This episode of Beef History details the feud between the greatest player in Minnesota Timberwolves history, Kevin Garnett, and the billionaire who owned the franchise for Garnett’s whole career, Glen Taylor. It’s a grim, heartbreaking history that illustrates how the basketball excellence that makes players millionaires makes franchisees billionaires, how important it is to surround a star with other great players, and how a third party’s presence or absence can modulate a feud (rest in peace, Flip Saunders). I’m glad we made this episode. It’s a useful complement to the Wolves Collapse. That said, this wasn’t the Beef History I set out to produce.
I originally started researching the feud between Garnett and his longest-running, most productive co-star in Minnesota. I’ll give you a moment to try to remember who that was.
Wally Szczerbiak. Yeah. Because Minnesota leadership made horrid moves and cheated their way into losing a bunch of draft picks, Wally World is probably the second-best Wolf of the KG era. Or at least he was the most consistent second-best Wolf, since guys like Stephon Marbury, Tom Gugliotta, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell didn’t stick around for long. Szczerbiak was Garnett’s teammate for six and a half seasons, the majority of KG’s first Minnesota stint.
Szczerbiak arrived as a 1999 lottery pick, soon after Garnett’s record-setting contract extension and the dissolution of Garnett’s original supporting cast. Wally was a good second scorer, truly excellent shooting from outside, and actually made one All-Star team in 2002. He wasn’t good enough, though, and he didn’t exactly get along with Garnett, starting with a practice confrontation in Szczerbiak’s second season that nearly boiled over into a full-fledged fight.
Since Garnett and Szczerbiak spent so much time as teammates, I was curious how their relationship unfolded after that blow-up. These comments, originally published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, seem to sum up the dynamic between two coworkers who definitely didn’t like each other, but probably didn’t hate each other as much as some might think:
“We’re two totally different people from two totally different parts of the earth,” Garnett said Friday before Minnesota’s game at Houston against the Rockets. “I think people are wanting it to be more than what it really was. It wasn’t like we hated each other. We spoke every day, said what’s up, had conversations, cracked jokes, just like any other teammate in here. Basketball-wise, came in, did what we had to do to get a win. Sometimes we didn’t get it. We’re both competitive.”
The perceived rift between the players has been scrutinized since Garnett and Szczerbiak had a scuffle in the team’s training room in November 2000.
But they coexisted amicably over the years. Garnett invited Szczerbiak to the U.S. Open tennis championship last summer in New York.
“I’ve never had (a) beef with World,” Garnett said. “Personally, we were teammates. We understood that. I understood that. As the primary (option) on this team, I felt it was my responsibility to have the ball come through me, and I consolidated and distributed to everybody. I don’t know if World was bothered by that.”
Those quotes come from the week in 2006 when Minnesota traded Szczerbiak to the Celtics, which is of course exactly what they’d do with Garnett in 2007. Garnett initially balked at being traded to the Celtics, and you can find rumors from the era suggesting KG’s negativity had something to do with Wally being in Boston. I’m not convinced those rumors were accurate, but it didn’t matter anyway, since the trade that helped convince Garnett to accept the Celtics trade— Boston’s acquisition of Ray Allen — also sent Wally to Seattle. It was a hell of a thing for Garnett to join Allen AND Paul Pierce after a decade during which the second most productive Timberwolf was Wally Szczerbiak.
Szczerbiak vs. Garnett wasn’t totally done, though. The conflict isn’t just one practice fight followed by a few years of iciness. Szczerbiak became a media guy after retiring as a player, and made headlines in 2012 with a dumbass, later-deleted tweet proclaiming his former teammate lacked the “clutch gene”, which is one of the dumber fake-serious concepts in sports. Wally kinda recanted a week later, although his additional comments were just as silly. Wally’s still on TV now. I have to watch that dude talk about the Knicks several nights a week.
Anyway, yeah, I did not find enough meat on the Szczerbiak-Garnett bone for a Beef History episode. Wally’s story works better as a detail in the grander war between Garnett and his shitty employer, Glen Taylor. Definitely an odd relationship, though, and an important one, when you consider Szczerbiak’s relative prominence on those Timberwolves of the 2000s. That intermittent, intra-player conflict looks like a symptom of the larger player-owner beef. A sub-beef. A beefling.