You've heard the stories. They're true. The Vanila Gorilla chugs beer after each game. Cheap beer. It suits his game. He's not the fancy athlete who plays beyond his skill set. He's 100% man, a 7-foot-1 center that nabs rebounds, sets vicious high screens, and blocks shots. He's the basketball player who plays entirely within himself, a rare trait in the playa first [insert at random: CP3, DWade, LBJ, Kobe] era.
Basically, he's the Monticello, Minnesota, native the Timberwolves could desperately use.
"I feel a guy like him could be a perfect compliment to Al Jefferson," says Michael Cristaldi, ace communications director for the Timberwolves.
And right now he's on his back, getting it limbered-up for the minutes ahead. He follows the stretches up with more leg stretches.
When the game starts he takes his seat at the far end of the bench, staring at the young protégé Greg Oden, the former number 1 draft pick who improves with each game, lowering the amount of minutes the Gorilla gets on the court.
But even after nine, long, NBA seasons the Gorilla craves minutes. He wants to leave power forwards feeling weaker than Jane Goodall's last book when they step into the key.
The Vanilla Gorilla balls with his body.
With 4:15 left in the first quarter he enters the game. On offense he creates space, sets picks and looks for offensive rebounds. On defense he pushes big men away from the block, challenges entry passes, and stands tall to absorb chargers.
He's guarding Nathan Jawai right now, an Australian import they call "Outback Shaq." The Gorilla promptly gets dunked on. It's an embarrassment for the hometown boy. He responds by nabbing an offensive rebound, forces Outback to make an errant pass, then grabs an offensive rebound and draws a foul. Makes one of two.
Nothing flashy. Just steady effort. He's the longshoreman of NBA big men, punching his clock on the hardwood floor.
He gets the start in the second quarter, and the unenviable duty of defending Al Jefferson. But the Gorilla holds his own, plays cover defense when his teammates slip and recovers in time to force Jefferson into poor angles.
Then Oden comes back. The Gorilla sits back down. His work finished for the half.
6:25 minutes. 3 rebounds. 1 point.
With 3:25 left in the third quarter, the Gorilla enters the game. It takes less than 15 seconds for him to get a block. But he follows it up with a miscue. His high-hopping teammate Rudy Fernandez drives the lane, goes airborne and throws an alley-oop. But the Gorrila is planted to the floor. The ball flies over his head. He cringes at the mistake. Coach calls a timeout.
The Vanilla Gorilla returns with more vengeance inside him than Inigo Montoya. He immediately swats a shot, Sinjin Smith style (HT/ the 1980s)... Twice. Do the Timberwolves not know not to piss him off when he's in the paint? If anything he's giving the young Timber-Pups a lesson in Midwestern etiquette: Don't challenge a guy who boxes in the off season.
At 11:37 in the fourth quarter he collects his first personal foul. To take out his frustration he stops a two-on-one fast break by simply imposing his hugeness in front of the basket.
"Vaaaaaaa-niiiiiii-llllllaaaaaa!" yells the crowd.
They can't help themselves. When a true Minnesotan produces in the motherland of flour and Lutheranism, the locals treat you with the highest of regards.
On offense he's back to setting picks, sprinting to create space, trying to track down rebounds and prevent Jefferson from getting the Pups back into the game. He dominates the glass in garbage time, as no minute on the floor is an easy minute for the Gorilla. He plays this style by necessity. The game is in the bag but the battle never ends.
Tonight is a case in point. Blazers coach Nate McMillian is giving the Gorilla extra minutes tonight. But his legs are showing some lag, instead of a block he hacks Jonny Flynn. Instead of setting graceful picks he earns a three second violation. Instead of a break, he jogs backs to hack Flynn once more. But he savors this foul, the life lesson he's bestowing on the rookie point guard:
Nothing comes easy.
Not one damn thing.
Especially when you're playing me.
There's less than a minute to go in the game and the Gorilla collects the ball down low for a final time and gets fouled. He steps to the throw line and calmly knocks down two shots to pad his stat line.
21:50 minutes. 11 rebounds. 4 blocked shot. 3 points.
Time for a beer.