The NBA Finals ended 10 days ago. By all accounts, including my own, they were a disaster—the lowest rated Finals in the history of the world. Bucking my normal holier-than-thou attitude, I tried to watch the games. I should have stuck with aloofness; my strategy of combating boredom with lines of cocaine probably won't aid me in finding a basketball job for the coming season.
Fortunately for the emotional health of the general public—and for the nasal health of me—more important events have come to pass since the Spurs won the title. It has been reported that Kobe Bryant (arguably the league's most marketable player) and Kevin Garnett (arguably its most talented) might … in theory … possibly … be traded … if about 573 variables line up correctly. And now, "league sources" are saying that both guys could end up on the Lakers. In the wake of the Finals debacle, all of this has been sufficient to ignite the requisite sports media firestorm.
I have something of a unique viewpoint on all of this. In the fall of 2001, I lasted three weeks in training camp with Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers before being released and told that I probably ought to go play in Europe. In 2006, I repeated the experience with Garnett's employer, the Minnesota Timberwolves, before being cut so the team could concentrate its financial resources on an alcoholic, a guy who dances like Elaine Benes, and a man who had only that year crashed his SUV while masturbating.
Having spent a similar amount of time in the semi-intimate company of both men, I can say confidently that two people couldn't be more different. Kevin Garnett is one of the most impressive humans I've ever been around.
Kobe Bryant isn't.
As a strict contrarian, I wish it weren't so. But in this case, there have been no mischaracterizations. Garnett is noble, loyal, and larger-than-life. And, again, Bryant isn't.
Of course, Kevin Garnett is no teddy bear. When I arrived in Minnesota for camp, I spent my first two days playing pickup games with the team. Upon finding me—a person he had never met before—on the court, Garnett quickly had me replaced by someone from the sideline. Which I certainly didn't appreciate. But after a few weeks around the man, I decided that he had the right to tell me what to do—the court we were playing on was his court. The team playing on it: his team.