Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #67

The actor:Kevin Garnett
The character:Kevin Garnett
The film:Uncut Gems
The quote:“Why the fuck would you show me something if I couldn’t have it then?”

My first experience watching basketball, and for a long time my only experience, was the 2001 NBA Finals. I don’t even really remember any game of that Finals except the first one, which was the apogee of the Allen Iverson experience. He was spectacular, fearless. I had no idea how good the Lakers were, no clue that the Sixers weren’t going to win that series. I just knew that Iverson was different than anyone else on the floor. It was a time in basketball where the best players not only had this middle finger up all the time, but they were expected to have both of them up. (You hear a lot of old heads complaining about how players are too chummy with each other now, which I’m not sure I agree with. My issue is that so many of the league’s best players in the past ten years have replaced arrogance or savagery with petulance or unabashed anti-Semitism.)

No player in my lifetime has exemplified that middle finger ethos the way that Kevin Garnett did. Kevin Garnett would jab both of those birds into another guy’s eyes and then grow more middle fingers in order to flip off other people. Part of that is a penchant for cheap shots, for constantly running his mouth. Garnett’s not Charles Oakley or Dennis Rodman, necessarily, but you don’t become one of the greatest defensive players in basketball history by being soft. Even if Uncut Gems is about the Boston Celtics (sigh), I love that this movie centers on Kevin Garnett instead of someone else from that team. Uncut Gems wants to be After Hours without the clowning, which I’d humbly suggest was kind of the point of After Hours. But Garnett, pushing seven feet, with a long and documented history of being a bad, bad man, of being a little crazier than your average guy where you have to be mildly psychotic to succeed, is perfect for a movie like this.

This is a tough line to pull off. Uncut Gems is a victim of its own success, as far as this list goes. Almost all of the Sandman lines that you’d expect to see here are more meme than man. For example, I couldn’t pull the trigger on “This is how I win” because I don’t think that has any life outside goofy posts on the Interwebs. I’m more taken with this line, which is a declaration of war between Kevin Garnett (6’11”, 240 pounds of muscle, something like an 85″ wingspan, made a career out of banging with Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard, etc. in the post, about as threatening as a human being named “Kevin” could possibly be) and Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler). Howard just wants to show this opal off so, so badly, knows that he’s got this big star in his store, wants to see him impressed because being impressed with Howard’s merchandise is, to Howard, being impressed with him. And then the situation flips. Kevin Garnett is not impressed. Kevin Garnett wants it, that wingspan stretching out in dismay and confusion about why he can’t have that thing which has enchanted him just as it enchanted Howard. This line, expressed as a question, is not an inquiry. It’s a challenge.

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