Kevin Harlan, the voice of the Timberwolves from their inception through the late 1990s, now does NFL games for CBS as well as NBA games for TNT. He is slated to call Thursday's game between the Wolves and Thunder for TNT -- the last Wolves game he can recall announcing since Game 7 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals -- and in advance of it we chatted with Harlan about the past, present and future of the Wolves:
RB: What do you remember from those early years calling Wolves games?
KH: Different people, probably. The games, while they were new and exciting for the area, the fans were so into it. And it was so exciting to see the franchise get off the ground. I remember all the people I work with . We were given a clean slate and able to do and construct the kind of broadcast we wanted. I’ve always had enthusiasm, and I think that’s what attracted the organization to me. They wanted someone to sell the league. … They’d always say to develop some personality. With Tom [Hannemann], it was so easy. We got to be very good friends …. They enjoyed the laughing and kind of stuff we did. And when Kevin McHale got involved, that’s when all hell broke loose. It was me, Hanny and Kevin, and then Trent [Tucker] picked up when Kevin left off. When you look at the people we had on TV: Jesse Ventura, Jimmy Jam Harris. … Jim Dutcher … the Wolves really thought outside the box from a broadcast standpoint. There were many, many, many mornings when I would wake up and say, “What did we do? What did we say? I’m going to lose my job. What will I tell my wife?' We’d make up fictional characters, dogs unearthing tapes of old Minneapolis Lakers games, all kinds of stuff. But then they got Garnett and they got good … and it became a serious business. We had fun, but it was a different kind of fun."
RB: It's pretty clear this is the best team they’ve had since KG. Your thoughts?
KH: I see all the earmarks -- it's the best combination of what it was like those first couple years with the freshness and newness – wonderful fan involvement – and the Garnett coming of age years. It’s a nice mix of those two events. Kevin Love is obviously one of top 10 players in the world. Ricky Rubio coming back has lit the fuse to what is a fun, dynamic, ascending team. They are an ascending club. I’ve just seen bits and pieces. I can’t wait to get up there and see the arena. Lot of familiar faces. I’m as curious to see what this team has come up with. … They took their shots over some of the picks, but sure enough it looks like they knew what they were doing.
RB: How do you define the Rubio factor?
KH: He represents a unique kind of player who has a flair but it seems to me – and I’ve not met the kid – what I hear and read is that he is a good teammate and the guys like playing with him … and he has that charisma. There is an overall athleticism for guys who can dunk, and the wonderful smooth shooting style like Durant, but there aren’t many guys like this guy. There are guys that try, but maybe don’t have that DNA to pull it off – to make it so routine “for him.” He doesn’t even blink while the rest of us are saying 'Oh my goodness did you see that pass?' That’s what makes it even more compelling. It’s like he’s been designed to do this. If it seemed like he was doing it for showboating … but this is what he is and what he has been.
You're doing the Thursday game with Reggie Miller and Chris Webber -- do you remember Webber's broadcast showdown with David Kahn a couple years back? The Darko "Manna from Heaven
KH: I had forgotten about that! (Laughing) … I am going to be all over [Webber] about that. ... Reggie is a basketball junkie, so he has been following every step they’re taking. The unique perspective to me is Webber, and this will be one of the big focuses. …. The sense I get from scouts around the league is there is the flair with the Wolves that those Webber-Divac teams from early 2000s had. What I remember so clearly is the commish coming out and saying “that is what we want the NBA to be.” Flying up the court, circus passes, team play, all those things.
RB: Much is being made about last year's double OT Wolves/Thunder game. There is a danger that this one might not live up to the hype, but it seems on paper to be a pretty fun one, yes?
KH: Oh yeah. It’s not like they’re playing San Antonio. … They’re playing a team of similar age, still with a chip on their shoulder, lot to prove. They’re still very much in the prove mode. The trade changed them a little, certainly, and they’re off to this great start. I’m really excited to get up and see that.