Twenty years of Timberwolves: Highs, lows, and grisly details

A retrospective of Minnesota's most heartbreaking franchise

But the dude could fly back in the day.

The Wolves' unofficial national coming-out party was the '94 All-Star Weekend, Rider's rookie season. During the dunk contest, the flamboyant two-guard electrified the hometown Target Center crowd with what he dubbed "the East Bay Funk Dunk." The EBFD was achieved by leaping off one foot, taking the ball between the legs mid-flight, and slamming it home.

It's hard to appreciate just how preposterous and mind-boggling the infamous slam was in its day, what with mutants like Vince Carter and Dwight Howard having spoiled us since.

Booster/Governor (at the time) Jesse Ventura, April 28, 1990
NBAE/Getty Images
Booster/Governor (at the time) Jesse Ventura, April 28, 1990
Malik Sealy
NBAE/Getty Images
Malik Sealy

"At that time, the dunk contest was still relatively new, so a lot of the dunks hadn't already been done," remembers Kevin Hansen, the Wolves' official scorer and stats crewmember. "It was something no one had seen before."

After he threw it through the net, the crowd went apeshit. Amid the waving 10's, Charles Barkley exclaimed to the television audience, "Oh my God! That might be the best dunk I've ever seen!"

The following September, Rider was convicted of fifth-degree assault after kicking the manager of a sports bar. By the summer of '96, the Wolves had had enough and sent Rider packing for Portland. Mere hours after the deal, he was arrested for pot possession. Also on his person: an illegal cell phone programmed to charge on someone else's tab.

Meanwhile, the lowly Wolves were quickly becoming the NBA's most reliable punch line: "Why doesn't Iowa have an NBA team? Because then Minnesota would want one."

But help was on the way.

The (New) Kid

During the lead-up to the 1995 draft, the Wolves' front office knew who they'd take with the fifth pick, if available (and that was a big if): an impossibly lanky 19-year-old—all of 6'11" and, who knows, maybe still growing—named Kevin Garnett. At that point, no highschooler had made the jump straight to the NBA since Moses Malone 21 years earlier. But VP of basketball operations Kevin McHale couldn't help but salivate.

"He was just a phenomenal athlete with phenomenal energy and phenomenal size," he says. "Just the complete package."

Fortunately for the Wolves, four teams would pass on the youngster, deeming him too risky a pick. Wearing a gray three-piece, "the Kid," as he'd come to be known, strolled up to the podium to greet a comparatively troll-like David Stern.

Few athletes in any sport in any market have been as indelibly connected with his franchise as Garnett would come to be with Minnesota. From the mid-'90s until last season, he was the face of the organization to a degree that made the terms "T-Wolves" and "KG" inevitable matches on a word-association test. Over the course of 12 seasons, Wolves fans watched the Kid blossom into the Man.

"I remember a particular preseason open-to-the-public practice/scrimmage," says Rod Johnson, the Wolves' public-address announcer of 13 years. "An organization had about 12 severely handicapped kids in wheelchairs along the sidelines. Kevin was the first guy to come out for shoot-around, and when he saw them there, he went over and gave every one of them a hug. There was no one else there, no cameras or reporters. I was really struck by that."

Garnett would go on to break nearly every franchise individual record on the books, including most career points, most career assists, most career steals, most career blocks, and most career on-air expletives (unofficial).

"When Kevin got excited, there'd typically come words that weren't appropriate for family shows," chuckles broadcaster Tom Hanneman. "Most times after he scored a bucket, I could hear him in my headset."

Garnett racked up a total of 7,575 field goals (motherfucker!) with the Wolves.

Popping the Playoff Cherry

One year after selecting KG, the Wolves once again had the fifth pick. In a move that is hotly debated (read: regretted) to this day, they went with Ray Allen out of UConn, then immediately swapped him and a future first-round pick for Stephon Marbury, whom Milwaukee had selected one pick earlier. Marbury and Garnett had been friends since their AAU/All-American days, and the theory was that their off-court amity would translate into on-court chemistry.

With All Star-caliber forward Tom Gugliotta thrown in the mix, Minnesota suddenly boasted one of the more formidable trios in the league. The revamped Wolves were no longer hapless pushovers. During the trio's first season together, the new-look Wolves—new uniforms and a sleeker logo reflected the change in personnel—garnered 14 more wins than they had the previous season, finishing 40–42. While just shy of being the organization's first winning season, it was good enough to secure a playoff berth, the first in franchise history.

The best-of-five first-round series saw the six-seeded Wolves take on the three-seeded Rockets, who handily beat the young squad in the first two games in Houston.

One of the more memorable moments came before Game 3, the Target Center's first playoff game. Governor Jesse Ventura rappelled down from the cheap seats and landed in front of Houston's bench.

"You want a piece of this, Barkley?" growled Ventura, his girth bulging within his personalized T-Wolves jersey. "This is our house!"

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