A little more than a month ago, Kevin Garnett(notes) raised the ire of the basketballing community when he called Charlie Villanueva(notes) — who has alopecia — a "cancer patient" while trash-talking during a game. It was a messy moment for one of the game's loudest on-court players, a point at which his insane competitiveness was shown to the world as a pretty damn nasty habit.
Garnett tried to clear things up by saying that he called Villanueva "cancerous to your team and our league," but no one quite believed that one. Yet that apology paled in importance to the one he had to give Wednesday night.
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In case you missed it, the Celtics played George Karl's Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. Karl, as you may remember, missed the last few months of the 2009-10 season while receiving treatment for throat cancer. After the game in Boston, Karl and KG cleared the air. From the Associated Press:
"I went up to him as a man, and what I said is that I had nothing personal toward him nor any other cancer patient that was out there struggling, dealing with life situations," Garnett said. "I wanted to say that to him, man-to-man." [...]
"I appreciate that he took the time to do it," [Karl] said. "Kevin has always been one of my favorite players."
Garnett said he wanted to talk to Karl before the game, but there was some confusion over a malfunctioning shot clock and he didn't get the chance.
Props to Garnett for taking the time, I suppose, although I'm not sure how telling Karl he loves cancer patients undoes what he said to Villanueva. Karl was right to accept the apology (or whatever it was), but let's also not overdo it in terms of absolving KG of his mistake.
When you get right down to it, Garnett made a verbal mistake and has to pay the consequences. For the most part, he's already done so -- he received enough criticism several weeks ago to last most players a full season. But when he moves on as if nothing happened and even pretends he was insulting Villanueva like some kind of Victorian-era English aristocrat, the whole ordeal reeks of immaturity.
Sports fans — and Americans in general — are usually pretty willing to forget about past misdeeds if the athlete is willing to own up to them. Garnett, though, seems most concerned with convincing everyone that nothing happened in the first place, so there's no reason for him to apologize to anyone.
That's a shame. Because while Garnett has been a superstar and winner, he hasn't always appeared to be the most mature human being around. This incident could have been an opportunity for KG to ease into his final few years with some class. Instead, it's confirmed that Garnett isn't the same kind of leader off the court that he is on it.
- George Karl