Several months ago, my longtime friend Rocket and I made a friendly wager over which team would win more games this season: the Wolves or the Wild. It is no surprise that I took the Wolves; it is no surprise that Rocket took the Wild.
And the result was probably fairly predictable, too. Rocket has won this bet. The Wolves cannot win more than 41 games this season (they are currently 28-41 with 13 left). The Wild has already won 43 games, despite a recent slump. Mathematically, I’ve been eliminated.
Frankly, I’m kind of glad it’s over — mostly because Rocket would send texts with lewd .GIFs every time the magic number was reduced, and sometimes I’d be recording a Wolves or Wild game and would immediately know the outcome.
His prize, other than smug satisfaction, is a guest post detailing the origins of the bet. Bear with him — he has never had a deadline or a space limit, and he is paid by the word. Rocket, you have the floor.
They say that it rains on the just and the unjust alike. I’m not sure which one of those groups I belong to, but I do know that I’ve had a few raindrops fall down my cheeks over the years. And perhaps the most painful times in life are when an individual is forced to watch loved ones suffer. For example, on October 25, 2013 I was witness to the man who stood with me as best man on my wedding day have a very public and devastating break with reality. He has not recovered.
As longtime readers of RandBall may know, RandBall and I have known each other for almost 30 years. During that time I have seen him at his best and at his worst, and vice versa. We have lived through each others trials and tribulations, through the successes and the failures. There have been plenty of highs and lows in nearly 30 years, but there has never been anything like I what I saw on that late October day. What could possibly compare to watching your best friend lose his mind in front of the whole world?
I suppose some context is necessary. RandBall is, of course, a sports writer, and the Minnesota sports scene on that late October day was (as is typical) bleak. The Vikings were 1-5 and on their way to a five win season. One might even argue that, in the immediate wake of the infamous Josh Freeman Monday Night Football game that RandBall was especially vulnerable. The Twins were even worse, having just finished the third of what would be four straight 90-loss seasons (and now five of the last six). The Wolves and the Wild also offered plenty of opportunity for skepticism as they entered the early portions of their respective seasons.
Within this toxic environment RandBall attempted to discern the “least dysfunctional” men’s pro sports franchise in the Twin Cities. This, in and of itself, is not a problem, especially for a sports writer who needs to provide content and wants to provoke interesting discussion. In fact, such a conversation might be cathartic and beneficial for a suffering fan base. And it’s not really all that troubling that RandBall jumbled up the bottom of the list — he declared the Vikings the most dysfunctional because of, well, you know, Josh Freeman. One can concede some difference of opinion and idiosyncrasy for what were obviously the three most dysfunctional franchises.
The real trouble, and the moment that I began becoming afraid for my long time friend, was when he clearly and unequivocally misidentified the obvious and only choice for least dysfunctional franchise. Somehow, RandBall decided that the Wild were only the second least dysfunctional franchise in the Twin cities. Yes, the Wild. A team that had just finished second in its division and had lost in the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup champion. Somehow, these were the signs of trouble for this team. Somehow these facts led RandBall to believe that the local NHL squad was not very functional. His stated reasoning? The Wild didn’t score very much. A valid criticism in isolation, but within this context it was a chilling sign of the splintering of a brilliant mind.
Fear and dread still fill me to this day when I think about who RandBall declared the least dysfunctional franchise in the twin cities three-and-a-half years ago. With absolutely no regard for his reputation or that of his family, RandBall defiantly declared that the Wolves were the least dysfunctional franchise of them all.
Yes, the Wolves.
The Minnesota Timberwolves.
The ones that play in the Target Center. The team that, at that point, had missed the playoffs for nine straight years (and counting!). A team led (at the time) by a petulant “superstar” who is at best a third wheel on a contending team, a then third year point guard who couldn’t (and still can’t) shoot, and a coach on the final leg of his retirement tour. A team whose every move may have looked deceivingly sterling if only because they were finally no longer being made by David Kahn. Yes, RandBall was exceedingly confident about this collection of miscreants who had not made the playoffs in nearly a decade, whose roster was still largely composed by the world’s biggest Darko Milicic fan, and whose big prize in the draft was Shabazz Muhammad — a player they have been rumored to be trading for the past 22 years.
And what possible justification did RandBall have for anointing the non-playoff, Kahn-soaked Wolves to the lofty position of least dysfunctional franchise in the twin cities? They signed Kevin Martin.
