The Year That Was S'posed To Be
Let me tell you a little story, about a boy eleven years old, who gets a job working for a third-year expansion NBA team, The Minnesota Timberwolves. Over the next five years, the boy will rub elbows with Thurl “Big T” Bailey, Felton “Big Chief” Spencer, Mike “The Big Brown Bear” Brown, and James “Hollywood” Robinson. The boy meets the likes of future World Champions Scott Brooks and Luc Longley, future Jermaine O’Neal-head-shielder, Chuck Person, and future New Zealand olympian/male-nude-model (I kid you not), Shane Heal. Christian Laettner throws a tray of cups of water on him during a time out. Sean Rooks buys him a Nike warm-up suit. Stacey King curses at him for no apparent reason. Stephon Marbury asks him to lysol his car when his dad is in town and blunts have clearly been smoked. In the middle of rising star Kevin “Da Kid” Garnett’s second season, the boy decides he prefers to spend his Saturday nights hanging out with girls than picking up Tom Gugliotta’s socks. He quits.
Post-employment, the boy observes discord and misfortune amongst his team. Marbury gets traded. Malik Sealy is killed in a car accident. The boy goes off to college as team acquires a carousel of futile supporting cast members to Garnett, such as Joe Smith, Terrell Brandon, Dean Garrett, Rasho Nesterovic, Anthony Peeler, and Laphonso Ellis. Wally Sczcerbiak tags along for the ride, leading the league in three successive seasons in OLAFYSPGDT (open-looks-accumulated-from-your-star-player-getting-double-teamed). The first round playoff exits pile up. Garnett is publicly berated as a choker, a guy who shys away from contact, a poor leader, and a waste of talent.
Flash forward to 2003-2004. The boy, now a man, sees change. With the addition of Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Trenton Hassell, and Fred Hoiberg, the Wolves reach new heights. They claim the first seed in the Western Conference. Garnett plays to an MVP level. In Cassell, the Wolves find the first legit number-2 option they’ve ever had during the Garnett era, and the team has a whole new swagger. Garnett leads the league in technical fouls. Sprewell racks up a $30,000 fine for taunting his former owner in the midst of a 32-point-Madison-Square-Garden-scoring-beatdown. Cassell, singlehandedly beating the Sacramento Kings in second game of their playoff series, pantomimes grasping on two gigantic testes, in what comes to be known as “Doing the Sam Cassell.” Garnett promises “Uzis and AKs” for Game 7 of the Sac series. He brings them. And at the apex of a hard-fought Western Conference Finals battle with the Lakers, Gary “Shaq of the MAC” Trent utters the most audacious and underrated quote in NBA history. Referring to a shoving match between The Diesel and other Wolves, Trent remarks:
“Be scared for what? For what? Be afraid of him? Everybody pumps blood and everybody can die.”
The Wolves, minus a gimpy Sam Cassell, lose to the Lakers in 6. But Wolves fans rejoice. Next year is our year, our protagonist seethes…
Here we are now in February, 2005, watching a team who has lost its way. The Wolves this season have reached the point of being “unfixable,” but more disappointingly, “unwatchable.” As long as Garnett is drawing triple-teams, the Wolves lack a player who is incapable of attaining “sheer star power” status on the League Pass scale. The Wolves can’t run a fast break, as they are neither “fast,” nor do they “break” to the basket. Jumpshots fly. Families remain unfed. Injuries pile up. The MVP, like the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles, is challenged by “every pissin' prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun” (the short list of these ‘punks’ includes Matt Bonner, Sasha Vujacic, Darius Songaila, Josh Howard, and Steven Hunter). Flip Saunders, in experimenting with John Thomas/Mark Madsen/Eddie Griffin at both the 4 AND 5 spots, and occasionally sticking Wally Z at the 4, invents the 16-man-rotation. Playing time is unevenly distributed. 5-game-win streaks appear fleetingly, and 3-game-losing streaks pile up. All the protagonist and his Wolves-watching mates can do is flock to message boards, throwing around names like Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Darius Miles, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, manufacturing trades, and “shouting” in capslock, “IT WORKS ON REALGM.COM.” Some have lost hope altogether and have turned to nbadraft.net (“Rudy Fernandez is supposed to be the Spanish Ron Artest!”). What is clear is that these are dark days in Minnesota. I swear on Kirby Puckett’s wonky eyeball that we have never seen a team with so much promise collapse so quickly. The ghost of Bill Musselman laughs. Luc Longley and Phil Jackson swim laps in the Indian Ocean. And somewhere, deep inside of me, an eleven-year-old boy weeps.