Tell me what I am supposed to do with something that even faintly emits the smell of joy when I’ve followed a basketball team that has had only one winning season and one playoff appearance in the last 18 years? Am I to take to the streets in choreographed dance? Shed one single tear of long-bottled despair, thus releasing the evil spirits that have dogged me and my team for almost half of my damn life? No! Of course not!
Monday night Karl Anthony Towns scored a Minnesota Timberwolves franchise record 60 points, and in the process made himself the only player in NBA history to hit that mark while shooting over 60 percent from three and also snagging 15 rebounds. Maybe more importantly, he did it in a win! On Wednesday night the Wolves outplayed a Los Angeles Lakers team led by the vengeful shadow of LeBron James. The Timberwolves are 10-2 in their last 12 games, they’re keeping pace to not just make the playoffs, but, possibly, claim a secure, non-play-in tournament spot.
And now, having typed this, my eyes will grow milky and pale, I will arch my back and let my jaw go slack as I begin violently retching amber-colored bile out of every single one of my face holes.
Breaking scoring records? Stringing together successive wins? Mocking the shit out of late-stage Russell Westbrook and making the shots to back it up?
I will quietly chant the name “David Kahn” to myself as I walk barefoot across the shattered shards of a Garrison Keillor Lake Woebegon Days CD box set. This will be my penance.
A team that appears to maybe enjoy playing basketball with each other?
Joy is an emotion I have learned not to associate with watching Timberwolves basketball. To be fair, some of that reflects the passive-aggressive essence that is baked hot dish-deep into anyone born in Minnesota. If we are not politely shitting on that which we purport to love and wallowing in that crapulence, we are not truly ourselves, or truly alive. My colleague, the esteemed senator of sports misery Mr. Magary, can confirm this.
But this is also the product of just watching the Timberwolves. They are a team that has seemed to almost take pride in being a perpetual shambles of dysfunction and misery. There was the Jonny Flynn draft, which we don’t really need to go into. If I say the words “Joe Smith” I may explode into messy chunks. But more recently, their wanderings transformed from predictable mid-tier NBA team aimlessness into a headlong and almost violent chase for mediocrity. Tom Thibodeau brought the team to the playoffs in 2018 and seemed to cripple them in the process. That was aided, of course, by the explosive wrath of Jimmy Butler and the practice scrimmage heard around the world. Former Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas quite literally fucked around and found out. Owner Glen Taylor announced that he intended to finally sell the team, but after Kevin Garnett expressed interest, Taylor claimed he never heard from the beloved former Wolves star. Taylor later sold to a group that included Alex Rodriguez, who apparently now is on the hunt for arbitrage if his dreams of a “sports stock market” come to fruition.
I knew happiness from the Wolves once, or I thought I did. The very first Wolves game I ever went to was when my mom snagged tickets during the first season they played at the Metrodome, a venue with a storied history of winning basketball. Do you know how cool it was to finally have an NBA team? Hell, we even were gonna draft that dude from Duke who won a Final Four in the same Metrodome!
Oh past Justin, you sweet, naive, googly-eyed fool. I buried that hope, somewhere in the same basement in which I entombed my love for the Wolves players who went on to get a NBA Finals Championship somewhere else. This has been the cost of being a Wolves fan, and the lesson of it. You learned to not trust your eyes and spit on hope of any kind. There was nothing to expect, after a while, but more of this.
But now I’m in the weird position of not just rooting for Towns or the kinetic frenzy that is Anthony Edwards’ still-evolving game, but dudes like Malik Beasley, D’Angelo Russell and…oh dear god, Patrick Beverley?
Look, I don’t get it either. All I know is a team that has never seemed to have consistency now has a dependable bench that helps them spin what would have been cataclysms in the past into wins. They are a real basketball team, and it has started to feel jarringly normal when they do the things that real basketball teams do. Naz Reid said it best when he told Star Tribune writer Chris Line, “Last year, we’d win and I’d feel like it was the NBA Finals,” Reid said. “This year, we win and it’s, ‘OK, we’re trying to get wins in a row, not just one win then drop two, one win then drop two.’ We’re trying to be consistent this year, and I feel like everybody is all in.”
On Wednesday night the Wolves were up by as much as 25, but with Towns sitting most of the third quarter because of foul trouble, the Lakers closed the gap. The Lakers never got closer than within four points before the Wolves pulled away, though, thanks in part to clutch threes from Beverley. This has been the pattern now—wins against teams they should beat, and holding on in tight matches against clubs like the Heat and the Warriors.
The tail end of the Wolves schedule is likely to be something of a run through the chainsaw factory; the next seven games are all against playoff bound teams, capped with a portentous match on April 1 against the dreaded Nuggets, the squad Minnesota is chasing for that secure playoff spot.
It should be fun. I will now pace through the apartment as I hum J.R. Rider’s “Funk in the Trunk” for the next two weeks.