For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more. 

We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.

In 1980, Stephen King published a novel called Firestarter. The title character was Charlie McGee, a little girl who could harness a vast power to—among other things—start fires. One important lesson she learned early on was to always push the power out, because to absorb it would destroy herself. Hold that thought.

Kevin Garnett never talked before games. And it’s not just that he didn’t do interviews; he didn’t talk, period. If he knew you, he might give you a nod, maybe a tap on the chest. But he didn’t say anything. Afterward he’d talk, but always last. The equipment guys had long since gathered the sneakers and the uniforms and bagged it all up for the next destination; reporters were getting antsy about deadlines and airtimes. But you waited for the same reasons producers ask Andre 3000 for features—because while you might have to wait forever, it was always worth the wait. KG had bars. He’d tell you things about the game you’d never have noticed in a way you’d never have thought of. 

In between, KG did things on a basketball court you’d never seen before. He’d start plays and finish them, guard every position, somehow be everywhere all at once. Dude was like this from the start, from Mauldin, SC, to Chicago—he came into his first pre-NBA workout and by the end had converted even the most staunch nonbelievers in guys making the high school jump. He went fifth and should have gone first (sorry Joe Smith). He soaked up the NBA like a sponge, put his imprint on ’Sota right away, got the Wolves to grab Stephon Marbury in the following year’s Draft. We documented it with a classic cover: “Showbiz & KG.” Nike slid him their coolest shit—he wore Jordans against MJ—before lacing him with a signature sneaker and making him head of the Fun Police. When we did that first Nike-sponsored KICKS issue, there was no question who’d be on the cover. 

For the December 1999 “100 Percent Real Juice” cover—we shot KG on a gold background but switched it out to orange—Jonathan Mannion and I flew out to Minnesota to shoot him at his crib. Garnett shot hoops in his driveway in his full road Wolves uni, the new Mobb Deep bumping from outdoor speakers. He had “It’s Mine” on repeat, trying to memorize Nas’ verse. By the end of the day, I was like, Man, I need to pick this up—only to find out at the closest record store that it wasn’t due out for another couple of weeks. We did that adidas KICKS cover with him and TD and T-Mac and the roundtable interview that anchored it was one of the most fun interviews ever. KG—never listed at 7 feet despite clear evidence to the contrary—busted on Mac for actually being 6-10 or 6-11 and then acted all surprised when it got turned back around on him.

On the court, his intensity spilled out of him like sweat. He burned so hot he had to constantly push it out lest it burn him up. He talked, yes; he cursed up a storm, but he was always talking to himself, pushing and pushing and pushing. KG picked up an MVP in Minny—but couldn’t make it all the way. By the time he decamped for Boston, it was almost a relief. 

“ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!” He messed up the adidas tagline, but that happens when you add that final (or Finals) touch. That chip. It took him a minute to say anything at all, he said it quiet first before primal screaming it into the TD Banknorth Garden rafters. Achievement unlocked, weight lifted, program complete. Not that he was finished quite yet; there’d be another Finals trip, a Brooklyn stop, a final return to Minnesota as elder and sage—21 seasons for 21.

And now. Kevin Garnett at 48. He’s a Hall of Famer, a media mogul, doing production and a podcast with Paul Pierce. We did a whole special issue on him in 2021. He’s out in Cali, a Midwest guy retired to the beach. He doesn’t hoop anymore because hoop goes just one way for him—the demon comes out, as he puts it, and the demon needs to stay away. At long last, after two decades of relentless intensity, peace. 

Portrait by Benoit Peverelli. Photo via Getty Images.

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