Over the course of a remarkable NBA career, Kevin Garnett repeatedly reaffirmed his status as one of the game’s greatest players. A 15-time NBA All-Star, Garnett’s career accomplishments place him in rare company: With career totals of 26,071 points, 14,662 rebounds, and 5,445 assists, KG is one of only three players with more than 26,000 career points, 14,000 career rebounds, and 5,000 assists. The only other players to eclipse those career plateaus are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points, 17,440 rebounds, and 5,660 assists) and Karl Malone (36,928 points, 14,968 rebounds, and 5,248 assists).
Garnett, whose sole NBA Finals victory came as a member of the Boston Celtics in 2008, was also the 2004 NBA MVP and the 2008 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Perhaps one of the most intense players of all-time, Garnett was named to the All-NBA Team on nine different occasions and was a 12-time NBA All-Defense selection (nine of which were 1st Team All-Defense honors). A surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer known for his constant trash talking, Garnett earned MVP votes in three different decades while consistently engaging in the harshest of psychological warfare with opposing players and coaches.
There is not a single NBAer who would deny the efficacy of Garnett’s tactics, but there are quite a few who grew tired of being baited by The Big Ticket. Quentin Richardson, following an on-court scuffle during a Heat-Celtics game, referred to KG and teammate Paul Pierce as “actresses.” LaMarcus Aldridge, then with the Blazers, explained it was nothing more than KG’s “persona to come in and punk you.” Phil Jackson, while still head coach of the Lakers, said he would never try to turn Pau Gasol into a Kevin Garnett-type player because Gasol was too nice to “go around punching guys in the [groin].”
Richardson wasn’t the only one to believe Garnett’s on-court histrionics were nothing more than an act or, as Aldridge called it, a persona, but KG’s teammates and coaches have all asserted -- in one way or another -- that the on-court intensity was very real and often spilled over to less appropriate environs. One anecdote, told by former Celtics assistant coach (and current head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers) Tyronn Lue, perhaps best illustrates the competitive fire that drove Garnett to excel for 22 NBA seasons:
“So one day we were at his house and we were watching Puff Daddy's show Making the Band, and in one of the scenes, some new guys came in and were trying to sing and were trying to compete against the guys who had been there. And KG just got so hyped, ‘Motherf----r, you've got to stand up for yours! You've got to fight! Motherf----r, you've got to come together!’ He's going crazy, he's sweaty. And he just head butts the wall and put a hole in the wall of his house.”
15 Carmelo Anthony
According to just about everyone involved in one of the more infamous instances of on-court trash talking, KG’s never really said that Carmelo’s wife, LaLa Anthony (nee Vasquez), “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.” Whatever KG did say, however, infuriated Melo to such a degree that the Knicks star could be seen pacing back and forth by the Celtics team bus after the game waiting to confront Garnett. Anthony later explained that Garnett simply crossed a line with the on-court comments, but denied that any reference was made about the flavor of a certain breakfast cereal.
Of course, that would not put the incident to rest. When the Celtics and Knicks met in a playoff series, Jordan Crawford apparently attempted to fan the flames between Melo and Garnett, taunting Melo after a Celtics victory in Game 5 by saying “that motherf---er f---ed your wife!” Crawford later denied the whole thing, but LaLa Anthony nonetheless offered Crawford, who had not played during the game, a witty retort of her own via social media:
14 Andray Blatche
On more than one occasion, Kevin Garnett’s words successfully brought a full grown man to tears and Andray Blatche is among the many unfortunate NBAers to be so severely pierced by KG’s barrage of on-court taunts. During a Celtics victory over the Washington Wizards in 2010, Garnett managed to get inside Blatche’s head to such a degree that then-Wizards coach Flip Saunders later described him as “discombobulated,” referring to a series of late-game plays that included one in which Blatche tossed Garnett out of bounds and into a cameraman. Following the play, Garnett only smiled and continued to taunt Blatche on his way to the free-throw line.
After the loss, Blatche was described by The Washington Post as “noticeably upset, and appeared to hold back tears as he explained his encounter with Garnett, which nearly got heated when Garnett approached Blatche and tried to wrestle the ball away from him.” Of course, Garnett and Blatche later became teammates in Brooklyn and Blatche, acknowledging the pair’s history of verbal and physical altercations, said, “I guess we’re cool now,” when discussing his relationship with Garnett.
