When Tom Cruise let go of his publicist in 2004 and hired his sister in her place, he let go of the one person holding him back from tearing his carefully manicured dignity to the ground. In a matter of months the patiently crafted movie star detachment was gone, revealing a small, crazed and bizarre man standing behind the curtain. By 2005, he was jumping on Oprah’s couch declaring his undying love for Katie Holmes (I had a similar reaction after watching a particularly revealing scene in The Gift) and taking shots at the unimpeachable Brooke Shields. For our purposes, Tom Cruise’s fall from grace, and in particular its coming out party on the Oprah show, is only important in relation to the decline of another once great figure – Kevin Garnett.
In both cases, the decline is made evident by a specific act of jubilation and dropping of inhibition. Acts so dramatic that it forces the observer to consider past behaviour in new ways. Looking at a Tom Cruise film now, we can only watch in light of the couch incident- so when he flips out in Jerry Maguire, the meaning is subverted. When Kevin Garnett finally cast away his demons to win the championship, his post game reaction is one of jubilation, but also, oddly self conscious and incoherent. For example, there has been a great deal of discussion that his post game proclamation “Anything is possible” was an inaccurate shout-out to his sponsors Adidas (their slogan is “Impossible is nothing”). After this he started to babble like a newborn. It’s as though victory untied the strings keeping his Id in place.
Not that this is bad in itself, I’ve often decried the lack of emotional expression from New Zealand sports people. What the problem is, and perhaps this award is wrongly titled, is that his post game interview was so revealing it became unflattering. Like seeing a hero in their most vulnerable and humbled moment (we’re looking at you and your post game warm-down lunges, Breakers). Basically, it made me realise that Garnett might seriously be certifiably crazy.
Now it’s hard to view anything without the lense of “he’s mental” on . When Garnett was interviewed by John Thompson, in 2005, and repeatedly spoke the mantra “I’m losing, I’m losing, I’m losing”, many interpreted it as an endearing example of a driven athlete perfectly focused on becoming a winner.
When the story of the infamous sucker punch on Rick Rickert (our hero and New Zealand Breaker) became public, Garnett was forgiven easily. He’s a competitor. Now we can interpret those actions differently. If there is a fall from grace here, it’s that Garnett has revealed himself as not the driver of his passion and need to win, but as someone driven by this passion – uncontrollable and frightened of losing.
The post- championship interview opened the flood gates for Garnett – this season he has been an emotional wreck. Like Golum he greedily and gracelessly holds on to his beloved ring. Garnett’s behaviour this year has been well publicised – picking on only weaker players (Rickert knows how that feels), endless and meaningless trash talk and finger waving. For a man who has been touted as the ultimate team player, it’s hard to watch. But really, that’s probably because it confirms what we already knew about him, that his desire to win is all consuming, mildly self-destructive and kind of annoying. In the end it will destroy us all. Ok, maybe not, but still, having wanted Garnett to win a championship for so long, it’s a reminder to be careful what I wish for. His drive to win is still alluring, but it is chaotic and clearly insecure, and that is painful to watch from a champion.