After reading the offending, clearly erroneous post I called RandBall in a panic. I needed to know if he was all right. For surely he couldn’t have publicly declared that the Wolves were less dysfunctional than the Wild without something gone horribly wrong. Perhaps it was merely a typo or a matter of incorrect juxtaposition that could easily be corrected with a little editing (how I hoped, oh ever so how I hoped this was it!). Despite my feeble attempts to rationalize it as a simple mistake my mind kept drifting to much more dire alternatives. Maybe someone hacked his computer in a devious attempt to destroy his credibility and career. Maybe he had hit his head and someone had foolishly given him his laptop as he lay in a hospital bed.
As we talked, my worst fears came to pass. RandBall not only declared that his ranking was his true vision of the Minnesota sports scene, he doubled down and refused to listen to reason. He became increasingly adamant and agitated. He declared, as many a madman does, that he would be vindicated in the end. Finding no recourse to connect to the reasonable, intelligent man I once knew, I eventually hung up the phone and slowly began to come to grips with the fact that my best friend had gone insane.
In the years since I have reached out countless times. I’ve tried talking to him, I’ve tried interventions, I’ve directed him toward professional help. I’ve appealed to his reason and I’ve begged him to consider the harm that he has inflicted on others. Since that fateful post RandBall’s family has grown by two beautiful daughters and I have implored him over and over again to think of their future and the damage he is doing to them by refusing to accept reality. I have pointed out the facts. I have pointed out that the Wild have won more games in every season than the Wolves since his declaration (and every non-lockout shortened season since 03-04). I have repeated over and over that the Wild have made the playoffs for four straight years and are going to make them again, whereas the Wolves are likely to finalize their 13th straight playoff-less season shortly. Yet, despite all of this evidence RandBall continues to push the facts aside as if he were a presidential candidate and continues to stubbornly declare that, somehow, the Wolves are in better shape than the Wild.
The nadir of RandBall’s descent into madness occurred nearly three years after the original break from sanity. This last October RandBall presented me with a “friendly wager.” He claimed that Vegas thought the Wild and Wolves would finish with about the same number of wins and wanted to bet on which team would secure the most victories this season — he obviously chose the Wolves and I accepted the Wild. His nonchalant offer of the bet belied his true feelings: he wholeheartedly believed that this was finally the year that the Wolves would prove themselves better than the Wild and that vindication would be his. He decided in his own addled mind that the addition of a coach who burned out a handful of decent Bulls teams would make up for the fact that their now sixth year point guard still can’t shoot, that the small forward they are counting on to be a major superstar can only fill one column on the stat sheet, and that their pretty good big man is stuck in a league that has been trending away from needing dominant centers to win for several years. He was committed to the idea that this assemblage would finally make the leap over a consistent playoff team that had just hired a coach who wins his division every year.
I reluctantly took the bet, in the hopes that one more major example would finally show RandBall the errors of his ways. Inevitably and predictably, I have emerged victorious. I take no joy in this victory. It pains me to be so consistently correct in the face of my best friend’s insane ravings about a team that he overrates year after year after year. How I wish it were not so that I am so right and he is so wrong! For four straight years! I lament this detestable existence where RandBall can publicly shame himself time and time again like a pitiable circus freak while the rest of us contemptuously drink in the ice cold schadenfreude. It has been like watching seven bullet trains all collide into each other at the confluence of the world’s three largest dumpster fires. It has been sadder than watching a dying kitten sing this song.
It has become clear to me that RandBall will not listen to me. But I still hold out hope for my friend, and I believe that he might listen to all of us. Please email him. Or contact him on social media. Or just leave a comment in this post. Let him know that it’s OK to love a team, even if they are bad and have been for the vast majority of their existence. It’s perfectly acceptable to hope and wish that they get better and to stick with them through the tough times. But it’s not OK to write yearly posts claiming that this will be the year that they climb back into the playoffs as long as they catch each and every one of these nine to 14 breaks. It’s not OK to write a giant post declaring that they are finally improving after every three game winning streak. It’s not OK to pen multiple, “what if the Wolves had drafted/traded for/signed this guy?” flights of pointless fancy. It’s not OK to chain together three posts for every half-baked trade rumor involving whatever collection of spare parts the Wolves put on the market. And it’s not OK to publicly declare that they are better than the Wild, or will be any time soon, until there is actual, real, verifiable evidence that exists outside of RandBall’s head that this is the case
If we all band together maybe he will finally listen to us. Please, RandBall, admit that you are wrong and take the first step toward recovery.