The Timberwolves were opening their 30th season on Friday night at Target Center against Cleveland and emcee Jon Barry was attempting to get the crowd in a frantic state. You had the impression Jon was under instructions to get loud as possible in an attempt to distract a segment of the customers that came with this mission:
To boo Jimmy Butler, the star player who had started stirring up things with a report in early July of his unhappiness with teammates and then created chaos with a trade demand in mid-September.
Also: To boo Tom Thibodeau, coach and basketball boss, and deemed by many to be responsible for the chaos – plus, not playing Tyus Jones enough.
Mr. Barry’s rowdy presentation did not serve its purpose. Butler was booed lustily (that’s the word, right?) when introduced as the first starter, and Thibodeau was given a louder, shorter boo when introduced last as the coach.
Butler was booed every time he touched the ball in the first couple of minutes. When he made a steal and then fed Taj Gibson for a dunk, lip readers could detect Butler saying, “Boo this.’’
By the middle of the second period, Butler was making plays on both ends, and when he dunked to make it 53-41 for the Wolves, the crowd erupted in a cheers – with a nary a boo to be detected.
Before the night was over, Butler was 10 for 12 from the field, 12 for 12 and free throws, and had scored 33 points in the Wolves’ 131-123 victory. And was actually an audible “MVP’’ chant on a few occasions after a big play from Butler.
The expectation is that Butler soon will have his trade request fulfilled, but then again there was evidence on Friday as to what can happen to conventional wisdom in sports, particularly in the NBA.
The Timberwolves traded Kevin Love to Cleveland on Aug. 23, 2014, receiving rookie Andrew Wiggins, draft bust Anthony Bennett and veteran Thaddeus Young.
LeBron James had returned to Cleveland a few weeks earlier and Love would be joining him in a quest for an NBA title. There was one thing we suspected strongly:
Love would hang with LeBron for a time, but his ultimate goal was to wind up in a big market – preferably Los Angeles, where he had played one season at UCLA.
There’s no estimate on the number of times that wisdom was passed along in the media. And now, entering his fifth season since leaving Minnesota, Love has a championship ring from 2016, he’s still in Cleveland and LeBron has taken his legend to Los Angeles and the Lakers.
Once LeBron made his quick decision to sign with the Lakers in July, Love stated his fondness for Cleveland, and owner Dan Gilbert quickly delivered a four-year, $120 million contract.
It’s the NBA. You never know.
Butler could be traded within a week. And someone else could be moved and Butler could be here four years from now. All wisdom is suspect in the NBA, the most unconventional league in American sports.
The early arrivers for Friday’s home opener included a gentleman named Anthony T., proudly wearing a Jimmy Butler No. 23 jersey.
Reporter: “You’re still a Jimmy fan?’’ Anthony: “Of course. He’s their best player.’’
Reporter: “What about the chaos surrounding him?’’ Anthony: “I like it. He’s bringing some excitement. There’s attention back on the team.’’
Reporter: “Is it the attention a team wants?’’ Anthony: “He took us to the playoffs last season. You can trade him, or you can make the playoffs again and let him walk? That would be OK, too.’’
Reporter: “Where are you on coach Tom Thibodeau?’’ Anthony: “Thibs can walk.’’
Reporter: “You’re a fan and Thib’s a Jimmy fan. What’s the problem?’’ Anthony: “He wastes his bench. He did that all last season, and he’s never going to change.’’
Laurie Waterman from Chisago City was sitting in the first row behind the courtside seats. She was wearing a T-shirt with Butler’s No. 23.
Reporter: “You’re showing your support for Jimmy.’’ Laurie: “I had a tough time deciding. I bought this shirt at a Lynx game this summer, before all the controversy hit. It was either this or an older, faded T-shirt. I took a chance on this one.’’
Waterman has shared Wolves season tickets for 17 years. The marketing department selects a few season ticketholders to upgrade seats and introduce to the crowd.
Reporter: “Do you fear being booed because of your T-shirt choice?’’ Laurie: “It will be OK. I hope.’’
Turned out better than OK. After Butler’s performance in the home opener, Laurie presumably was getting compliments on her choice of T-shirts.