The NBA’s Polar Opposites

Once upon a time in the twin cities of Minnesota, the Timberwolves and their fans were certain they had the components on which to build a champion. They had two young studs, a lean athletic big man who could stare down any defender and any challenge, and a razzle-dazzle 19-year-old point guard from the mean streets of Brooklyn with ball-handling and crossover talent oozing out his eyeballs. They were going to take on the world and bring Minnesota to the promised land for the first time since the Lakers left town.

Sure, it was a great script, but one that was ultimately left in the trash. The tandem played only two full seasons together, and had only two playoff wins to show for it (that's games, not series, if you're scoring at home). Stephon Marbury then bolted from a great teammate in the Great Lakes to a terrible team in the swamplands of East Rutherford.

Other than hitting a game-winner in the classic and underrated 2001 All-Star Game, that situation didn't really work out for him. He got swapped to Phoenix for Jason Kidd and the Nets found their way. Marbury, meanwhile, other than hitting a crazy game-winner against the Spurs in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs in 2003 (seeing a trend here? a flare for the dramatic, just in not-so-big games), that situation didn't really work out for him, either. So, the Suns found someone better in Steve Nash, and New York and Isiah Thomas came calling. He even got them into the playoffs once. Very briefly. Does anyone even remember that now? Well, since then, to say that situation didn't work out for him would be understating it just a bit (John Starks just called, he wants his No. 3 back).

In short, Stephon Marbury has been a lot like Good Luck Chuck. He may seem like a solid guy to have but ultimately things won't really get better for you until he leaves. And this may all have stemmed from him leaving Garnett in Minnesota.

So what happened to Garnett? Well, he stayed loyal, kept his faith in a team in a small market with very little amusements or nightlife and very little talent around him for the most part. He always seemed to be getting cut down to size in the postseason by Tim Duncan's Spurs or Shaq and Kobe's Lakers. Still, he made his claim in 2004 when the T-Wolves took out Mike Bibby's Kings in an epic seven-game thriller and made it into the Western Conference Finals. This is still the farthest into the playoffs the Minnesota franchise has ever gone.

When it finally was time to move on, Garnett found himself the best possible situation; a team that was devoted to turning around its bad fortune, and willing to sign two star players in one offseason. While Garnett may be just one of Boston's new Big Three, he alone is the poster boy for the restoration of Celtic pride, and quite possibly the biggest reason the Celtics are 9-1 and the top team in the entire NBA.

Now the two men who could have put the Timberwolves on the map are as far off in opposite directions in the league as humanly possible. While Garnett is the centerpiece of a new title contender in Beantown, Marbury's attitude and emotional baggage has weighed down most of the Knick teams he has played on, culminating in an open threat to expose his own coach of doing God-knows-what with who-knows-who as a result of being benched just a week ago. And I haven't even mentioned in this space how he virtually ran tried-and-true coach Larry Brown out of town two years ago, as well. Continually, Stephon Marbury proves that he does not have what it takes to pass a team sports chemistry test, and each of his teams have reflected that.

And yet these two men are not entirely different. Most notably both wear their inner-city toughness on their sleeve quite literally (tattoo artists rejoice), both made the jump from high school to the NBA when critics complained they should have polished their games in college, both were expected to be saviors for as long as they've been in the league. And both have played for their share of bad teams. Yet it is clear Kevin Garnett's character has been built while the enigmatic Marbury's has simply been revealed.

All you need to know about them in their respective 2007-08 seasons is that Marbury whined and complained and eventually threatened to spill his coach's sins all over the NY tabloids all because the coach wanted to bench him for the benefit of the team. This happened while Garnett was making statements such as, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit" while averaging at least 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block a game to go along with his steady 20.7 ppg through 10 games. The team has only faltered once against top conference rival Orlando in a game in which the Celtics came back from 20 points down on the road before finally succumbing.

All signs point to the Big Ticket being punched for big things, perhaps a Finals berth in the near future. Meanwhile, the fallen Starbury continues to sink another promising roster while more and more fans in the nation's largest market grow increasingly hostile and impatient. Just think, if that uber-talented 19-year-old kid had just stayed by his big man's side and taken some notes, they could have been sharing a Wheaties box. Instead, they make for quite the fitting bookends in a league where everyone is talented, but only some are driven in that right kind of way.

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