Famous South Carolinians | Kevin Maurice Garnett | By Kevin Alexander Gray

SC Native Plays in Championship Again

Mauldin (Greenville County)

Professional (NBA) basketball player – Power forward

(May 19, 1976)

Kevin Garnett was born in Greenville to Shirley Garnett and O’Lewis McCullough (who his mother never married).  Shirley later married and divorced Ernest Irby. Garnett has two sisters, one older (by six years) one younger: Sonya and Ashley, respectively.  His half-brother, Louis McCullough, played basketball for the ABA’s Syracuse Raging Bullz

Garnett, or “KG” to his fans, is notable for his rise to stardom emerging as a high school pro draftee – first with the Mauldin High School Maverick and, then with the Farragut Career Academy Admiral (named after Civil War naval hero Admiral David Glasgow Farragut) in Chicago – to a star player with the storied Boston Celtics basketball team’s as part of “Big Three” combo of Paul Pierce (forward), and Dalzell, South Carolina native Ray Allen (guard) who in 1993 led the Hillcrest High School Wildcats’ varsity basketball team to a SC State Championship.  Together the three won the 2008 NBA Championship with KG scoring 26 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6 to claim his first title in his first season in Boston.

He joined the Celtics on 07/31/07.  At the time of the trade, he had the longest current tenure of any player in the NBA with one team, having played for the Minnesota Timberwolves for his first 12 seasons (a total of 927 games). Following his trade to the Celtics, Garnett led them to the best record in the league and a trip to the 2008 NBA Finals.  Along the way he picked up the 2008 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award – the only major award a Celtic player had not claimed since the franchise’s foundation in 1946.  And, to top it off, he was the NBA’s top-paid player in the 2007-08 season with a salary of $23,751,934 – along with earning $5 million more hawking Adidas, Snickers and Gatorade.

Garnett credits his mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, for being his career “inspiration,” and for his familial stability growing up in both the mostly black section of Greenville known as Nickeltown and later on Basswood Drive in Mauldin (a suburb of Greenville with a population of about 12,000 in western SC).  Shirley Garnett looked after Sonya, Kevin, and Ashley on her own while working two jobs – one at a local plant and another as a hair stylist.  McCullough married another woman, started a new family, and paid child support.

By all accounts Garnett had very little or no emotional relationship or paternal connection with his 6′4″ biological father and later, a strained relationship with his stepfather Irby.  Garnett met McCullough’s parents, Odell and Mary McCullough, who owned a home only a few blocks from the Garnetts in Nickeltown, as an adolescent.  Yet O’Lewis McCullough did have a influence on him in one way.  As a teenager, McCullough was captain of the Beck High School basketball team at in the mid-’70s.  His nickname was “Bye Bye 45” because he wore number 45 and was quick on the fast break.  After graduating from high school, he joined the Army though he later played in local basketball leagues.

Garnett’s mother married Irby when Kevin turned seven (1983), but Irby had no interest in sports.  Meanwhile, Garnett was smitten with basketball.  He and his cousin Shammond Williams (who would go on to play with the University of North Carolina Tarheels and the Los Angeles Lakers) fantasized about making it to the NBA.  Garnett would sometimes sneak out of his bedroom window at night to go practice at a nearby playground.

Then, soon after his 12th birthday, the Irby family moved to Mauldin. 

Garnett’ was a typical teenager during his youthful years in Maudlin.  There he met his best friend Jamie “Bug” Peters. The two became so close that they told people they were brothers. Garnett also worked, earning money bagging groceries and cleaning restaurant bathrooms.  His religious upbringing by his mom helped him to get along with people.    

Garnett was a regular fixture at Springfield Park, an outdoor court near his home in Mauldin.  He spent long days every summer playing ball in the park against bigger opponents and getting better as he grew in height.  By age 14 he was a long armed, long legs, lanky kid.

Basketball filled the void and conflict created by the men who came into his mother’s life. The court was as a refuge.  Yet, beyond the oftentimes messy stuff of life, Irby said that she “knew her second child was special.”  She once told reporters: “It took me 26 hours to deliver him. He was so long. Twenty-three inches.”