13 Deron Williams
The famously demanding Garnett could not have been pleased with the lack of effort and intensity he discovered upon joining the Brooklyn Nets with former Celtics teammate Paul Pierce and, according to Pierce, the team would have “folded up” if not for the presence of the two veterans with extensive playoff experience. Given the championship expectations associated with what appeared to be a loaded Nets roster, one can only imagine KG's frustration while being forced to endure so much untapped potential during a season and a half of mediocrity.
Of the two, Pierce was more outspoken regarding his time in Brooklyn and with Williams in particular, but Garnett did offer some pointed analysis of his own regarding the former Nets point guard, saying, “I think Deron's biggest problem had been Deron," before adding that he often had to “pull [Williams] to the side and give him some real s---, say some real s---.”
12 Francisco Elson
Throughout his career, Garnett regularly bested opponents by attacking with almost surgical precision any area of perceived weakness or sensitivity. These attacks were carried out, as then-rookie Francisco Elson discovered, in both a figurative and literal sense, as KG was certainly not above delivering the occasional shot below the belt.
During a physical playoff series between the Timberwolves and Nuggets, Garnett repeatedly taunted Elson. The verbal sparring predictably turned physical, with Elson tossing Garnett into the stands behind the basket with a hard foul and Garnett retaliating by hitting Elson in the groin.
The two reportedly exchanged words by the Timberwolves’ bus following the game, but it was Elson’s comments about KG that garnered the most attention -- and criticism: “That's a cheap shot by a low-class type player. You don't do that. That's gay on his part. I told him that he was gay, too, for touching me in my private parts.”
Elson later apologized for his remarks and Garnett managed to add insult to injury when asked about the on- and off-court acrimony with Elson, saying, “I really couldn't care less about what they're saying over there. I don't even know half those guys' names. I'm just focused on winning this game and moving on.”
11 Channing Frye
Channing Frye was on the receiving end of one of KG’s many low blows during a 2011 game in which the Phoenix Suns faced off against Garnett’s Celtics. On the way to a loss, Garnett was involved in multiple altercations with Suns players, including one in which Garnett struck Frye in the groin as he attempted a three-pointer.
Frye doubled over momentarily and, upon regaining composure, began jawing at Garnett, who was ultimately ejected from the game after receiving two technical fouls. Frye later downplayed the incident while speaking to the media, but his Suns teammates had some post-game fun at his expense, hanging a pair of boxing gloves in the center’s locker and conducting mock post-fight interviews while playing the theme song from Rocky when Frye entered the room.
10 Stephon Marbury
Marbury and Garnett remain one the more compelling NBA “what if…” scenarios, as the former Minnesota teammates were unable to coexist despite looking poised to become an updated version of Stockton and Malone. Garnett’s $126-million contract and his undeniable status as the Timberwolves’ franchise cornerstone bothered Marbury to no end, and the point guard ultimately demanded a trade out of Minnesota.
In the years that followed, it became clear that the split continued to be a point of contention between Garnett and Marbury, particularly when Marbury declared that then-Suns teammate Amare Stoudmire was the far superior forward. Garnett, upon hearing Marbury’s comments, said, “This is Steph being jealous. I’m still on his mind.”
The icy relationship eventually thawed over time and Garnett was open to the idea of Marbury joining him on the Celtics late in the 2009 season, saying, "I'm not opposed to Steph. I feel Steph still has a lot of basketball in him, I know his IQ is very, very high. He is one of the best point guards out there to play with. I wouldn't be opposed to that.” When pressed to fully endorse the possibility, Garnett made it clear how he felt, saying, "I know where this is going, y'all. Y'all relax, OK? If Steph came to this team and made it better, I'm all for that. If anybody came to this team and made it better, I would be for that."
Of course, Marbury did briefly join the Celtics for the remainder of the 2008-09 season, appearing in 23 regular-season games and 14 more in the playoffs. It was Marbury’s last NBA action before embarking on a remarkably successful pro career in China, where he is now -- in all seriousness -- considered a beloved national icon.
