Monday night, Josh Okogie levitated. He had just completed a 1-on-4 fast break with a wrist-bending dunk, and as he held on to the rim to keep from flying into Target Center’s expensive seats, Okogie found equipoise, suspending horizontally about 9 feet above the hardwood.
Karl-Anthony Towns screamed. Bench players danced. Andrew Wiggins awoke. The arena hummed.
For a franchise locked in a perpetual battle with inertia, Okogie is, to quote one of this century’s greatest thinkers, manna from heaven. In one energetic stretch Monday, he turned a steal into that gravity-taunting dunk, blocked a shot, started a break and fed Gorgui Dieng for a dunk, dunked a contested alley-oop and produced a steal that led to a Towns dunk.
When he left the court, the Wolves led by 35 and he received a standing ovation. In 28 minutes of playing time, he was a plus-33.
Already a fan favorite because of his hustle, Okogie is becoming something more. He is becoming a Minnesota sports cult hero.
“He’s nonstop,” Tyus Jones said, invoking Okogie’s locker room nickname. “It could be on the plane, at 2 in the morning, it could be at the shootaround, walk-through, whatever. That’s how he’s going to be. As soon as he walks in the gym he’s dunking, jumping all over the place. His energy is unbelievable, and it’s definitely contagious.”
We’ve celebrated players like Okogie before, but this is a more exclusive club than you’d think. The requirements are specific and exclusionary, including this:
When they enter the game, everyone smiles.
To be a Minnesota sports cult figure (MSCF), you cannot be a star. Kirby Puckett was an MSCF until he started hitting home runs. Then he was everyone’s hero. MSCFs do not earn national fame.
Nor do they earn money. Once you’ve signed a lucrative deal, you are no longer a subject of fondness — you are a receptacle of expectations. This eliminates the likes of Joe Mauer and Matt Birk.
MSCFs must be good enough to earn playing time, but not so good that their failures disappoint.
It helps if one of their names ends in “-oooo.” Lewwwwww Ford and Booooof Bonser would not have been as popular had they been named Bill.
Perhaps most important, they must be likable and quotable without being self-centered.
In a Twitter survey Tuesday, fans offered dozens of suggestions that didn’t quite fit the profile.
Al Newman? He contributed too much to two World Series champions to qualify as a cult figure.
Matthew LeCroy? Drafted too high. You can’t back into cult status by underperforming.
Jim Kleinsasser? Too intimidating.
Gump Worsley? Too vital to his team.
Here, then, is a less-than-definitive list of players who might have blazed a trail for Okogie:
• Gophers victory cigar Hosea Crittenden: The Barn would rock as fans chanted his name, and explode in applause when he entered, usually for a few possessions at the end of the game.
• Lew Ford: A long shot to play professional baseball, Ford filled in for Torii Hunter in 2004 while spawning a ridiculously long list of stories about his malaprops and missteps, some of which were even true.
• Bob Lurtsema: A lovable guy who played on great teams and called himself “Benchwarmer Bob.”
• Twins outfielder Bombo Rivera: Bombo being Bombo would have been a meme had they existed then.
• Mike Morris: He played football without really playing football, and he knew how to play the MSCF game — with self-deprecation and humor.
• Mark Madsen: The Wolves’ version of Morris. Which was funnier, his dancing or three-point shooting?
• Mike Redmond: The Twins catcher became more famous for his Naked Walk and Naked Pull-ups than his play, but he was a beloved figure and a leader in the clubhouse.
• Willians Astudillo: Who doesn’t love this guy?
Okogie may qualify for this prestigious category for only so long. He could become a starter, maybe even a standout, which would disqualify him from MSCF eligibility.
For now, we should enjoy every moment Okogie spends on the court. He’s Hosea with game, Madsen with talent, Ford without iron burns on his shirt.