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“Everybody I played after that felt personal” — Kevin Garnett on players around the league reacting to his six-year, $125 million contract

“My generation actually was a little more together on the topics,” Garnett added remembering his ground-braking contract and everything that ensued.
Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Garnett

When 22-year-old Kevin Garnett signed a 6-year $125 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves back in 1997, a lot of his peers and NBA executives weren't pleased. Young Garnett certainly had the potential, but this 6-year contract changed the NBA business, contributing to a lockout in 1998.

In particular, NBA team owners didn't like that Minnesota set the status quo by offering this massive contract to Garnett as they thought player salaries were spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, Garnett's contract gave players an idea of how much money they could make and demand from their corresponding owners.

Garnett felt they were all jealous.

KG admits he felt proud and bitter after nabbing a historic contract deal. The Big Ticket also realized that not everyone — including his teammates — would celebrate his success the way he did. His contract was one of the biggest reasons why Stephon Marbury left the Timberwolves a year later. Aside from his teammate, Garnett also realized that his contract put a target on his back.

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"Everybody I played after that felt—mmmm, it felt personal," Garnett told GQ Magazine's Michael Pina in 2021. "People that I thought were cool, when it crossed the lines, that coolness kinda went away and it became a real battle. It became real intense."

The Timberwolves offered Garnett this lucrative deal in the first place because he was leveraging his free agency to make as much money as possible. Minnesota didn't want their franchise player to walk away from them, so they had no choice but to offer him a record-setting contract.

Looking back, Garnett doesn't regret doing this because he felt it motivated other superstars to get the money they deserved.

"A lot of motherfu**ers went with owners in secret deals and dumb s**t like that," Garnett said. "I never gave in to the higher society. I called the higher society out and really put owners on the fuc**ng forefront with the real issues. I didn't believe in the partnership with the league. I believe that the partnership worked if the league actually respected and wanted to hear what the players had to say, and what the players were actually bringing to the table… My generation actually was a little more together on the topics," Garnett added.

KG pulled the same trick years after

When his groundbreaking contract was about the expire years after, KG pulled the same trick by using his looming free agency for leverage again. But this time, it came with a twist as Garnett told Minessota that they would need to trade him to his desired destinations (the Lakers, Celtics, or Suns) or let him walk for nothing. Minnesota obliged and eventually traded him to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two 2009 first-round picks.

Throughout his early and prime years, Garnett knew his value and used it against his team during contract negotiations. And whether team governors liked it or not, KG was one of the superstars who set a standard on how franchise players like him should deal with their corresponding bosses — especially if they want to always be in a position to succeed. 

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