HOUSTON — His words cast a pall over this weekend, raising doubt and concern. Kevin Garnett has been an NBA All-Star 15 times, tied for the second most in NBA history, but he said Wednesday night that he “definitely” won’t be an All-Star again.
That set up the backdrop: Garnett would come to this city for an unexpected and hasty All-Star farewell. He’d play on Sunday, the Texas sun would set, and that would be that, leaving future All-Star Games absent one of the sport’s true icons.
But would he play out the final two years of his contract with the Celtics? Would he retire at season’s end? It wasn’t clear, because Garnett had followed up that comment with, “Y’all don’t know what I know.”
A Garnett-less Celtics team suddenly, if abruptly, seemed near.
So, under this cloud, Garnett strolled into a hotel ballroom Friday afternoon in jeans and a black T-shirt wrapped in a black cardigan. In a jovial fashion, he sat down before a bank of video cameras, digital recorders, and questions of his future.
Garnett laughed when an early query focused on if this, in fact, was his final All-Star appearance.
“It came out as me saying this was my last, but I’m not an egotistical guy or none of that, and I wasn’t just going to say that, ‘Yeah, by the way, I’m going to be an All-Star next year,’ ” he said. “To be honest, I’m more than grateful to be here.”
For 30 minutes, Garnett held court, touching on various subjects but largely reminiscing, especially about previous All-Star Games.
He listed the 1997 game, when he met Wilt Chamberlain: “That was from here to the moon”; the 1998 game, when he enjoyed the matchup of a young Kobe Bryant against Michael Jordan in New York; and the 2003 game in Atlanta, which was Jordan’s last.
Several times, Garnett was asked about his statement that this All-Star Game would be his last.
“I should have never said that, huh?” he said.
And later: “I’ve run out of answers for that question.”
As for his statement that he knew something the media didn’t, Garnett said it meant “exactly what it meant.”
What does he know that the media doesn’t know?
“That you don’t know,” Garnett sheepishly answered, with a laugh.
And of retirement?
“Each year I assess myself, and as long as I’m able to always give something to a team and be productive and hold up the standards that I’m comfortable with, then and only then do I think of things like that,” Garnett said.
There wasn’t a great deal of certainty in his comments, nothing concrete. There were allusions, but no guarantees. Garnett certainly gave himself an out, if he needs it.
Garnett first played in the All-Star Game at age 20. Whether this is his final rodeo, a tone of appreciation settled into the ballroom, filled with many players more than a decade his junior.
“He inspired me,” said Lakers center Dwight Howard, who added that he wears the No. 12 partly because of Garnett, who wore those same digits — 21 — in Minnesota.
Garnett’s passion rubs some the wrong way, and Howard said it took time before he learned not to take it personally.
Sam Cassell, who played with Garnett in Minnesota and Boston, said you could only appreciate Garnett if he was your teammate.
“See, the people think the passion he has on the court at 7 o’clock is make-believe, but you know, he’s like that all the time,” Cassell said. “He’s even worse in practice because he can say whatever he wants . . . I would love to have his demeanor.”
Though a stone-cold competitor, Garnett said he’s come to enjoy these events more and more.
“As you get older, you tend to cling on,” he said. “You tend to appreciate those small moments — moments like this — and I’m no different from that. You’ve got to take this and enjoy it a little bit more.”
The topic of legacy, of his imprint on the game, was broached, however premature that subject may be. He paused, collecting thoughts, formulating the appropriate response.
“I never looked to claim anything from this game because there are plenty of players that have come before me,” he said.
“I’ve always said I just play it hard, I work on my craft, and I tried to perfect my craft as best I could. And that’s what I am; I’m a worker and a person who loves what he does.
“I’m sure there’s people in the past who came through and had that kind of makeup. And after I’m gone, I’m pretty sure there will be somebody else who has that type of makeup.”
For another player precisely like Garnett to emerge is a stretch, if not an impossibility.
But for Garnett’s place in Celtics lore, legend Tom “Satch” Sanders put it simply.
“It’s a matter of whether they wore the green and wore it well,” Sanders said, “and there’s no question that he’s worn the green — and he’s still wearing it well.”