Sunday, June 2, 2024

Kevin Garnett says he felt connection with Bill Walton while wearing same No. 5 jersey number in Boston

Before the Celtics retired No. 5 into the rafters to honor Kevin Garnett, Bill Walton wore that jersey as he ended his Hall-of-Fame career in Boston.

Though it was a brief two years, Walton made it into Celtics history while wearing the No. 5 when he won Sixth Man of the Year during the 1985-86 campaign and played a key role in the team winning an NBA title that season -- as part of one of the greatest rosters ever put together.

When Garnett arrived decades later in 2007, the former league MVP switched his jersey from No. 21 with the Minnesota Timberwolves to No. 5. Following the death of Walton last week, Garnett shared that the Celtics placed a list of players who previously wore No. 5 in his locker upon joining the team and he felt the expectation to live up to the standard Walton had played with.
"The Celtics do that so you understand the responsibility for the number you're about to represent, for the people that actually repped it before you," Garnett said on the most recent episode of his podcast, "KG Certified: Ticket & The Truth." "When I said when I came to Boston it felt different, this is what felt different: That you embedded not just a culture, but a circular network of players, of greatness that came in here -- and to your talent, who you are, and who you think you are, you have a responsibility to plug into that network."
It didn't take long for Garnett to take that responsibility to live up to wearing No. 5 and make an immediate impact when it came to the Celtics culture. He would go on to win Defensive Player of the Year on a team that went 66-16 in the regular season before winning the 2008 title -- breaking a 26-year championship drought.

Garnett recalls feeling that connection with Walton through wearing the No. 5 jersey and credits having conversations with other Celtics icons like Bill Russell to help him understand the culture of such an storied franchise.
"I felt that shit," Garnett said. "When I was the anchor of the defense, I felt the energy. When I talked to Bill, that was our connection. He was asking me, 'Man, when you're anchoring, whatcha seeing?' The connection and the conversation was that. He would tell me how he would talk to [his teammates] and what their language was, talking about calling out picks and shit."
It was Walton, Russell and other Celtics great that helped shape the great expectation of winning -- something Garnett took personally when he arrived in Boston to play alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and form the "Big-3." He cites the franchise's past icons as motivators during his six seasons in green.
"The responsibility to your talent as to who you think you are among these greats that's come in here, almost like the Greek Gods and the African Gods, that's how I felt," Garnett said. "Then, one day, you look up and them [expletive] are sitting there watching you, watching you practice. How the fuck am I sit out when Bill Russell up there, watching us practice?"
The Celtics announced in 2021 that no other player would wear No. 5 ever again, making Garnett the last to don it before they officially retired it in a 2022 ceremony for KG -- to which he made sure to pay homage to Walton for all he did in Boston.
"Shout out to Bill Walton and representing the 5," Garnett said. "I hope I made him proud for it."
Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to add another chapter to the franchise's history with this current roster as they are set compete in the 2024 NBA Finals in hopes of raising that elusive 18th championship banner -- which would the first since 2008.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of The Associated Press

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