Be respectful. Speak when spoken to. Don’t get out of line. There are ways to act around Kevin Garnett that are simply understood by rookies when they enter the NBA.
Lester Hudson knew this when he was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2009. As the only rookie on a veteran team at the start of the season, he took the quiet approach, listening intently and following protocol. Garnett, who can take time to warm up to first-year players, noticed.
Unexpectedly to Hudson, a reserved guard out of the University of Tennessee at Martin who rarely played, Garnett began speaking to him more frequently. The future Hall of Famer delivered advice, offered motivational messages and urged Hudson to continue improving his game. Hudson surmises Garnett liked that he worked hard and didn’t talk too much, similar to how Garnett approaches his tasks at hand.
“He was like a big brother,” Hudson told Basketball Insiders. “I felt it was genuine. You’ve got to respect him; he’s one of the greatest players in the league. I was focusing on what he was saying, I didn’t care if it was bad or good.”
Garnett referred to Hudson as “Train,” a nickname demonstrative of the strength Hudson used driving to the basket.
In December of that season while the Celtics were in Chicago to play the Bulls, Hudson received a directive from Garnett. It wasn’t the first time Garnett made a request – as a rookie, Hudson often ran errands for him and other veterans. This one was vague, though.
“‘Train, come to the store with me,’” Hudson recalled. “‘Meet me downstairs at this time.’ You can’t be late with KG. I was probably 10 minutes early. He was like, ‘Come on let’s go.’”
Hudson left the team hotel with Garnett, not knowing where they were headed. As they walked down the street, Garnett filled the conversation with more words of encouragement. The talk ended as they approached the destination.
Hudson gazed upon the building: the Louis Vuitton store.
“He told me to pick out whatever I wanted,” said Hudson. “I was like, ‘Are you serious right now?’ He said, ‘You work hard and I respect you. You help me out a lot.’”
Hudson was shocked. Soon, Garnett began making recommendations. Get a scarf, Garnett offered, it’s cold in Boston and Chicago. (Garnett often wore a designer scarves in his postgame interviews while on the Celtics). The store was Hudson’s for the picking.
“I got a couple scarves, skullies, a backpack, shoes, belts,” Hudson said. “I think he just got me everything.”
One month after the excursion, the Celtics waived Hudson. Roster spots were at a premium on a team that went on to the NBA Finals that season. He bounced around the NBA after that, eventually going overseas where he has established a successful career. He is a two-time MVP and three-time All-Star in the Chinese Basketball Association.
On Sunday, Hudson signed a 10-day contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. His first game back was at TD Garden, playing in his former arena under his original coach Doc Rivers. Inside the Clippers locker room, he sat with a black and gray Louis Vuitton backpack at his feet.
“This isn’t it,” he said assuredly.
The backpack from Garnett stays at Hudson’s home now unused, a remembrance of the unexpected trip. He doesn’t use it to carry his belongings – it carries a special meaning of its own.
“Unbelievable,” Hudson said. “I talk about it all the time.”
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