There are a million hilarious stories about Kevin Garnett talking trash. Like the time he almost made Andre Blatche cry or the time he made Joakim Noah, who grew up idolizing the legend, hate him. But ask the future Hall of Famer his favorite trash talking story and he’ll tell you the one about the time he picked Michael Jordan’s pocket only to watch MJ get the last laugh the next possession down the floor.
“I blinked and when I opened my eyes from the blink he was at the rim laying it up like, ‘Ok, yeah, yeah, ok,’” says Garnett. “I didn’t even move. I didn’t even react, you know what I’m saying, it was that fast. That’s the one I always remember.”
You can listen to Garnett tell stories like that all day long, which is why the acclaimed Area 21—the studio show inside the studio show he hosts Thursdays on TNT’s Inside the NBA—has become must-see TV. The guest list is always poppin’ and the show’s best moments often go viral. But with this week’s scheduled guests, Garnett is taking it to a new level.
Five Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers—Oscar Robertson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, George Gervin, Bernard King, and Lisa Leslie—will join Garnett on Area 21 and KG, who will one day join them in the Springfield, Massachusetts museum, could not be more hyped.
“These are the forefathers,” says Garnett. “I feel like I’m having Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson on. Real talk. These are the guys that laid the foundation in which we have a league for.”
We talked to a giddy Garnett the day before the show to ask him why he’s so pumped for the special panel and what we can expect the legends to talk about. We also asked Garnett what rules changes he would make if he were NBA commissioner for a day, what his future involvement with the league will look like, and, of course, about that trash talking incident featuring the G.O.A.T.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
This is the second season you’ve done Area 21. It’s been a hit and seems like a lot of fun. Do you have a favorite moment so far?
When you put these shows together you never know if everybody’s going to show up, so much goes into, right? But to have Shaq freestyling, we didn’t plan that. That just happened and it came out dope. Having Jason Williams on with the white chocolate fondue. Being able to have all [the Celtics] on because I know the guys are very busy. It’s hard getting guys to pin their schedules down for you. But this show coming up, I’ve never been this excited pre-show.
You’ve got a special set of guests, but tell me the real reason why you’re so hyped?
These are the forefathers. I feel like I’m having Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson on. Real talk. These are the guys that laid the foundation in which we have a league for. The money, the talent, the exposure, the ability, the creativeness—these are the forefathers that we chased in our dreams, the greats that are in posters over beds we go to sleep in. These guys are everything.
Oscar Robertson, lot of people don’t know he dictated free agency, went against the league. Not only the triple-double, but the thing he was able to endure, to go through, install policy into our league. Nobody knows none of this. I want to be able to talk and bridge the gaps between those generations and [the current NBA] and talk about the similarities and the parallels of it.
I can actually say that everybody that has been invited to the show I have an unbelievable amount of respect for. This is probably a dream to be amongst greatness this way and have it in abundance for my show. I’m looking to soak up and be very conscious in the room. This is going to be an experience. To look at your idol, Dr. J. I have four or five idols in this room. All of them. I’m at a loss for words. I don’t want to be like I’m star struck, but seriously, I’m in a position where I just have to sit back and embrace it. This is going to be a dope ass show.
But real talk, do you appreciate that you’re going to join that group one day?
You know, somebody asked me this earlier, I haven’t really sat back and thought about it, to be honest with you. When I think of these guys coming on the show, these guys have not only pushed the needle and level of expectancy of creativeness for the league, and the league was better when they left it, the philanthropy…those things are the things I think about with legacy and what people think of you and people know you for. I’m trying to step out of the box a little bit and give back and teach and say I have a DNA that I want to be able to share with these young guys. It’s no different from being in the room and loving Dr. J and hearing how his creative thought process came up with different moves and how he sees this current league.
But you haven’t given any thought to one day being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?
I have not.
I’m shocked by that. We know you’re going to be there. We asked Kobe Bryant who he wants to induct him into the Hall of Fame.
We don’t know anything. We just know one day we’re going to die, but when that day comes, you can ask me. I don’t think about it. I don’t expect it. When things are in other people’s hands, I never expect it, to be honest.
But death, taxes, and KG getting into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, I think that’s a pretty good bet.[Laughs.]
You have these five awesome guests coming on but is there a dream guest you’re dying to have?
Colin [Kaepernick]. First time, I just want to have some fun with Colin and talk about what’s new, what’s going on. You watching basketball? Just have a real life, human conversation with him. Never really heard Colin talk. We’ve seen him get awards, but that’s it. Every time people think of Colin, it comes off controversial. But I just want to be in a setting where it’s fun, shooting the shit, and it’s chill. I don’t know what his every day is, but I can only imagine it’s a wreck. But for two to three hours, I just want him to have some fun and get away from it.
Will we ever see an NBA player follow suit and go out on a limb to the extent Colin did?
Not today’s [NBA]. Not somebody super major that had everything to lose. If someone was advising him, I would hope they would be giving him proper advice. But what Colin did was kamikaze. Most people wouldn’t have done that. Most people wouldn’t have thought to do something like that. And that’s a trendsetter. A true leader. Sacrificing and taking hits for others to prosper. He probably won’t even benefit from this. I think Colin’s going to find his calling. I think Colin has set a path for himself and I expect his calling to be fruitful.