9 Wally Szczerbiak
A talented scorer to be sure, Wally Szczerbiak was never known for being a particularly outstanding defender during his time playing alongside Garnett with the Minnesota Timberwolves. This apparently did not sit well with Garnett, who got into it with Szczerbiak during a practice session in which KG made it abundantly clear that he did not approve of his teammate’s defensive effort.
After Garnett -- perhaps intentionally -- failed to call out a screen that picked off Szczerbiak and subsequently demanded that Szczerbiak “play some defense,” the two players became involved in a verbal altercation that quickly turned physical, with punches being thrown between the two players in the training room.
Chauncey Billups, also on the Minnesota roster at the time, explained the dynamic between Szczerbiak and KG by saying, "I took [Szczerbiak’s] arrogance to be a positive all players gotta have, but KG took it a different way. It was KG's team, his voice, his show, his everything. Anyone who differed was going to be an outcast."
Although KG and Szczerbiak “figured it out” for six seasons -- including the 2001-02 season in which they both earned All-Star honors -- it may have been KG’s general animosity toward Szczerbiak that made it easier for Szczerbiak to publicly declare in 2012 that KG lacks “the clutch gene,” and “always has.”
8 Rick Rickert
Known for his intensity even during practice sessions, Garnett was involved in altercations with plenty of his teammates over the years. One of the more famous altercations occurred in Minnesota with Rick Rickert, then a rookie trying to earn a place on the roster. Although the incident was downplayed in the immediate aftermath, Rickert has since shed some light on what actually occurred during the 2004 preseason, saying, “[Garnett] 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.”
7 Quentin Richardson
Quentin Richardson’s lengthy history of aggravating the Boston Celtics includes countless dustups with Paul Pierce, one of which led to Garnett being suspended for a game during the 2010 NBA Playoffs. With Pierce on the floor with an apparent injury, Garnett stepped in front of Richardson and delivered an elbow that struck Richardson in the face.
KG claimed the elbow was inadvertent and that he was merely trying to keep players from crowding around Pierce while he was still on the floor. Richardson predictably drew a different conclusion about the incident and eventually went on to level the famous critique of both Pierce and Garnett in which he offered the following analysis:
"All I will say is people act one way in NBA environments where things can be restrained and you’re going to be penalized, fined and da-da-da-da-da-da. Stuff is going to come to a screeching halt as soon as it happens anyway. And you know, you put some people in different environments -- they want to do the same thing. And those two pretty much know that. They’ve been in different environments and didn’t act the same way. You know, that’s why I call them actresses."
6 Charlie Villanueva
While the precise phrasing Garnett used to describe Charlie Villanueva during a 2010 Pistons-Celtics game has been debated amongst those within earshot, there is little doubt that KG’s words -- whatever they might have been -- were delivered with a healthy dose of both animosity and disrespect.
After the game, Villanueva took to Twitter to share a snippet of KG's on-court trash talk, saying,:
KG called me a cancer patient, I'm pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he's tossing it like it's a joke,— Charlie Villanueva (@CVBelieve) November 3, 2010
Garnett, of course, denied saying it, describing it as a “miscommunication” before sharing what he actually said to Villanueva: “You are cancerous to your team and our league.”
Then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he heard the banter between KG and Villanueva, backing up Garnett's account before chiding Villanueva for disclosing on-court comments between players via Twitter. Either way, it’s clear that there was plenty of mutual animosity between Villanueva and Garnett, and Villanueva even went on to suggest in yet another tweet that the future Hall of Famer was all talk, saying, “KG talks [a lot] of crap, he’s [probably] never been in a fight, I would love to get in a ring with him, I will expose him.”
5 Patrick O’Bryant
Garnett and O’Bryant were teammates with the Boston Celtics for a total of just 26 games, but that relatively brief period of time was lengthy enough for Garnett to completely and utterly destroy O’Bryant. During a post-practice workout session, KG tried to use his unique motivational tactics to inspire O’Bryant to play with more competitive fire. When O’Bryant didn’t respond, Garnett, disgusted with the young center and former lottery pick, walked off the court and refused to ever let it go.
