What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Kevin Garnett Uncut Gems Interview
Really think back for a minute—which Kevin Garnett do you remember?
Do you think of the shot-blocking NBA champion and future hall-of-famer? Or the guy who, in the middle of a game, got on his knees and barked at another player? Who mixed coffee with his Gatorade? Who head-butted a hole in a wall because he got so goddamned hyped watching Making the Band? The GOAT trash-talker who allegedly told Carmelo Anthony that his wife, LaLa, tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios?! Because, yeah, he’s a historically dominant center—but also an all-time hoops personality that could destroy a dude with just a couple words. Or a bark.
The small, strange pocket of NBA history that belongs to Garnett (who retired in 2016) is important if you’re planning to see Uncut Gems, which is in select theaters today. Good Time’s Josh and Benny Safdie, who are basketball superfans—specifically of the Knicks variety (condolences)—themselves, directed the film, which stars a nitro-fueled, out-of-his-mind Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jeweler in New York City’s Diamond District. Uncut Gems moves so fast, and is so damn loud and explosive and good that it’ll break your brain just a little bit.
Garnett plays himself in the film, circa the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals—which would turn out to be among his final games in a Boston Celtics uniform. We see him early on, when he goes jewelry-shopping at Howard’s store. There, he gets his hands on an ultra-rare uncut black opal, which he is so spellbound by that he literally sees his life flash before his eyes. He really takes to the opal, so much that his obsession with it becomes Uncut Gems’s powder keg, kicking off a tristate area-spanning romp that weaves in footage from that slugfest of a playoff series with fake postgame interviews with Garnett.
Kevin Garnett is very, very good in Uncut Gems. Like will keep doing this for a long time good. So good that you’ll see a mass of stories like this one, the kind we all write when we find out an athlete can do something other than move fast and jump high. But this isn’t LeBron James in Trainwreck, a cute cameo where we went, Holy shit, he’s not bad! and giggled when he yammed on Bill Hader.
Garnett’s performance, really, might be something we haven’t seen before. With only a TV movie acting credit to his name, Garnett managed to channel the manic intensity of someone who would, you know, kneel and go WOOF on the court into a fictional version of himself so intense that you fear for Howard when they cross paths. His obsession with the opal feels entirely real, and every bit of Garnett, all six feet and eleven inches of him, fits right in with the Safdies’ whirlwind movie-making style, which operates at a baseline 110-mile-per-hour speed limit.
That mini-KG history at the beginning? It’s all to say: Kevin Garnett was a character actor for nearly 1,500 NBA games. The Safdies were just the first ones to point a fancy movie camera at it.
We talked to Garnett and the Safdie brothers over the phone about how they pulled it off.
ESQUIRE: When was the first time Adam Sandler, in full Harold mode, got in a room with Kevin Garnett?
BENNY SAFDIE: The first time he’s introduced in the movie was the first scene we shot.
JOSH SAFDIE: Yeah, I forgot that. We were shooting the first scene where Howard meets Kevin.
KEVIN GARNETT: That’s when they walked in together, right?
JS: Uh huh.
KG: It’s no bullshit—that’s my first time seeing Adam [Sandler] like that.
JS: For real?
KG: That fucked me up. He was in character. Adam was doing this shit where he was like Howard for a little bit. And then he would seem like he was Howard, but then he would start laughing. I don’t know how much of that shit I was sitting there like, Goddamnit.
JS: I didn’t know that.
KG: He was walking, and he was… it was eerie. It was eerie for me. I was like, Holy sh—
BS: What’s funny is Sandler started to do the thing with his teeth [Sandler wears dentures in the film] like a player would with a mouth guard. Keep it out, pop it out…
ESQ: There’s so much riding on that scene—we have to buy in to Kevin’s obsession with this opal.
JS: It was actually one of the hardest scenes to write, because you have to go from Kevin’s character not buying into anything. He thinks the watches are fake, he’s looking at an old Furby and Howard is interpreting that he’s into it. And this [opal] comes out, and it has to have the power that knowing something is millions of years old has. In the first rehearsal, I saw Kevin just become transfixed by it, the way it was almost like watching him lock in to a game. That’s the moment I think when the audience is like, “Wow, KG can act!” You’re forgetting that he’s acting at that moment. ‘Cause you’re just seeing him engage with this rock.
BS: Do you know how hard it is to act with something that has no response? [To Kevin] The thing I remember so vividly was the way that your thumb was correcting the different facets of the gem. When we talked about it—you have to tailor it to who is holding it. So we were like, “What would it be about this stone that you would attach to?”