Kevin Garnett at Mauldin High School

Garnett entered Mauldin High School in 1990-91 school year as a 6’6-7″ ninth grader and started for the Mavericks for 3 school years.  James Fisher, his high school coach, who’d played freshman ball at North Carolina, saw more than just his height: “I knew he was gifted the first time I saw him on the court.” Good hands, good footwork, stuff no one can teach. “God-given.”  Fisher sent out the word he had a “phenom.”  Before he joined the team, Mauldin’s record for wins was 10 and they’d never had a winning season. That year, the Mavericks won 19 games, making it all the way to the state’s final four.

The following summer (1991), he joined an AAU team coached by Darren Gazaway. Garnett talent emerged as he put up 40 points in a quadruple-overtime win at the Beach Ball Classic.

By his sophomore season, college scouts were showing up for games. He wore jersey number 21, the same as idol Malik Sealy of St. John’s. Garnett became a hero in rural South Carolina. 

In the summer after his sophomore year (1993), the 6 feet 10, 200 (plus or minus) pound Garnett attended Nike camp and was coached by Chicago’s Farragut Academy coach William “Wolf” Nelson.  Garnett also befriended Ronnie Fields, who played for Nelson at Farragut.  Also at the Nike camp was future UNC player Antawn Jamison and Georgetown University and NBA star Allen Iverson. Yet despite the presence of Iverson, Garnett stood out.   Garnett’s talent became nationally known. 

As a junior (1994), Garnett averaged 28.5 points, 18.5 boards, and seven blocks.  Once again, in March, Garnett, along with Eldrick Leamon, a left-handed power forward and Amateur Athletic Union teammate, lead Mauldin to 24 wins and, the semifinals of the South Carolina Class AAAA tournament.  Garnett was named Mr. Basketball for the state of South Carolina.  Coach Fisher was confident the Maudlin Mavericks could win the state championship in Garnett’s senior year.

But late into his junior year. Garnett was involved in what was described as a racial incident at school. The exact details remain unclear.  Garnett still doesn’t discuss the matter.  Still, the incident marred an otherwise great season. Garnett and 4 other black students found themselves accused and charged with attacking a white student in the hallway, breaking his ankle.  According to some accounts, the melee started when the white student hurled racist taunts at the black students. Garnett asserted his innocence in the fight but shortly afterwards was arrested in the classroom.  He and the four others accused were handcuffed and taken away in squad cars to the Greenville County Jail for arraignment on charges of second-degree lynching (a standard assault citation in South Carolina).  Bail was set at $10,000. The story made big news across the state.  It got worse, his teammate Eldrick Leamon, died in a traffic accident during his juvenile justice travails.

“South Carolina law defines second-degree lynching as “[a]ny act of violence inflicted by a mob upon the body of another person and from which death does not result shall constitute the crime of lynching in the second degree and shall be a felony. Any person found guilty of lynching in the second degree shall be confined at hard labor in the State Penitentiary for a term not exceeding twenty years nor less than three years, at the discretion of the presiding judge.”   

Eventually the boys were allowed participation in a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.  Their charges were dropped and records expunged.  Garnett’s ‘official’ record stayed clean, though expulsion from Mauldin High was still a real possibility. 

When the ’94 school season ended, Garnett continued to play basketball in the state’s Amateur Athletic Union and at Nike summer camps in Indiana, Oregon and Illinois.   Still his mother had concerns that her famous son might become a victim of societal racism and local politics in her home state. She decided Kevin would leave South Carolina.  Coach Nelson, who coached Garnett the prior summer, had kept contact with Irby and her son. So in August 1994 Irby moved Garnett and his younger sister Ashley to the West Side of Chicago to live in an one-bedroom apartment, one floor above Nelson.  Garnett was enrolled in Farragut Academy, a city high school with an predominately Hispanic student body and a predominantly black basketball team, for his senior year.  Garnett joined the basketball and soccer teams.

At Farragut, Garnett averaged 25.2 points, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 6.5 blocks per game while shooting 67% from the floor.  The 1994-95 Farragut basketball team with Garnett, Ronnie Fields and Michael Wright, was 28-2 and ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 in the nation by USA Today before falling to Thornton 46-43 in the Class AA state quarterfinals in Champaign.  Garnett was named 1994-1995 National High School Player of the Year by USA Today, 1995 Mr. Basketball for the State of Illinois, 1994-1995 Parade magazine All-America First Team and the 1995 Most Outstanding Player [John Wooden MVP Award] at the 18th McDonald’s All-American Game after registering 18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocked shots.