According to Celtics teammates and coaches, Garnett mercilessly targeted O’Bryant during practice and subjected him to the ruthless trash talk for which he is so well known. Doc Rivers, then the head coach of the Boston Celtics, called Garnett’s actions “mean-spirited,” while Leon Powe noted how he and other teammates tried to explain KG’s behavior toward O’Bryant, explaining, “Patrick would miss a shot, and [KG] would just torture him. Kevin wasn't going to forgive him. He'd talk crazy to him. We told Patrick, 'Don't let him get under your skin,' but it was too late."
4 Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan’s mild-mannered and workmanlike approach to the game -- not to mention all the individual and team accolades he accumulated throughout his illustrious career -- might lead one to believe that the Spurs legend would have easily avoided the kind of endless taunting Garnett so famously directed at lesser opponents as a simple matter of respect. Instead, Garnett reserved some of his most inflammatory taunts for Duncan, including the rumored “Happy Mother’s Day motherf---er” comment.
In retirement, both Duncan and Garnett, easily two of the best power forwards to ever play the game, have expressed mutual respect and admiration for each other’s accomplishments and overall impact on the league. It’s clear, however, that the ever-stoic Duncan was never particularly fond of Garnett or his on-court tactics, and in a 2012 Sports Illustrated profile he essentially revealed as much, in a subtle but uniquely Duncan-esque kind of way:
“Asked if perhaps all those years battling Garnett have softened his feelings for the man, led to a Magic-Larry type of kinship, Duncan leans back on the couch in his hotel room and grins. There is a pause. A longer pause. Finally he says, ‘Define kinship.’”
3 Ray Allen
In 2008, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett won an NBA Championship as teammates in Boston, but the perceived betrayal that occurred when Allen left the Celtics in free agency to join the Miami Heat in 2012 was more than enough to stoke the ire of KG, who famously refused to even acknowledge Allen’s presence during the first game in which they faced off as opponents following a five-year stretch as teammates.
KG’s animosity over Allen’s departure from Boston doesn’t appear to have dissipated over time, as the two former teammates have reportedly yet to speak to one another. Whether that eventually changes now that both are retired and out of the NBA remains to be seen, but, as Danny Ainge, Boston’s longtime president of basketball operations, once pointed out, “If you don't meet [KG’s] expectations, he has no use for you."
2 Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah, a Garnett-esque agitator on the defensive end throughout his own NBA career with the Bulls and Knicks, has been quite outspoken about the player he grew up idolizing. At various points in his career Noah -- after enduring endless taunts and even the occasional biting attempt -- referred to Garnett as “a dirty player,” who was also “mean,” and “ugly.” Garnett targeted Noah early on in is career, as it was during Noah’s rookie year that, according to Paul Pierce, KG asked if “he could rub through [Noah’s] hair, like a female or something,” leading to the following exchange:
Noah: "Man, KG, I had your poster on my wall, I looked up to you, man."
Garnett: "F--- you, Noah."
Even Pierce, whose own trash-talking exploits are well documented, was taken aback by the way Garnett so harshly dismissed Noah’s apparently long-standing admiration: “I was like, ‘Whoa.’ This kid fresh out of college, looks up to KG, just said he had his poster on the wall, and he tells him that! It crushed him. It crushed Noah.”
1 Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard, who like so many others playing in the NBA today, grew up idolizing Garnett and still wears the number 12, the inverse of KG’s Minnesota T-Wolves number 21, as a tribute to KG. This, of course, did not stop Garnett from constantly berating Howard on the court and the two big men have been involved in quite a few skirmishes over the years, including an incident in which KG was ejected and eventually suspended for head-butting Howard after physical post play between the two predictably devolved into a shoving match.
Perhaps the most well known and most comical altercations between Garnett and Howard came during Boston’s run to the 2010 NBA Finals. Facing an Orlando Magic team led by Howard in the Eastern Conference Finals, Garnett repeatedly taunted Howard by calling him a “clown,” over and over again. Whenever Howard attempted to get a word in, Garnett would immediately taunt the fun-loving and overly jovial Howard by saying, “paint your f---ing face, you f---ing clown.”
Despite the frequency of the incidents between the two -- and the fact that Garnett’s hatred for Howard seemingly endured for the overwhelming majority of Howard’s career, according to KG’s former Celtics teammate Brian Scalabrine -- Howard has often praised Garnett and dismissed the chatter as nothing but “fun trash talking.”