Kevin Garnett in the megalosphere

You probably already know that Kevin Garnett called Charlie Villanueva, who has alopecia, “a cancer patient.” And that Villanueva responded by tweetering about the encounter, which is, like, a total violation of macho baller ethics. And that KG then rejoined by dissembling terribly. You may also have seen this moment of malicious taunting. Or this this weird and terrible thing right here. Any way you look at it, these moves of KG’s are strictly for suckers. (Now would probably be a good time to confess that in my very first post as an NBA blogger I made a joke about Charlie V’s appearance.  I thought it was funny, but it wasn’t. I didn’t yet know he had alopecia, but I should have. Pure class over here.) In the wake of this madness, Jay Caspian Kang posts the definitive evisceration of the KG mythology over at the Freedarko. Wolves fans, read on if you can take it. Not pretty:

Anyone who has played pickup basketball has come across the guy who compulsively and needlessly bullies other players. These guys always force you into that ugly headspace, wherein you must calculate what is more debasing: to endure their abuse or to fight back. On Tuesday night, Charlie Villaneuva made a bad compromise by tattling via twitter, when the more appropriate response might have been to punch Garnett in the mouth and let the public decide whether or not it was justified.

I heard that. As a guy who knows from bullies (believe me), I have no doubt that these KG explosions are evidence of some gnarly, ugly bullying. I agree with Kang that the obsessive discourses of power, domination and violence are probably the worst things about sports and are (almost) enough to ruin one’s fanhood.  And, sad to say, Garnett’s mean, ridiculous antics do seem to reveal that his single-minded ecstasy has been infected by these discourses.

What’s interesting, though, (and this is something that Bethlehem Shoals alludes to in the comments of the FD piece) is that when he was here in MN, bathed in frustration and futility, KG’s extreme-o moments seemed really, soulfully moving (is that just the fan in me talking?). In those days, Garnett’s intensity radiated with desperation, and desire.  And desire is most compelling and sympathetic when it’s unfulfilled, when glory is just an abstract, burning fact of the imagination. Just ask Biggie or the Stones.

But things can quickly get boring and gross when folks attain the power they’ve been dreaming of, when strength and authority become the guiding principles. That’s when we get crass and arrogant and cruel. That’s when we start humiliating the weak. There’s more:

With Garnett, there’s always a sense of insecure theater, of a man who hasn’t quite convinced himself of the virtues and authenticity of his passions. We all know people like this in our daily lives—the sneering indie snob, the violently overprotective mother, the religious blowhard. When Garnett started crying in front of John Thompson in that famed TNT interview, I remember feeling bad for him, not because he was sick of losing, but rather, because he, in true Jimmy Swaggart style, felt the need to imbue such wild theatrics into his caring.

Yes I know these impossible people.  And I have to agree that there is something strangely theatrical about KG’s passion–the bellows, the tears. But I don’t think that necessarily casts doubt upon its authenticity; at its best this theatricality reflected a desire to embrace his audience, to pull the spectator into his ecstatic forcefield.

Indeed, I’ve written before that in many ways KG strikes me as the most authentic of athletes. What I mean is that when Kevin Garnett is completely engrossed in his game (that is, when he’s not distracted by his own competitive mania), his energies, his abilities and his purpose are perfectly aligned. Watching–and in some small way participating in–this passionate involvement has been one of the great joys of my sports-viewing life. That these energies do increasingly drive him to distraction is a testament not to some calculating self-awareness, but to an utter lack thereof. Garnett shows us something maybe even more frightening than Kang’s insecure overcompensation: an overflowing of blind competitive hunger so frenzied, so manic as to become performance.

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