In four years of high school, Garnett posted 2,533 points, 1,807 rebounds and 739 blocked shots.

After Farragut won the city championship that spring, scouts were beating down the 6-foot-11 Garnett’s door.  But there was a problem.  Although he raised his senior year GPA above a 3.0, his ACT scores were too low for NCAA eligibility.  Any college he entered would not be allowed to play him on its team. Garnett – one month after turning 19 – declined to retake the exam and declared himself eligible for the 1995 NBA Draft.  The practice was still uncommon to the league, but players like Moses Malone (1974), Darryl Dawkins (1975) and Bill Willoughby (1975) had done it successfully in the 1970s.  Yet, Garnett was the first player in 20 years to do so since the three made the jump from high school to pro.  On the June 26th cover of Sports Illustrated, Garnett was pictured with the caption: “Ready or Not.”

Just days after graduating from Farragut Career Academy, Garnett was the fifth 1st round player drafted on June 28, 1995 (held at the SkyDome in Toronto, Canada) by the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Kevin McHale, Minnesota vice president of basketball operations and former Boston Celtic, and Flip Saunders bet the team’s future on the selection.  On October 2, 1995 they signed Garnett to his first professional contract, a three-year, $4.636 million deal.

When Garnett was drafted, the Timberwolves were the worst team in the NBA since their founding in 1989.  The Timberwolves were completely off the sports media map with neither star players nor nationally televised games. The team had not won more than 29 games in any season.

Garnett, the third-youngest player ever to start in an NBA game, made a impact in his first season with the “TWolves”, emerging as a defensive presence and a scorer. 

He played in his first ever NBA preseason game against Milwaukee on October 14, 1995 when he first checked into the game at Barnett Center (in South Dakota) with 2:29 left in the first quarter.  Garnett had “Mauldin” scribbled on the side of his shoes, and wore a rubber band on his right wrist.  He missed his first shot, but hit his next five scoring 9 points in ten minutes before halftime. He would finish the game with 13 points and 3 rebounds.

His first ever NBA regular season game was in Sacramento, coming off the bench at the 5:55 mark in the first quarter during the Timberwolves season opener (November 3, 1995).  He scored his first NBA points about 2 minutes later.  For the entire game, he took just three shots, finishing the game with 8 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist in 16 minutes of play.  In his 1st season, the rookie played around 30 minutes a game, averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds and nearly 2 assists per game.  He started at forward for the last half of the season, and was named to the 1996 NBA’s All-rookie second team although the team suffered through their seventh consecutive sub-30 win season and failed to make the playoffs.

In Garnett’s 2nd year (1997-’98), the Timberwolves acquired point guardStephon Marbury of the Georgia TechYellow Jackets, and Garnett’s boyhood idol Malik Sealy (1998). The season saw Garnett averaged 17 points, 8 rebounds and over 2 blocks a game.  He posted his first career triple-double vs. the Denver Nuggets in January ‘98 (18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists).  He had two games where he registered eight blocks and helped his team to a 40–42 record and its first post-season appearance in franchise history.  At 21, he (and teammate Tom Gugliotta) made their first All-Star game appearances that year. However, the Houston Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Charles Barkley swept the Timberwolves 3–0 in the first round of the 1997 NBA Playoffs.   

At the conclusion of his sophomore season, Garnett re-signed with Minnesota – six years for $126 million after first rejecting a $103.5 million contact.  At the time it was the biggest sports contract in history.

