Timberwolves games have gone from drab to fab, thanks in part to a fan contingent called Los Locos.
Ryan Hanson was running late, and showing up without being in costume for Superhero & Celebrity Night in Target Center's Los Locos section simply would not do. Semi-desperate measures were in order: "I was frantically putting duct tape on my tighty-whities on the light rail," he said.
Even after Hanson had joined Wonder Woman, Slash, Garth from "Wayne's World" and an uncanny Justin Bieber lookalike in Section 121, he still was applying shiny duct tape to his Max Deal outfit. Soon enough, he and his two dozen cohorts were all dressed up and ready to chant, cheer and bang their Whacker Clappers, never leaving their feet from tipoff to final horn.
Turns out that rookie sensation Ricky Rubio, superstar Kevin Love and a vastly improved Timberwolves team aren't the only ones bringing more electricity and enthusiasm to an arena that has been moribund for several years now. Los Locos, a new particularly rabid fan group, brings a different look but consistent gusto to every home game.
"What they have done is brought attention to 'Hey, it's OK to stand up, it's OK to cheer the whole game,'" said Jeff Munneke, the team's vice president of fan experience. "They often start a cheer, and it goes to the back end and then around the arena. They keep the energy coming whether we're down 10 or up 10. It's all positive energy."
Indeed, on this night, as an injury-ravaged Wolves squad had a rather tepid performance against Houston, Los Locos never lost their mojo. "We view ourselves as a catalyst," Hanson said. "It was dead in here the last few years. I was a spectator. Now I'm a fan.
"When I'm leaving the game, I keep hearing people from different parts of the arena saying 'Who are those people?'"
Initiated by the fans
"Those people" are a spirited entourage started by Mark Haugen of Minneapolis. Last summer, after the Rubio signing signaled a possible end to the team's dismal travails, he and Munneke kept discussing the concept of a "super fans" section for the team, which no other National Basketball Association franchise had.
A few other teams have fan sections devoted to one player, but Haugen wanted the fan fervor to focus on the entire team, So he gathered a "dyed-in-the-wool" core of more than a dozen folks who fit his self-styled acronym PIE (Person of Irrational Exuberance). The team supplied them with seats about 20 rows up behind the basket, near what everyone hoped would be kindred spirits.
"I just had the idea that we needed a section with crazy fans like soccer games have," Haugen said. "They stand the whole games and wave flags. Colleges have that kind of enthusiasm. So the idea was to be near the College Night section to create a little critical mass."
Early on, some other fans assumed they were a fan club for Spanish import Rubio because of the frequent "olé, olé" chants. Los Locos donned sombreros for one game, prompting a small kerfuffle, from a smiling Rubio ("[I am] from Spain, you know?") to being dubbed "Sombridiots" on the Timberwolves fan blog Canis Hoopus.
"We weren't trying to say Rubio was Mexican. We know where he's from," Haugen said. "We were just trying to get people to pay attention to us."
Mission accomplished, with themes that included surgeons' outfits (tied to the KISS song "Calling Dr. Love"), Wig Wednesday, pirates' garb for the Lakers (L.A. hijacked the Minneapolis Lakers franchise in 1960) and even Sid Hartman Night (dressing in Sid's signature suit). This week will bring All White Saturday Night, and Feb. 7 will be Toga Tuesday because the opponent is the Sacramento Kings and "we don't need a ruler to tell us what to wear," Haugen said.
Nor does ringleader Haugen dictate that choice. "We have an e-mail chat group and throw ideas out there and see what kind of feedback we get," he said. Toga Tuesday, by the way, will afford him a second chance to channel the late John Belushi: On Superhero/Celebrity Night, Haugen dressed as a Blues Brother.
Creating a culture
The superstar/celebrity theme actually originated with a newbie to the group, Joanne Taylor of Rogers. "I had this [Wonder Woman] costume made when I turned 40. I needed an incentive to lose weight," said Rogers, who still fits into the outfit at 43 and was attending her second Wolves game ever. "I plan on being here a lot more, as long as I can dress up and act crazy."
Taylor is one of several women in the contingent. Hanson's wife, Raquel, came as a Kardashian, with raven hair and a black dress showcasing the physical characteristic for which the sisters are best known.
Cedar Schimke of Minneapolis had the Justin Bieber hood/ball cap/bangs look nailed. As for the voice, "I sang earlier and people told me to stop. But hey, 'Never Say Never,'" she said at halftime. "I think Ricky Rubio is the Justin Bieber of the NBA."
A couple of seats away, John Castillo, who invented the hard-foam Whacker Clappers that the group uses, had bulked up with some padding beneath his SuperClapper uniform. He spent the entire game howling and whacking away -- and smiling ear to ear, even as the game slipped away from the home side.
"We make sure no matter what, we have fun," Haugen said. "A month of games creates a culture."
Growing that culture is a goal, but on Los Locos' terms.
"We're recruiting people," said Scott "Skolt" Asplund, his face painted in Timberwolves colors. "It's a grass-roots project, but [any new additions] will need to growl and howl."
Hanson added: "I don't think everybody's got to wear chrome duct tape underwear, but they can partake somehow."