he'd made to see him after the game. Anthony's stupid move doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things (of course don't tell the media that), except that a superstar player lost his cool after his team lost due to his poor performance (my quick take on the game: the Knicks miss Felton badly and Melo got lost in a raucous environment and stupidly played hero ball on a cold shooting night).
Knicks-Celtics has the makings of a great rivalry and hopefully you were watching that instead of Brett Musberger leering at college girls. However, watching KG during the game coupled with Ray Lewis announcing his retirement after the season from football (don't worry, he'll be sitting next to Chris Berman for years to come...back back back to the point) made me think: aren't these guys the same?*
*Doc Rivers said the same thing this week which I discovered after writing the bulk of this post. Rivers said: “I don’t know other teams, but I would say Kevin Garnett is as close to Ray Lewis as there could be in our league over the period of time. He has the same passion, sets the same example, on the floor for his teammates and off the floor.”
Ray Lewis and KG are both polarizing figures who are revered by the media and actually all-time greats at their position (or at least were in the case of Lewis), which just infuriates the people who hate them in the first place. Their "passion and leadership" borders on absurd camera whoring for Lewis and cheap shots and muttering under his breath for KG. Ray Lewis' theatrics and awareness of every camera on him at all times is despicable to fans of other teams who see a slow middle linebacker who cannot guard the pass and hasn't been a great defensive player for years. Lewis, of course notoriously plead down charges of murder by testifying against his two friends, reaching an undisclosed settlement with the two victims' families, and told his friends in the limo they fled the scene of the crime in "just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing." Nevertheless, his image is that of a big-hearted Christian who inspires his teammates with his Hall of Fame play and intensity.
As KG reaches the end of his career, it seems like his intensity more and more verges from playing the game the right way to taking cheap shots. No matter how we remember him, Kevin Garnett is one of the twenty best NBA players of all time and was the best player on a championship team. However, as the third best player on a .500 team, albeit still an incredible defensive player, the curtain is being pulled back and a cheap-shot artist is being revealed. In the past three seasons, Garnett referenced Charlie Villanueva's alopecia by calling him a cancer patient, refused to shake hands or acknowledge his former teammate Ray Allen, and punched Channing Frye in the penis while the Suns center went up for a jump shot. YouTube is littered with dozens of clips of KG elbowing after the whistle, woofing and walking away, and generally being a nuisance. When Anthony called him a "f**ing p***y," he was essentially saying a crude version of what other NBA players have been saying more and more--Garnett is all bark and no bite. Garnett's intensity and passion might motivate his teammates and take players out of their game, but there's no doubt he's a habitual line-stepper.
KG's comments after these incidents show no remorse. He said that Villanueva was "cancerous to your team and our league" and after punching another man's genitalia he said "I never apologize for my actions, as I play with passion." Whether Garnett gives a crap about his legacy is unclear, but with every shove after the whistle, or subtle elbow into the ribs, or trash talk that crosses the unwritten decorum of what is okay to say in the NBA, KG is slowly besmirching his legacy. Yes, Boston and Minnesota fans will always love the guy as they should, but for many other fans he's transitioning to a guy you hate because you wish your team had someone like him to a guy you hate because he's an asshole.
Watching Ray Lewis breakdance before the game and then get exploited in coverage during it, I cringed and thought of a time when his theatrics were a sideshow not the main show. Garnett's defensive mobility and shooting touch should define his career but with every incident, Garnett verges on becoming the Ray Lewis of the past four years not the first thirteen. If KG's response to his NBA mortality is crossing the line into being a dirty player, and I'm afraid it is, it might not be long until him banging his head on the basket support or blocking a shot after the whistle provokes the same reaction as Ray Lewis breakdancing during pregame warm-ups. A cringe followed by wistful memories of his previous talent followed by being annoyed at the announcers who undoubtedly will speak reverentially about his passion followed by a rambling blog post.