By his third season, his per-game averages were up to 18.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.83 blocks and 1.7 steals per game.  Garnett made it to his first all-star game that year, an accomplishment he would repeat seven more times.  Minnesota finished with their first winning record in franchise history (45–37).  He made the cover of Sports Illustrated (May ’99) for the second time, with the tag line “The Kid Who Changed The Game.”  Yet, for the second consecutive year the Timberwolves bowed out of the playoffs in the first round, losing 2–3 against the Seattle SuperSonics and Gary Payton. The 2 wins against the Sonics marked the Wolves’ first-ever playoff game wins.  But the off-season started poorly for the team as 20 point per game scorer Tom Gugliotta left to the Phoenix Suns

The 2000 season saw tragedy once again enter Garnett’s life as friend Sealy was killed in St. Louis Park, Minnesota on May 20, 2000.  Driving home from a birthday party for Garnett, Sealy’s SUV was struck by a pickup truck traveling the wrong way down the highway.  The truck was driven by 43-year-old Souksangouane Phengsene who survived the accident with head and chest injuries. Phengsene was driving drunk; his blood alcohol content was .19, well above the legal limit in Minnesota. He was subsequently given a four-year prison term. Neither accident victim was wearing a seatbelt. Phengsene’s airbag deployed but Sealy’s SUV did not have one.  Garnett still led Minnesota to a 47–35 record and made the All-NBA Second Team, but again, the Wolves did not survive the first round of the Playoffs, losing to Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs 3–1.

In the summer of 2000, Garnett joined the U.S. Olympic basketball for the Sydney (Australia) Olympics and helped the team win gold defeating France 85-75. 

In the strike-shortened 2000 season he returned to Minnesota and continued to help his team improve scoring a career-high 40 points against the Celtics at Boston (March).  Garnett became only the ninth player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists a game (20.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.8 blocks per game). He repeated the feat the following season, as well as in ’01-’02 and ’02-’03, becoming only the second player ever (Larry Bird) to do so four consecutive times.   Garnett was named to the All-NBA Third Team.

However, midway through the season Stephon Marbury was traded to the New Jersey Nets.  Minnesota received two-time All-Star Terrell Brandon in return but went into the playoffs as the 8th seed with a 25–25 record. Minnesota was again defeated in the first round, losing 1–3 to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs who were led by NBA Finals MVPTim Duncan.

In the next season, Garnett continued his notable play, averaging 22.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game and made the first of his three All-NBA First Team appearances.  Assisted by rookie forward Wally Szczerbiak and steady veteran Brandon, the Wolves posted a franchise-best 50-32 record, but fell in the first round to the Portland Trail Blazers 3–1.

Garnett averaged 21.2 points, 12.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per game in the 2001-02 NBA season, enough for another All-NBA Second Team nomination.  Still the Timberwolves lost in the first round for the sixth consecutive time, this time getting swept 3–0 by the Dallas Mavericks led by Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki.

Beginning the 2003-2004 season, Minnesota’s championship hopes were high as Latrell Sprewell and two-time NBA champion Sam Cassell joined the team. Garnett signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension and the team finished the season with league’s best record and franchise-record 58 wins.  Garnett averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game for the season, earning his first Most Valuable Player award.  Minnesota finally got through the first round of the playoffs bane by the Denver Nuggets 4–1.  They then beat the Sacramento Kings 4–3 in the Western Conference Semifinals and went on to meet the Lakers. The Lakers won the Western Conference finals 4–2.

Garnett’s 2004-05 season was one of the best of his career, his 23.0 ppg / 13.0 rpg / 6.0 apg / 1.6 bpg / 1.4 spg season earning him his second All-NBA First Team nomination and second place in the MVP voting.  The Timberwolves posted a good 51–31 record, but for the seventh consecutive time, they did not make it out of the first round, this time losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, 4 games to 2.

The 2004-05 NBA season, Minnesota experienced problems as Cassell and Sprewell brokered for better contracts. Garnett was named to the All-NBA Second Team, but the Timberwolves, with a 44–38 record, failed to make the playoffs after eight consecutive years.

The 2005-06 NBA season brought more frustration for Garnett as Sprewell and Cassell left the team. the Timberwolves fell to a 33–49 record and posted the second worst record since Garnett joined the franchise. On 10 May2007 Garnett was named to the All-NBA Third Team.

On July 31, 2007 Garnett, now wearing #5, was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, Boston’s 2009 first-round draft pick (top 3 protected) and the 2009 first-round pick Minnesota had traded to Boston in the Ricky DavisWally Szczerbiak trade of 2006. The 7-for-1 deal constitutes the largest number of players traded for a single player in league history.

Salary figures obtained by ESPN.com has Garnett’s contract package with Boston worth nearly $90 million including trade bonuses. He earned $22 million to $23 million in his first wo seasons. His salary is $14.7 million in the 2009-10 season, $17.1 million in 2010-11 and $19.5 million in 2011-12, when he’ll be 36.

In 2008 Garnett received the NBA Community Assist Award for April in recognition of his efforts in the community and his ongoing philanthropic and charitable work.

The 11-time NBA All Star and 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year donated more than 600 Celtics tickets to Boston Public School students in April through his Big Ticket Challenge.

According to the NBA, the Big Ticket Challenge is an initiative that encourages at-risk students to excel in school while offering them the opportunity to attend Celtics games and the chance to meet Garnett.

As the NBA Community Assist Award recipient, Garnett will receive the David Robinson Plaque, with the inscription, “Following the standard set by NBA Legend David Robinson, who improved the community piece by piece.” Also, a $5,000 donation was given to Garnett’s charity of choice.

Garnett still honors his Amateur Athletic Union teammate Eldrick Leamon before every game. As the team is introduced in the darkened arena, he sits to the right of an empty chair at the end of the team’s bench. Garnett now leaves two seats empty during team introductions, in honor of Malik Sealy together with Leamon.

His nicknames include “The Big Ticket”, “KG”, “Go-Go Gadget Arms”, “The Kid”, and formerly “The Franchise” (after being known as the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ franchise player).

Garnett married Brandi Padilla in 2004. On April 18, 2008, Garnett’s wife Brandi gave birth to a baby.  The marriage also made Garnett the brother-in-law of music producer Jimmy Jam Harris.   The family now lives in Concord, Massachusetts.


  • NBA Most Valuable Player: 2004
  • NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2003
  • 11-time NBA All-Star: 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
  • 9-time All-NBA:
  • First Team: 2000, 2003, 2004, 2008
  • Second Team: 2001, 2002, 2005
  • Third Team: 1999, 2007
  • First Team: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008
  • Second Team: 2006, 2007
  • average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for 6 consecutive seasons. (1999–2005)
  • average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for 9 consecutive seasons. (1998–2007)
  • reach at least 20,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists, 1,200 steals, and 1,500 blocks in his playing career.
  • 9-time All-Defensive:
  • NBA All-Rookie Second Team: 1996
  • 4-time NBA regular-season leader, rebounds per game: 2004 (13.9), 2005 (13.5), 2006 (12.7), 2007 (12.8)
  • 2-time NBA regular-season leader, rebounds: 2004 (1,139), 2005 (1,108)
  • 5-time NBA regular-season leader, defensive rebounds: 2003 (858), 2004 (894), 2005 (861), 2006 (752), 2007 (792)
  • NBA regular-season leader, points: 2004 (1,987)
  • NBA regular-season leader, field goals made: 2004 (804)
  • J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award: 2006
  • Career triple-doubles (regular season): 17 (as of March2007)
  • Career triple-doubles (post-season): 3 (as of 2006)
  • Only player in NBA history to:
  • Holds Minnesota Timberwolves franchise record for most points in one game with 47 vs. the Phoenix Suns on January 4, 2005.
  • Holds Minnesota Timberwolves franchise career records for points, 19,041; rebounds, 10,542; assists, 4,146; blocked shots, 1,576; steals, 1,282; and games played, 927.
  • Ranked #70 on SLAM Magazine’s Top 75 NBA Players of All Time in 2003.
  • Achieved 10,000 total rebounds in his career on Jan.2007.
  • Career stats (regular season): 998 games, 20.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.4 spg, .494 FG%, .284 3P%, .781 FT%
  • Career stats (post-season): 48 games, 22.2 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.8 bpg, 1.3 spg, .457 FG%, .333 3P%, .761 FT%







 (edited 2008 by KAG)

1 Comment

Filed under Famous South Carolinians, South Carolina, Sports

One response to “Famous South Carolinians | Kevin Maurice Garnett | By Kevin Alexander Gray

  1. Kevin Alexander Gray

    Reblogged this on The New Liberator and commented:

    Celts are looking good so far…

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