The San Antonio Spurs retired Tony Parker’s No. 9 jersey in a ceremony Monday after their game against the Grizzlies, putting a bow of sorts on the franchise’s dynasty while also bringing to mind a burning question about Timberwolves all-time great Kevin Garnett.
Parker was the last of the Spurs’ Big Three — along with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili — to get his ceremony, but only because he was the last of the three to retire. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili won four NBA titles together with the Spurs, and Duncan won a fifth before their arrival.
In the case of all three Spurs players, their jerseys were retired the season after they called it quits. Two Minnesota legends — Lindsay Whalen and Joe Mauer — received the same treatment from the Lynx and Twins, respectively this summer.
There was no doubt all those players were going to get the ultimate honor from their teams.
But there was a time, too, that it seemed inevitable that the Timberwolves would do the same for Garnett. It hasn’t happened yet, even though the final game of his career was nearly four years ago – Jan. 23, 2016.
While his level of team success with the Wolves wasn’t anywhere near what the Spurs or Lynx enjoyed, Garnett was a perennial all-star during the only sustained run of success in Wolves history. They made the playoffs eight years in a row from 1997-2004, the last of which included a trip to the Western Conference Finals and an MVP award for KG.
He spent the first 12 years of his career with the Wolves, as well as the last two. But both departures were mixed with hard feelings — including being nudged into retirement after a buyout during the Tom Thibodeau era.
“I told Thibs I want to work with him, but obviously me and (owner) Glen (Taylor) don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and that’s how it’s going to be,” Garnett told the AP in 2017.
In October 2018, Garnett criticized how Taylor — who also owns the Star Tribune — handled the Jimmy Butler trade negotiations.
But since then, there have been some signs that the relationship between the sides is thawing out a little. Garnett attended a Wolves home game last November, donning one of the team’s Prince-themed jerseys.
After Thibodeau was fired in January, Garnett spent some time with the Wolves organization for a TV segment he filmed with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. (KG famously chided Wiggins for his play, telling him he should be an All-Star. Wiggins told him: “Next year is a motivation. Next year, that’s what I’m aiming toward.” We all rolled our eyes, but … Wiggins is rolling so far this year).
The Saunders family holds a special place in Garnett’s heart, and one has to imagine Ryan’s ascent to head coach helps the relationship. Garnett was upset in 2015 at the way the Wolves handled their tribute after Flip Saunders’ death, saying Flip should have a spot in the rafters. That was corrected in 2018 in a ceremony.
And now it’s time for both Garnett and the Wolves to get together for another ceremony, a sentiment that I sense might involve more movement from Garnett than the Wolves. It’s overdue that his No. 21 is retired officially and taken out of circulation for good.
Only two other players have worn No. 21 in Timberwolves history: Lance Blanks and Stacey King, both of whom had it before Garnett. Nobody but KG has worn it since the start of the 1995-96 season — a nod, perhaps, to an unofficial retirement that has existed even while the relationship between the team and Garnett has remained complicated.
But at this point, the longer it goes the stranger it seems. It’s time for everyone to put grudges and grievances aside and do the right thing.