KG: I really connected with it. I just connected with how [the Safdies] wanted it to look on camera, and giving me direction to deliver it the way I did. I’m a very superstitious person. I’m OCD sometimes with things. Any athlete that’s a cerebral player tends to overthink. And when you commit to something, it’s basically what you’re seeing as you need it, what position is it playing for you, and you believing in that. I’ve done it with two-dollar bills, I’ve done it with rubber bands, I’ve done it with pieces of jewelry, the Bible, believe it or not. So I was able to connect with what the whole thing stood for.
ESQ: Josh and Benny—what did Kevin bring that you don’t see in other actors you work with?
JS: Oh, man. Intensity and passion. A good actor doesn’t wait for their line. A good actor listens. And I saw it that way. Then you know, Dustin Hoffman comes out and says there’s no such thing as great actors, only great editors. I don’t [agree]. There’s some great actors [laughs]. You can watch the raw takes, and most of the time it’s when they’re listening, is when the performances come alive.
BS: And that shot of Kevin listening to Howard is so intense. And yet, for me it was just incredible because Kevin has achieved so much. He comes in, just totally open to wanting to understand a whole new environment and a whole new way of working. And it was awesome to have that mix of being humble, but also hungry desire to get it, you know? Amazing.
Courtesy of A24
ESQ: Kevin, that must have been such a trip for you—putting on a Celtics uniform again. What was it like being back in that 2012 NBA world?
KG: Anytime you put the jersey back on for commercials, or whatever it is you’re doing, you kind of go back there. And as we were going through the story, I was sitting there remembering parts of what I made and stuff that I missed. That was off-putting [laughs]. But it was all good vibes. It was interesting that everybody, as we were sitting there, playing these roles and being these characters, all got caught up in a game that… we all knew the results of.
JS: And you’re like, “Oh my god!”
KG: You find yourself just recaptured in that moment. You forget that there’s a camera here, you forget that we’re acting. And everybody is in it, you understand? Like Josh and Benny, they’re watching on the screen. Everybody who is a part of this is in it.
JS: I remember when we were looking for those games, I said to Kevin, “It was so hard to find a bad game.”
[They all crack up]
JS: I’m serious!
KG: Keep goin’!
JS: No, but when he does the interview at the end of the game, you know, we had some stuff scripted. Kevin’s famous for his postgame interviews… The woman who played the reporter, it was awkward. So she said, “I’m gonna ask one question at the end and I’ll see how Kevin will answer it.” And she asked him what was his thoughts at the time at the new Big Three. [LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami the season before, and would beat the Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. It was Kevin’s second-to-last season with the Celtics.] You were like, “Yeah, to each their own—we’ve got a couple rings left in us.” You went all in!
KG: Ya’ll gonna talk about that? Y’all got that Knicks disease?
ESQ: I was gonna stay away from the Knicks stuff, you know. I’m sure that’s what—
JS: You can ask me anything you want about the Knicks, I’ll give you—
BS: One of the first things we said to Kevin was: “Amar’e [Stoudemire] had time on the clock.” He was like, “Really? That was nine years ago, in a regular—
KG: Let it go, let it goooo!
BS: [Mock screaming] “You knew that it was a three!”
KG: That’s some fucking LaLa shit. Get the fuck outta here.
JS: We needed that. Honey Nut Cheerios, yeah.
BS: Honey Nut Cheerios?
In the fourth quarter, as play resumed following a timeout, the Celtics’ Paul Pierce, not pictured, shouted from the bench to Kevin Garnett to not let up, despite the large Boston lead as the Boston Celtics visited the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Three of the NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center.
ESQ: You guys clearly have so much fun together—that comes off in the movie.
JS: That’s the only way it really works, you know?
KG: What is this?
BS: Like a chocolate finish.
BS: Yeah, they’re very good.
JS: Sorry, we’re sharing candy now.
ESQ: What kind?
JS: Some chocolate mint. It’s like a boardroom candy.
KG: It’s miraculous.
ESQ: Is Uncut Gems a basketball movie?
JS: Yes. One of the things we wanted to achieve was to make people care about a basketball game the same way that we do when we watch it. There’s a reason why basketball is the second [most] popular sport in the world. It’s the fact that first of all, it’s the most visible sport. So all the players have their own personas. And look at American football—you can’t even see who the hell is on the field half the time. But there’s a thing in basketball—in every sport, really—but in basketball it’s like the mania of the sports, it’s up and down, it’s so crazy. But momentum. The movie is all about Howard’s momentum. Does the momentum shift, but is it in his corner? Is it not in his corner? The speed with which the game is played. There are so many characters, and there’s so much movement. There’s so much interplay and conversation. It’s all there. It’s all the same. I love it.
ESQ: Is there anything else from set that stuck out to you?
JS: Kevin called me Coach once and I was ready to retire. And I told Doc Rivers that too, and he’s like, “Don’t let it go to your head, young man.”