BOSTON — It was fitting (and likely not a coincidence) that Doc Rivers was at TD Garden on Thursday night when the Celtics made the surprise announcement that they’ll retire Kevin Garnett’s number next season.
After all, few understood Garnet’s importance to the Celtics more than Rivers, who guided the C’s to an NBA title during KG’s first season in Boston in 2008.
How well does the Los Angeles Clippers head coach know his former star player? Hours before the Celtics even made the announcement, Rivers perfectly encapsulated why Garnett’s No. 5 is heading to the rafters.
“He changed the culture of this franchise. He really did,” Rivers said prior to Thursday’s Celtics-Clippers game. “We needed a guy like that to come to the franchise, and he did that. And it’s still here. It hasn’t left since. That was all Garnett.”
The Celtics had won 55 games combined over their last two seasons before Garnett and Ray Allen showed up in the summer of 2007. They hadn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2003.
The “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Garnett and Allen changed all that: The Celtics won 66 games and an NBA championship in 2008 and made deep playoff runs in each of the next four seasons.
Garnett’s immense talent obviously helped — he averaged 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in a Celtics uniform — but it was his leadership that helped alter the course of Boston’s franchise.
“I’ve often said about him, he’s the greatest superstar role player ever,” Rivers said of Garnett. “He was a superstar, but he played his role for the team anyway, somehow. I don’t know how he did that, but he did it.
” … He was a phenomenal teammate. He’s all about winning. His IQ was incredible. It was off the charts.”
Garnett will join Ed Macauley and the late Reggie Lewis as the only three Celtics players to have their numbers retired despite playing just six seasons. Garnett’s No. 21 isn’t currently retired in Minnesota, where he spent the first 14 seasons of his career.
So, why does KG deserve a spot in the crowded TD Garden rafters? Changing the culture of the NBA’s most successful franchise is a pretty good reason.
This Doc Rivers quote sums up why Celtics are retiring Kevin Garnett’s number originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston