The Blazers, now fucked, play the Wolves Saturday. How fucked are the Timberwolves?
Last season, the Wolves were scheduled to play the Spurs in Mexico City, where presumably some fans dig Ricky Rubio. (Or J.J. Barea.) Then the building caught fire. A generator shorted out and the arena filled with smoke. Center Nikola Pekovic, whose resemblance to a “Superman II” villain is well known, actually sat on the sidelines during the hubbub and sang “I Believe I Can Fly” softly to himself. I’m not making this up.
How cursed? Years ago, team executive Bob Stein wondered if the Target Center was built on an ancient burial ground, and this joke has taken on mythic/memetic proportions to fans. Why cursed? Well, burial grounds are never not a possibility anywhere in America (believe it or not, others were here first) but there are less supernatural explanations.
First off, the team’s owner, Glen Taylor, by most accounts an honest fellow so far as sports owners go, is something of a terrible HR man. He’s hired a string of GMs without much of a clue (remember KAAAAAHN) and coaches without much chance (either not yet ready or way past the point of caring.)
There’s another, deeper problem, one that makes it hard for the team to draw/retain free agents. Basketball in Minnesota takes a back seat to hockey. Actually, it’s lower down than that. The order of Sport Importance in Minnesota reads, approximately, thus. High School hockey. Fishing. College hockey. The NFL Vikings. The MLB Twins. The NHL hockey team. Ice fishing. Hunting. Curling (which is like shuffleboard, but on ice.) The NFL Packers. And, then, at the end, basketball.
In Portland, you see basketball hoops over garages. In Minnesota, it’s far more common to see backyard ice rinks. You put up some boards, squirt a hose on your lawn, and you have a hockey rink from November to March. It often feels as though the handful of local basketball fans are all from somewhere else. (Many Minnesotans are from Chicago, which means I can never wear anything Blazer-related in public. One of Chicago’s nastiest street gangs adopted Blazer gear during the early 2000s, and if you wear Blazer stuff, people assume you are From Chicago and also “A Thug.”)
So the limited local tradition and decades of woeful luck have created a rather masochistic tendency among Wolves supporters; you can see it in this video where Minnesotans burn a Kevin Love jersey. Timberwolves enthusiasts are so used to agony that they think “we deserve it.” This seems unnecessarily downbeat, yet in some ways it’s preferable to the “WE CONTINUE TO RISE SHUT UP HATERS,” aggressive groupthink moronity prevalent among certain fan “communities” (I name no names.)
This season they’ve had the accustomed portion of woes (Pekovic and Rubio, both big contract extendees, have been injured, a lot), some good news (Andrew Wiggins has progressed all year and looks destined for ROY), some OK news (intriguing moments from youngsters Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng, supposed bust Shabazz Muhammed having a mini-breakout season) and more bad news (Muhammed getting injured, Love-trade-haul Anthony Bennett looking like an actual bust.)
You can’t blame Wolves die-hards, then, for being excited about the deal of Thaddeus Young for Kevin Garnett. It was probably a bad deal, since Young should have brought more in return, but it’s thrilled the typically moribund Target Center crowd; ticket sales have shot up 5000 a game since. (Even at half the number, that would be well over $100K per game for the team, so maybe there was method to the trade madness.)
The dream now is that Garnett will inspire the young players (does this ever, ever work) and stick around to become the owner, something he says he wants to do. (Jeff Allen gives a good take on this in “Rolling Stone,” a quality magazine for many things except information about music.) The fans are hoping this might change their fortunes, and hey – let’s wish them well.
I’m going to this game, which I was excited about after Garnett’s return and now really don’t care, as Wes Matthews is done for the year and that means the Blazers are, too. However I’m going with someone who’s never seen an NBA game live, so I get the honor of introducing them to how dull most NBA games are live. It’s one of those illusion-breaking moments everyone experiences for the first time only once. I feel like I get to pop a cherry. (Fortunately there’s one close by.)