Take the 18 bus down Nicollet Avenue, wander your way through downtown, climb the escalator into Target Center, and bend your ear past the 120 or so decibels of pumped in crowd noise and you can hear it again, the joyous collective exaltation.

On Thursday night, as the Timberwolves faced the Warriors in Minneapolis, it came at various moments.

It sounded like an anticipated exhale after Steph Curry — legs never stopping, like a mouse in a maze — caught a pass and rose for three as the 1,600 fans in the stadium held their breath, fully knowing that the ball would land in the net.

It sounded like the 'how did he do that?' applause for a magician after Ricky Rubio drove to the left elbow, somehow noticed D'Angelo Russell slip through the lane and tossed him a gentle alley-oop for a layup.

And it sounded like raw energy when Karl-Anthony Towns stepped left at the top of the key, crossed right and extended his arms out over Andrew Wiggins for an and-one dunk.

The sound of live sports, of people experiencing the world together, has been sorely missed. The crowd looked minuscule strolling into the gigantic, wide open arena 60 minutes before tip-off, when Curry was in the middle of his pregame shooting routine.

That routine is so unique — like a solo game of H-O-R-S-E extended to 1,000 letters — that fans used to crowd into Warriors games hours early just to watch it.

On Thursday, so many of the fans at Target Center were little kids in Curry jerseys, and it was a wonderful reminder of his one-of-a-kind draw. He is a lithe, inexhaustible super hero who launches shots so high that you can contemplate what it means to be alive during the course of the arc.

Or, if you're a little kid, you can just have a lot of fun watching him shoot.

Fun is the simplest way to describe the atmosphere inside Target Center. There is something almost quaint about watching a few of the greatest basketball players in the world with such a small crowd.

It's like going to a Saturday afternoon eighth grade tournament, only, you know, with Towns out there stretching his limbs like a seven-foot tall arachnid and Draymond Green bounding about like a mountain goat and occasionally screaming at his head coach Steve Kerr.

Even the previously bothersome felt lovely.

Take for instance the jumbotron, something that I typically loathe as a distraction mechanism for children during your standard NBA game instead felt like a reminder of our collective humanity.

Which makes sense if you haven't been in a shared public space for say 13 months due to a global pandemic.

The Wolves hype man worked the audience with gentle ribbing, and when I say worked the audience, I mean every single member of the audience.

And as the camera panned, it was a realization of the little details you used to take for granted. Two friends raising beers with masks on. Teenage friends beating each other like they were fake bongos. A boy with yellow and green hair not wanting to be on camera. And a dad not caring in the least as he embarrassed the entire family with his dance moves.

Also if you go to a Timberwolves game there is now a 100 percent certainty you will be on the jumbotron, so if that is a goal, it is attainable.

There is no question that attending a Timberwolves game felt enjoyable, safe and socially distanced. It felt like a wonderful step in the right direction for trying to get back to some kind of normal, if you just ignored every single thing going on outside of the game in downtown Minneapolis.

Some people are fans of the Wolves, some are fans of the Warriors. I am a fan of Minneapolis. I have lived here my entire adult life. Wrestled with myself here. Found joy and sorrow here. And spent every single day working downtown.

It is my home.

It is a home I have come to better understand in the past year through its reckoning. I have had to reconsider my notions over what this town truly is and who I am in it. But it is one thing, a righteous thing, for a town and its citizens to wrestle with the hubris and disenfranchisement of their reality and it is another thing for a home to be abandoned.

And make no mistake, downtown Minneapolis feels abandoned.

At 4 p.m. the streets anywhere off of the bus routes of Nicollet Mall were like an empty movie set. It felt like you could stage a production of West Side Story on Hennepin Avenue outside Mayo Clinic Square and not even need to set up barricades.

The crowd at Glueks on 1st Avenue and 6th Street was small but amicable and sharing in the lazy feel of the afternoon while the pregame for the NFL Draft and a replay of the Wolves win over Houston played on the televisions.

Owner Dave Holcomb said that crowds before and after Twins games have been solid. Wolves games less so. It was the announcement that Target Field would allow 10,000 fans per game which brought Glueks to open after over a year of being closed.

And it's understandable why the two teams create different realities for downtown bars and restaurants. There is a world of difference between 10,000 fans and 1,600.

But even I didn't fully comprehend it.

After watching warmups, I stepped back outside about 30 minutes before tipoff thinking, well, 1,600 people are coming there must be some activity around the arena.

There was absolutely nothing.

No stream of fans down 7th Street past First Avenue. No one sitting outside at O'Donovans on a gorgeous evening.

I did manage to spot a few people on the rooftop bar at Seven, about 100 feet above the ground.

So while people, including me, celebrated the return of fans to arenas and stadiums at the start of the month, this was a sobering reminder that sports are not going to save this city.

Holcomb mentioned that it was difficult to hear recently that Target wouldn't be bringing back 3,500 of the corporations 8,500 downtown employees who work at City Center.

And along with that, several other major downtown companies, including U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, have return dates for employees to come downtown in September.

Wherever the nearly 2 million Minnesotans who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are, I can tell you that they are not in downtown Minneapolis.

Read any Star Tribune story dealing with the realities of downtown right now and you will inevitably get droves of comments about people who wouldn't come to the city over fear for their safety.

I can promise those readers, you need not fear. There is no one here.

After attending my first sporting event since the world shutdown last March, my happiness over the joy that was felt inside Target Center was tempered by the reality that normality still feels a million miles away.

And I couldn't help but think that it is time for the people of this state to stop worrying about what might happen to them if they go to downtown Minneapolis, and start worrying about what will happen to downtown Minneapolis if they don't.