One of the things I want to say, too, is I hope one of the things Colin does is beneficial to himself and he can support himself. One of the things I want to talk to guys that come on my show, with these legends, is the residuals of building our league. None of our OGs get those residuals. Colin, I hope he can set himself up for residuals. He’s taking this on the chest and it’s only going to benefit the next generation which is the sad thing.
I want you to put yourself in NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s shoes. What changes are you going to make to the game?
I would change the rules on the age. If you are able to make a team, able to go through an NBA workout and a team sees you fit to make a team then you should have the opportunity to play. I would bring more of my veterans into the league and teach more. I would set up a mentorship and I would bridge the gap between veteran players that are retired and have knowledge they would like to share with an organization. I would have younger players interact or have an internship that they could lean on some of these older players. That would get a lot of veterans off the couch and not only have them active, but proactive in the community. I would go expand into Canada and get a franchise back in Vancouver and Seattle. I would expand in Louisville or some place on the east coast. Then I would talk strongly about going international with Madrid or Barcelona, London, Italian spots, and play there throughout the year. The league is already full of foreign players but I would go another step above and go abroad and bring those teams over here. Creatively, I would get Supreme or Off-White to do a jersey for the league. I would like to implement some of the street culture into the jerseys. I would take the media out of the locker room and have a media zone where players came and talked behind all the sponsors so that the guys would have the locker room and be free to act and talk and be themselves. Having the god damn reporters in there watching you get dressed is super awkward. The players need their space.
"This is no bullshit, I’m so gassed. And he kind of looked at me and I blinked—this is no bullshit—I blinked, in the same stance and everything, he came down and ran the same paly, did the same dribble, I counted it. But I blinked and when I opened my eyes from the blink he was at the rim laying it up like, 'Ok, yeah, yeah, ok.'"
You future involvement with the league, whether that’s your current media gig, or helping out young players like Thon Maker, or taking a front office position, where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
If I’m being honest with you, it’s all of the above. I have an appetite to be able to look at the league and be able to say, hey, I worked with that guy. I’ve helped this guy form a DNA about himself to who he is. I have an appetite to help the next guy. That’s something I’m interested in doing and building that business. When I think about rebuilding that business and who likes to teach, I think of Rasheed [Wallace], I think of Paul [Pierce], I think of Chauncey [Billups]. That’s one thing. If I’m doing all that and I’m helping young guys, then I think about management. These young guys need more mentors. Parents don’t know anything about this league. They don’t know anything about money, unless they come from it. Making that transformation from being a kid to an adult and having your parents basically make all the decisions for you, that’s a hell of a transition. We can try to help with them. And then to be with an organization that not only sees myself but partners in our league that put the time and sweat into our league, we have an abundance that come from Division II, Division III that is [watching] film and teaching to our players. That is ludicrous when you have players who can come in and teach these guys but because of whatever reputation they have in the league [they can’t get a job], but we have to fix that. I want to help grow an organization into something that is revered as unbelievable. Those are some of the appetites I have for myself. When I think about it all, I want to touch all that. I want to be able to do all of that.
This is something that confuses a lot of us. Why do some guys in the league who really are 7’ list themselves at 6’10” or 6’11”? Would you list yourself as something different in today’s game?
I’m really 6’11”, man. Which shoes are we talking about? With Timbs I’m 7’1”. Air Maxes, Yeezys, what do I have on? Let me tell you something, it’s a size up thing. No one wants you to size them up and say, oh, you’re 7’ so 7’ plays 7’. No, no, no. Don’t worry about how tall I am. You want some? Come get it. I don’t know how tall I am, I’m nice though. You feel me?
Everyone has their favorite trash talking stories about you, but what’s your favorite trash talking story that involves you?
You have to understand when you’re talking shit, to bring that back up…The one that I want to be able to tell…Oh, man, you’re putting me on the spot. I’ll use the Michael Jordan one. We were on the right side of the court and Steph [Marbury] told me to switch and guard Jordan. This was before he left the game, he’s in Chicago. He’s still super Mike. So Flip [Saunders] tells me to switch so I switch on him. So I’m standing in front of him and, no bullshit, I count his dribble pattern. He goes, one, one, crosses over, boom. Crosses back over, one, one, crosses back over. He’s trying to call a play. So when I get the rhythm pattern, I’m like, oh shit, I’m about to rip this mother fucker. I ripped him, “Give me this shit. Man, I don’t want to hear that shit.” He’s trying to say something to me. Man, I don’t want to hear that shit. I ripped it. Crowd’s going crazy. I’m super gassed. Listen, we go down and score the ball, I’m so freaking hyped, Flip tells me “You take Jordan. You take Jordan.” “I got him.” This is no bullshit, I’m so gassed. And he kind of looked at me and I blinked—this is no bullshit—I blinked, in the same stance and everything, he came down and ran the same paly, did the same dribble, I counted it. But I blinked and when I opened my eyes from the blink he was at the rim laying it up like, “Ok, yeah, yeah, ok.” I didn’t even move. I didn’t even react, you know what I’m saying, it was that fast. That’s the one I always remember. Michael Jordan being Michael Jordan. That’s a decent story. I know you’ve got that Complex video ish, I might save [the good one] for the video ish.