I was born 26 days before the Timberwolves' first franchise game on Nov. 3, 1989. I grew up far too emotionally attached to the team -- my father used to scold me for crying after midseason losses to the Toronto Raptors. Kevin Garnett was my first superhero, and my own pre-shot routine at the free-throw line remains a carbon copy of his.
Unlike the frugal "Do it the right way" Twins and the ever-cursed Vikings whom I also grew up idolizing, the Timberwolves never fully coalesced around a team attitude or predictable trends in management and coaching. Instead, they were defined by one player.
Garnett was the high school sweetheart who had to move away to pursue the life you couldn't provide, and then got married to someone you couldn't hate (in Garnett's case, the Boston Celtics), because you could feel their happiness vicariously. Until this season, the Wolves and their fans were defined by the one that got away, continually disappointed by the line of suitors that couldn't replace him, and stuck in a world of fading memories and YouTube nostalgia.
Now that I'm older and better attuned to the soul-draining angst of the Minnesota sports fan, the process of falling in love with the new hardwood darlings of the Twin Cities has featured the exciting, the surprising and the hauntingly familiar. Just like with Garnett and Stephon Marbury in the 1996-97 season, we have an All-Star forward named Kevin (Love), a dazzling rookie point guard (Ricky Rubio) and a long-awaited positive outlook for a team that failed to reach 100 wins in the previous four years combined. Those Wolves made their first playoffs that year. Those Wolves also got bounced out of the first round seven times in a row before management finally made the moves to give us one fleeting shot at a title in 2004 -- ultimately losing to the Lakers in six in that year's Western Conference finals.
The team finally has a new identity, and that painful era has thankfully passed into Minnesota sports lore. I'm howling for the Wolves with the same fervor I did as a child, and love seeing us on the right side of highlight reels. Still, I know in the back of my head that at some point, another cycle of playoff embarrassments and roster selloffs will put me back into that post-KG coma.
Unlike the days of my naive youth, I can no longer cheer blindly and trust that my fairy-tale team will pull it out for me. I can drink beer now, and I don't want to be crying in it again while watching another team win a title with players who matured on our sidelines. The air smells of opportunity, and I hope this time our organization is as hungry for a title as I am.
- On the road: 9:30 p.m. Tue. at Los Angeles Clippers; 9:30 p.m. Wed. at Los Angeles Lakers.; 8 p.m. next Thu. at Phoenix. Next home games: 7 p.m. March 5 vs. Clippers; 7 p.m. March 7 vs. Portland; 7 p.m. March 9 vs. Lakers at Target Center.
- TV: FSN
- Tickets/info: www.nba.com/timberwolves