It's hard to know exactly when Kevin Garnett first took a basketball, after a missed free throw, and rammed it into his head repeatedly. As good as advanced metrics have become, they're not at the point where these things are consistently tracked.
What's easy to say is this: The first time you saw it — most likely pretty early on in his Timberwolves years — you knew exactly what Garnett was all about. Now, those aren't the solutions we want to teach our children, but they are the very things we instinctively seek out when cheering for athletes. We want to see the passion. We want to see that they care.
Fast-forward to Monday night. Garnett is now in his 20th NBA season. We'll pause for a moment to let that sink in, to let you feel old no matter what your actual age. The larger point: This is a man approaching two full decades of NBA service. He's playing on a Nets squad with a losing record in a bad conference. He's a shadow of his former self in terms of production, averaging a little more than seven points a game.
And yet there he was locking horns with Dwight Howard — more than 10 years younger and still one of the most imposing bodies in the NBA — before head-butting Howard and needing to be restrained from going back for more. Garnett was ejected and suspended for a game. Again, these are not the specific lessons we want to teach our children. But Garnett's brand of crazy still appeals to the more competitive among us in a very visceral way.
So this is the wish: Garnett is a free agent after this season. He has already expressed a desire to someday buy the Timberwolves. Before he does that, though, Garnett should come back and play one more season for Minnesota.
He should go back to wearing No. 21 — he wears No. 2 for Brooklyn, and nobody has worn 21 for the Wolves since he was traded in 2007 — for his 21st NBA season, and he should do it for his old coach, Flip Saunders.
The value of leadership and teaching can be overblown in sports — feel-good sentiments to fit a contrived narrative.
But one year of Garnett's presence for Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Ricky Rubio and whomever the Wolves draft with another high lottery pick in 2015 would be invaluable.
The Wolves haven't had a player nearly as competitive or defensive-minded since Garnett left. This wouldn't be a nostalgia trip. This would be a toughness mission. And it would be perfect.