Fresh off a weeklong promotional tour of China last August, Kevin Garnett had shifted to Hawaii for some offseason rest and relaxation when the call came that Shaquille O'Neal, having agreed to a veteran minimum contract with the Boston Celtics, would be holding his introductory press conference at the team's practice facility in Waltham a day later.
It was a no-brainer. Garnett hopped a 10-hour flight back to Boston to be part of the spectacle and might have otherwise gone undetected lounging in a perch outside Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge's office if O'Neal hadn't singled him out.
"KG has always been one of my young favorite players," O'Neal said. "We've had many battles, many conversations, many times we've hung out and now for me to be here, protecting him and playing with him, I think that's going to give him a little more room to operate. He can go inside and outside, but with me down there keeping all the big guys off him, I would like to see him get a little bit more loose.
"He has one [championship], he should have three, so hopefully we can get this one together."
O'Neal succeeded in loosening up Garnett -- both on the court and off -- Shaq's presence allowing Garnett to bring down his guard maybe like no other time during his 16-year career. Yes, O'Neal failed in his desire to help Garnett win another world title, but it's impossible to understate how much these two enjoyed being teammates the past 10 months.
Garnett expressed that appreciation Wednesday after O'Neal announced his plans to retire after a storied 19-year NBA career.
"It was a pleasure to play with the Big Fella," Garnett said in a statement to ESPN through his management company. "It was most definitely a life experience. My big brother from a different mother. It's love all day."
From the start of training camp, it was obvious Garnett was allowing himself to enjoy the loose atmosphere that O'Neal fostered when the team was done with its work for the day. After one camp session in Newport, R.I., Garnett was spotted holding up an iPhone to film one of Shaq's Twitter sketch comedy videos and couldn't hold back a smile soon after when he noted, "Chemistry's been very good, needless to say. It's a g--damn around here, but it's all good, we're getting some work done."
Garnett often called it an honor to play with O'Neal and that respect allowed the Big Shamrock to get away with things few others could. Who else would dare trash talk Garnett about the 2003-04 season? A campaign that ended with O'Neal's Lakers topping Garnett's Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals during Garnett's MVP season.
O'Neal did it during the middle of practice just for giggles. As he would note later in the season: "I think it's a relationship of respect. We've both had many battles over the years. We both have seen what each other can do over the years. So we basically can say anything to each other."
Others weren't so fortunate. Early in the season, Garnett came under fire from the likes of Charlie Villanueva and Joakim Noah for his on-court intensity. O'Neal, sidelined by injuries throughout the season, expressed a desire to get healthy just to police those who spoke out against his teammate.
"I love being out there with KG," O'Neal said in early December in Philadelphia. "I've never seen a guy play one way his whole career. He's the first guy besides [Michael Jordan] that's played one way and it's incredible. I gotta be out there to protect him from these young, disrespectful cats. All these punks taking cheap shots."
And it was maybe O'Neal's biggest regret that he couldn't consistently stay on the floor this season to not only protect Garnett, but aid him in that championship quest. The Celtics thrived with O'Neal in the starting lineup (27-9 overall; 20-5 when Shaq played 20 minutes or more), but he logged a mere 17½ minutes after Feb. 1, an Achilles injury limiting him to two measly postseason appearances.
Even still, Garnett spoke glowingly of O'Neal during the season. The most famous moment coming after a win in Atlanta in which both Garnett and O'Neal posted double-doubles in a win over the Hawks.
"Shaq is like paradise, man," Garnett told reporters. "You ever wash your sheets and then go outside and hang them out, and the sun dries them? You ever smell the sheets? That's what Shaq is, Shaq is like inhaling fresh air. I don't want to give any products any tags right now, but you know what I'm saying. For anybody who's ever hung out clothes, they know what I mean."
Garnett talked at times about his own NBA mortality during the season, conceding you never quite know when it'll be your time to step away. O'Neal and the Celtics had hoped for two seasons together, but Father Time caught Shaq and his bum Achilles and forced him to hang up his shoes like sheets Garnett talked about.
And that's all the more reason that Garnett and O'Neal were sure to savor their time together this season.
"I wish him nothing but the best," Garnett said. "The game's gonna miss you. Look out world, here comes Shaq."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.