Meeting up with Kevin Garnett for an interview is like taking a starring role in some strange cross between Planes, Trains & Automobiles and The Bourne Identity.
I flew from San Francisco to Los Angeles where I was told to catch a cab to Beverly Hills. The 90210 address turned out to be a parking lot where I was then informed to search for an unmarked white van. Wait, it gets better/stranger. I start walking around the lot and head up to the second floor of a parking garage where I see a van, but when I ask if the driver's the one taking me to Kevin Garnett, the guy inside rolls up his window without saying a word and storms off like I was about to jack him for his ride. Wrong van.
That's when I make a phone call to the guy who set up the interview. Turns out he's in the van I'm looking for but it's not even in the lot so he's on his way to pick me up. A few minutes later I'm whisked away to a mansion in the hills where a group of KG's friends are sitting inside playing an early copy of NBA 2K9 while Garnett is prepping inside a tightly secured black trailer for the commercial spot he's about to shoot.
When I climb inside the trailer, I'm finally greeted by a grinning Garnett who points at my white and green adidas. "You got the bad boys on right there," he says.
I laugh, but all I want to know is one thing: "Is meeting you always some sort of covert operation?"
"I wouldn't say covert op, but it's a secure area," he says. "You shouldn't feel threatened or bothered. You should feel secure while you're in here with me. Once you leave, though, I can't speak on that."
Why all the mystery? Seems the commercial Garnett is shooting is for a secret new mode in NBA 2K9, the same game that also features KG on its cover.
"It's a reverse fantasy league," Garnett explains. Seems KG, Derrick Rose, Monta Ellis and a few other NBA stars are going to draft online gamers to see whose team can accumulate the best 2K9 stats and the commercial Garnett is shooting shows some of his real-life best friends from what he calls his Official Block Family begging to be on his squad.
Only thing is, if they are going to air the footage I saw, it's going to sound like "Beep, beep, beep. No you can't be on my beeping team you bleepity bleep."
Let's just say, Garnett and his friends had a great time filming the ad.
And since the whole day was filled with such secrecy (seriously, as I searched through the Beverly Hills parking lot I was wondering if I was ever actually going to meet KG), I decided to turn things around on Garnett and probe the champ for his secrets to success on a variety of topics from setting picks to stepping on opponent's feet.
Although I'm still left wondering where that driver of the first van had to go in such a hurry.
What's the key to Garnett sticking with the same group of friends since high school? Simple: "My friends, they're real with me," Garnett explains. "If I stink it up and play like crap or if we're playing the video game and they're kicking my butt, that's what it is. Ain't no ass kissing, ain't no favoritism or none of that. We enjoy being guys hanging out and just being friends. So do they give me a hard time? Hell yeah, and that's just the way I like it."
NBA 2K9 features a new defensive skill where you can actually grab the jersey of your opponent to try and slow them down as they cut to the hoop. Would KG ever do something like that? "I do even better," he laughs then breaks down the tricks of his trade. "My tricks are all advanced. A lot of people don't have the arm length, strength, or quickness to pull my tricks off. One of the dirtiest but coldest tricks, I forearm the guy in the chest, rip the ball, then keep going with it. It's a foul, but it's a very, very technical and advanced move to pull off without getting the foul called. Other tricks are stepping on the guy's feet, holding his hand, then knowing when to let go at the right time so it's not a foul."
It's no secret to anyone who watched the Celtics this year that KG will lay you out with a pick if you're not paying attention (and sometimes even if you see it coming). "It is what it is," he says with a laugh. "I take pride in setting picks. I believe and I know I am the best pick setter in the NBA. I know how to set a pick on the rear of someone to slow them down. Then when it comes to the defensive end, when my guy is getting picked, I'm the best at showing. That's when I reach out and use my long arms to my advantage, stopping the ball on picks. Arm length and positioning are the key."
One thing I've learned is that no matter how famous an athlete gets, if he grew up a gamer, he's still drooling over the latest screens of Halo or Call of Duty like the rest of us, only difference is, he probably has his assistant wait in line to buy the game. KG is not only on the cover of NBA 2K9, he understands the secrets to the game's appeal. "The reason why people play video games in general is to go out and live a dream," Garnett says. "For me, it's a chance to not only play as myself but different players. Back in the day when I used to play, they didn't have the feature where you could create yourself, but now you can create yourself and put yourself on your favorite team. It's like living a dream."
KG chased the title for so many years, will he head into this season with the same hunger now that he finds himself on top? "I'm approaching this year the same as always, attack first," Garnett says. "Last year I felt that once we got going, we already had a bullseye on our backs. This year it's more solidified as to who we are and what we are, but at the end of the day the mentality hasn't changed. You don't ever want to be back on your heels. We're going in with the same mentality and that means defense is our first priority and we're going to enjoy the game. Our mentality has never been to sit back and wait to attack. We're going to be the ones on the attack. When we get into a defensive groove it ignites the offense. Defense fuels everything."
Did Minnesota get swindled or was Kevin McHale helping his old team build a new dynasty? "You need to ask McHale that," Garnett says, pauses while trying not to laugh in a Dr. Evil sort of way then continues: "It just goes to show what can happen when you get a guy some help. Minnesota did the deal for a reason, and they seem pretty upbeat about what they did, and I'm pretty sure Boston is happy about what they did (laughing). But to me, it just feels good to be in Boston. It feels good to have a chance. It feels good to have other guys on your team who have experienced things. It feels good to have a coach, owners, and an organization who actually believe in you. One of the things I've learned in this league is to never point fingers or blame anyone for the past, that's not how I do things. But I embrace my new situation ... totally."