1) I didn’t go to last night’s Wolves game. I have my reasons: some are practical, some are professional, and some are just plain weird.
From a practical standpoint, it just didn’t fit into my week. With a small baby at home, sleep is a treasured friend and a rare commodity, and I pretty much knew if I went that I would go out afterwards and that the rest of my week could very well be shot. Lame? Yes. I’m lame.
From a professional standpoint, I’ve found that sometimes when I’m at a live event, I forget to focus on the actual game. As much as it would have added to the understanding of the night and KG’s return, from an atmosphere standpoint, to be there … I really wanted to focus on the basketball and try to take the emotion out of it. So I watched on TV, as free of distractions as possible. I didn’t even tweet during the game!
And from a weird standpoint, there was probably a part of me that feared it would be a train wreck and didn’t want to see 20,000 Minnesotans let down. We deserve nice things. It, of course, started like a train wreck … but the total sum of the evening was far from that. It was glorious. Maybe I’ll kick myself 20 years from now for not being there. But in a weird way, I’m more interested in being at KG’s next game than I was in being there last night.
2) It was just one game. A skidding Washington team was the perfect opponent. The Wolves were already improving thanks to their return to health. But if you’ve watched enough bad Minnesota basketball in the past decade — and you know I have — then you know this and need to believe this: the Wolves haven’t played defense like that since KG left.
That’s hyperbole, I’m sure, since you could pick out some game in the last eight years where the numbers say their defense was better. But in the broader sense, they have not played D like that since Garnett left: closing out on shooters, communicating on screens, contesting every shot … these are fundamental things, but they have so often been missing.
When KG blocked a corner 3 to end the first half, keeping the game tied 42-42 … it sounds ridiculous and hard to measure, but it was just a reminder of what good basketball looks like. A 38-year-old KG is a better, more valuable basketball player than a 26-year-old Thad Young — particularly on a team that has been missing these fundamentals for so long. I’m very serious about this.
3) I would like to see KG play forever. That is not practical. Short of that, I’d like to see him for the rest of this year and then one more year — as long as his body is willing and able. Part of it is that I love the symmetry of No. 21 playing 21 seasons. Again, I’m weird.
More of it is that a handful of weeks of this will be a building block, but it won’t be enough. Next year, with the team the Wolves are building, could really start to emerge — not in the sense of contention, mind you, but in the sense of seeing the blueprint start to take shape. It would almost be like KG’s rookie year (26 wins) and his second year (40 wins).
Garnett should be here to shepherd that and to contribute to that. He should get a proper going away around the NBA for an amazing career. And then he should retire in peace, learning from Brett Favre’s 2010 season and Jim Thome’s 2011 season that one year of magic — assuming next year is what I think it could be — does not qualify you for a second year of magic.
For now, though, let’s live in the moment. Last night was a game nobody thought would ever happen — not even KG himself. It was more than nostalgia. It was an honest homecoming, the rekindling of a love affair. And it was beautiful.
Newly acquired Sean Bergenheim will join the Wild in Nashville.Though switching teams in midseason can be difficult, Bergenheim is eager to press the reset button on a season that stalled out in Florida.
Kevin Garnett is back. You already knew that. So is Torii Hunter. Adrian Peterson could be on the way out.
Those three things got us thinking about a list of the superstars who have played in Minnesota since I’ve been an adult — more or less, since Kirby Puckett’s final regular-season game in 1995.
It’s unscientific, but it’s thought out. Patrick Reusse was consulted. There are 13 in all, and they are measured both by their on-field impact and how they resonated with fans.
1) Kevin Garnett: For the combination of longevity (12 years the first time), greatness (MVP award, a top-10 player in the league for many years) and the intangible of being the face of the franchise, nobody tops KG. Some came close, but nobody tops him.
2) Randy Moss: Rookie Randy is about as crazy as it gets for sports fan mania here, and his entire (first) seven-year run was electric.
3) Adrian Peterson: I thought he had a great chance to wind up at No. 1 on this list someday. Now, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
4) Joe Mauer: Say what you want about the rise and fall of Mauer, but the St. Paul kid still has a mighty imprint on the state. Oh, and he also has three batting titles and an MVP award (with the chance to write a better ending and move up this list with some improved seasons in 2015 and beyond).
5) Lindsay Whalen: She galvanized the state with the Gophers women’s basketball team’s Final Four run in 2004. And she brought pro women’s basketball to prominence in Minnesota, helping the Lynx to two WNBA titles. She embodies exactly how the vast majority of Minnesotans want an athlete to play: with charisma, grit, selflessness and modest flash.
T-6) Brett Favre/Bobby Jackson: I lumped these two together because their tenures were remarkably similar: both had two seasons (sure, Jackson played with the Wolves for a bit, but let’s stick with the Gophers here). One of those years was irrelevant. And one of those years was among the best Minnesota has seen in the past 20 years — Favre with the Vikings in 2009 and Jackson with the Gophers’ Final Four run in 1996-97.
8) Johan Santana: He didn’t quite resonate with fans the way other superstars have, but his greatness (two Cy Young Awards) constantly had fans in awe of his ability.
9) Torii Hunter: When someone asks, “Who was the identity of the Twins when they turned it around in the 2000s,” Hunter is the name and face that comes to mind. The stats weren’t other-worldly, but the flashy glove, improved hitting and affable smile won him many fans.
10) Zach Parise: Another athlete who still has time to move up this list. Like Whalen, Parise embodies how we want our star athletes to play.
11) Justin Morneau: Averaged 30 HR and 118 RBI per year from 2006 to 2009 and won an MVP award. His reception at Target Field for the Home Run Derby left no doubt about how fans feel about him.
12) Maya Moore: The 2014 WNBA MVP’s best years are still ahead of her, which is a scary proposition.
13) Kevin Love: He’s not at the bottom as a cheap shot. Love’s ability is not in question, and his numbers say he was a star. But he accomplished less, team-wise, than any other Minnesota superstar of this era. It wasn’t all his fault, and he made sure we knew it.