At Timberwolves media day before the 2004-05 season — which we didn’t know at the time was the beginning of the end, or at least the beginning of an endless string of rebuilding projects — the hot topic was an offseason punch Kevin Garnett was said to have thrown at former Gopher and Duluth East prep star Rick Rickert, a second-round draft pick of the Wolves in 2003.
Former Wolves beat writer Steve Aschburner gathered up the responses as, one by one, Wolves officials and players were asked about it. Here’s how that account went at the time:
Then-GM Kevin McHale: “I’ve seen 100 NBA fights. I’ve been involved in ‘em. It’s not a big deal.”
Coach Flip Saunders: “That’s one of the reasons coaches are very leery of opening practices [to the media]. There are a lot of skirmishes. … You don’t want it. Heaven forbid, if you have a player, especially a star player, who breaks his hand.”
Rickert: “We were just playing basketball. Mine and KG’s relationship is good. I consider KG a good friend now. He’s been great to me. I feel privileged to be taught by him, because he’s somebody I really looked up to growing up as a kid.”
Garnett: “We were in the gym. It’s no different from any other gym when you get in a squabble with somebody. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less than that.”
I wasn’t there, but looking back in retrospect one can imagine this was some pretty serious public relations spin. That’s not to say I even blame the Wolves for trying to project their version of the story. It’s just to say that’s the way these things happen.
To recap: McHale and KG said it was no big deal. Saunders, at least in the quote that was used, was worried about KG breaking his hand on Rickert’s face. And Rickert gave the most polished, rehearsed answer possible — probably because he was fighting for his NBA life
So the KG-Rickert punch became, over the past decade, the stuff of part truth, myth and legend — referred to as fact even though nobody quite knew what really happened.
We still don’t exactly know, but thanks to a D-League Diary interview with Rickert that was published today we at least have a more complete and honest picture of what happened from his perspective. Said Rickert in that interview:
“I was a rookie proving myself and going in there and giving it my all. He was the reigning MVP at the time and I was going in there and not holding back and I was playing well and for whatever reason he didn’t like that. Maybe I hit a jumper on him but he sucker punched me. All I can think of is I was playing better than he expected and he didn’t like that I was playing so well against him. Growing up he was a guy I looked at and thought was a good player, so going into playing against him I wouldn’t back down from a challenge. I guess he didn’t like that.”
And, well, the piece ends with a little Q&A:
Who was your favorite player growing up?
When it was the early 90’s it was definitely Michael Jordan, but as I got a little bit older it was Kevin Garnett. Obviously that changed a little bit later on in life.
Not much of this really matters in the grand scheme of things now. It’s just always interesting how the versions of these stories change when there’s no longer anything at stake.