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Mooning at the Howl

James O'Brien

The request from the new-look Timberwolves (10 new players this year) to their fans (same old losers) early this season has been: Be patient.

The answer from this former Timberwolves season-ticket holder is: You've got a lot of balls. In case you haven't been paying attention to us, patient is exactly what we have been. For 15 years. Now we are not. Now we are insanely, intensely, irrationally impatient.

We bought our season tickets in 1988. The following year, we watched Magic and Michael and Larry and Tony Campbell and Sam Mitchell and Ty Corbin from center court at the Metrodome, 20 rows up for 20 bucks. Now comparable tickets at the Target Center cost four times that, which we can't afford, and now the NBA hypes millionaire teenagers who haven't won or done anything other than slowly make us feel like suckers for forking over our entertainment dollars to them.

We realize we are no longer the Target target market. We are older and wiser and crankier. We have seen too many blimps and bimbos, too much bad basketball. We are not the super-fan coach guy on the sidelines with the rolled-up program and the lobotomy, or "passionate Wolves fan Jonny Voss," who has his own super-fan gig with the Wolves' website. We choose to believe that they, not us, are the people Kevin Garnett was referring to last year when he said he doesn't want any "fake people" at the Target Center, for we are far from fake. We are so real it hurts. We are wounded. We are damaged from actually paying attention. We have committed the sin of caring too much. We have been through the wringer.

We are basketball fans. We are not turned on by contract extensions, press conferences, giveaways, new scoreboards, luxury suites, half-time entertainment, Grammy-nominated singers singing the national anthem, or anything at all having to do with Crunch. We are only mildly turned on by the Timberwolves dance team. We know too much, we have been waiting for the great leap forward for far too long, and now we are like Summer in School of Rock: We don't want to be cheerleaders. We are like that old Bob Dylan song: We used to care but things have changed. We are like that new R.E.M. song: We're sick of being jerked around. We want wins.

We have rooted for uniforms. We have rooted for forgettable men with unforgettable names, like Felton, Luc, Gundars, Christian, Stojko, Donyell, Tod, Bob, Rasho, Cherokee, Pooh, Isaiah, Clifford, LaPhonso, Tellis, Dean, Andres, Shane, Askia, Stacey, Igor. We have found ourselves rooting against names we used to root for, names like Marbury and Smith and Jackson and Gugliotta, and we are now being asked to root for names we used to root against, names like Sprewell and Cassell and Olowokandi and Madsen, and it has left us dazed and confused and more than a little cynical, so much so that when we talk about the home team we rarely say "we" anymore, but "they."

We have collected bobblehead dolls. We were hell-bent a couple of years ago, in a desperate attempt at re-igniting our blind Wolves devotion, to get the entire set. We bought extra tickets, traded down, finagled seat-lottery numbers, until we had them all: Mitchell, Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Terrell Brandon, Wally Szczerbiak. We set them proudly on our shelf, next to our Sid Hartman bobblehead and our Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. action figures, for one year. We have packed them all away, save for Garnett, Day of the Dead-like, mummified and nearly lost, much like our once all-consuming love for the Wolves.

We still love the Wolves. We can't help it. We would follow Garnett into Baghdad and drink from an Iraqi oil trough if he and that great big heart told us to. We gave up our season tickets last year. We couldn't take it anymore. We snapped one night. We found ourselves sitting on the edge of our thoroughly unaffordable seats, gnashing about some regular-season game or another, when we happened to look down at the bench to see millionaire part-timers Billups and Anthony Peeler grinning and checking out girls and apparently not giving one single solitary shit about the same thing we so foolishly did: the outcome of the game.

We felt something die--or awaken--in us that night, even though we have known full well that being a pro sports fan requires grand self-delusion, but that night we realized that we cared about Peeler's and Billups's jobs more than they did, and once we saw behind that curtain, we were cooked.

We miss it. We miss our section, 136. We miss the nights when our tough-Wolves-love heckles cracked up opponents like Charles Barkley and Chuck Person, and got killah glares from Marbury, Doug West, and Reggie Slater. We miss ticking off the once-a-year newbies who ended up sitting behind us with their corporate freebies, and we miss entertaining our fellow beleaguered fans who report that the games aren't nearly as much fun without us, and how could they be? We were funny. We knew what we were talking about. We think they still need us. We watch them on TV now and imagine that they wonder whatever happened to the demanding loudmouths who used to spur them on to greater heights. We are probably high.

We have watched from afar. We have found other things to do with our time. We have been telling friends that the game is dull and that the Target Center vibe is sterile, but mostly that we don't care. But then something happened a couple of weeks ago. We saw KG throw the ball into the stands at Utah. We watched the entire Sacramento game on TV and saw Spree almost kill Doug Christie on a lay-up and not get called for a foul. We saw Cassell hoist up shots and display more will to win than any Wolves guard since Bobby Jackson. We saw something we'd never seen before on the Wolves: badasses. And we had an inkling that, for maybe the first time, they cared more than we did.

We decided to go back. We went to the Seattle game, but on principle we did not pay face value. We scoped out the scalpers and ended up buying 10-dollar tickets and moving down to our old section, where there were plenty of empty seats, and where we saw a couple of our old section mates who told us that they miss us but don't blame us and that they've been thinking about bailing, too.

We had an okay time. Spree hit a three to tie it, which was as exciting as it got, then they lost at the buzzer. We got up in a pseudo-huff and walked down the same stairwell we have walked down after so many losses, out into the cold night, feeling even more impatient than we had before, but what are we going to do? We cannot let go, because we are sick and hooked and because we know it would be a much longer, colder winter if we stopped caring altogether.

We are rooting for the new uniforms. We are checking the box scores. We are looking forward to having Wally and Troy Hudson back. We think we can win it all. We are looking for freebies. We are fucked.


Jim Walsh can be reached at [email protected] or 612.372.3775.

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