Kevin Garnett on the NBA being tougher in the 90s and 2000s: “It was a man-up league”

Aside from being known as one of the most impactful players in the league during his twenty-one year tenure in the NBA, Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett built a reputation as one of the mentally tough and physically intense players to grace the hardwood as well. Garnett explained in a recent episode of his podcast “Ticket & The Truth” that this attitude was one that both inherent in him and one that was necessitated by the toughness and “bullying” from the other hard-nosed players in the NBA during the 90s and 2000s.

“The real sh*t of the league, everybody needs to understand this, man for your first three years, the league was a bully league. Older guys who trying to either fight you, punk you… it was a real caveman. I can’t even speak to it because you was in it, and you had to deal with it. It wasn’t, no, who you gonna tell? It was a man-up league, and every night,” Garnett said on the podcast, which he co-hosts with former Celtics teammate Paul Pierce.

Garnett went on to share a related anecdote from his rookie season where the 6’9,” 258-pound Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone, one of the most intimidating presences in the league in 1995, welcomed Garnett to the league in his particularly bullying fashion.

Kevin Garnett fired up after a play during a Boston Celtics game/YouTube

“I remember Karl Malone on my first day, you know, jump ball, and you go to your spot? … when I turned, he just forearmed me right in the chest dog. And I didn’t even know how to take that. He was like, ‘Young fella, what’s up? And I look, and it kinda froze me,” Garnett said.

Garnett went on to remember other players who were equally assertive, such as Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and Kevin Willis.

“Everybody was doing it, though. Kevin Willis, Charles Barkley, the Davis boys…everybody, Rick Mahorn,” Garnett explained.

Garnett added that this mentality from other players on the league instilled in him a similar sense of intensity.

“That worked for me. I’m an energetic guy. I played with force,” he said in an interview with Vice. “And I wanted to be remembered! I wanted for it to be that when I left this sport, I want you to remember me.”

In his 21 seasons in the NBA, Kevin Garnett averaged 17.8 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 1,462 regular season games. He was a 15-time NBA All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year award winner, winner of an MVP award with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2004 and helped lead the Boston Celtics to a championship in the 2008 NBA Finals.

What do you think of the comments made by Kevin Garnett on the NBA being tougher in the 90s and 2000s? Do you think the NBA was a physically tougher league during that time period than it is now? Let us know in the comments.

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