Don’t overreact to the Timberwolves’ loss at Golden State on Wednesday night. One predictable loss to a historically great team on the road during the course of an 82-game season should not distract you, or the Wolves, from this new, new reality:
There is a hole in the local sports landscape the size of Karl-Anthony Towns’ wingspan. Two local basketball teams are primed to take advantage.
The Vikings are 6-2 and the Super Bowl is coming to U.S. Bank Stadium, but you have to develop a powerful case of myopia to ignore the league’s escalating problems.
Revelations about the prevalence and effects of CTE on the brains of football players constitute a crisis at all levels of the game. Injuries have decimated rosters and robbed the league of star power and high-quality teams. The quality of play may not be at a historic low, but the general mediocrity of the product is broadcast more widely than ever by a league insistent on saturating an increasingly apathetic market.
Now the commissioner, Roger Goodell, is at war with his most powerful owner, Jerry Jones, and who without a financial interest in the league would want to take either side?
Gophers football may become a powerhouse under P.J. Fleck someday, but that day is not today. If he required two years to win at Western Michigan and four to build an outstanding team there, it’s reasonable to expect his learning curve to take longer in the Big Ten, at his first power-conference job.
Since Mike Yeo came to town with the St. Louis Blues on March 7, the Wild is 14-21-4. Die-hard hockey fans aren’t going to abandon the local NHL team to buy Wolves season tickets, but casual fans have to wonder whether to invest time or money in a Wild franchise that looks like it missed its window and slammed into a wall.
Gophers hockey is in fine shape, and Casey Mittelstadt provides a reason to watch, but the program simply isn’t as compelling in the Big Ten as it was in the WCHA, and the fan base believes it deserves a national title even though the Gophers haven’t won one since 2003.
The Twins proved compelling throughout the 2017 season, but the front office remains unproven and the games … last … forever. The modern complaint about baseball is that the games finish too late for youngsters to see the last pitch. The bigger problem might be that older, traditional fans see no reason to continue to watch a game that reaches the sixth inning at 10 p.m.
The Lynx are the best example of a well-run, inspirational team on the local sports scene, but even four titles in seven years hasn’t prompted a frenzy of ticket-buying. There is nothing fair about sports. Deserving attention is not the same thing as receiving attention.
The Timberwolves and Gophers basketball have an opportunity to seize this market, to activate basketball fans who have lain dormant, waiting for a reason to drive into Minneapolis on a cold night.
The Wolves are not only talented and promising, they’re likeable. This team should be good enough to remind local sports fans that there is nothing quite like the heat and sweet claustrophobia of a packed NBA arena during a big game, when the athletes look too big and fast to be contained by a 94-foot court.
The Gophers offer all a local basketball fan could ask — veteran toughness, a local kid on his way to the NBA and, in Isaiah Washington, one of the most exciting recruits in program history.
As the Lynx has reminded us repeatedly, basketball can be a beautiful and magnetic event built for the modern attention span. The games last 2½ hours, the athletic ability of the players is spectacular and the sport is built for highlights.
The Wolves and Gophers have an opening. Now all they have to do is win.