Wait ’til next year


The 2013-2014 edition of the Minnesota Timberwolves will go down as a losing campaign, another year of our so-called rudderless professional basketball franchise hovering around 0.500 and out of the playoffs yet again, but as the season comes to a close, I’ve been savoring what has been, rather than lamenting what hasn’t, and for me and my son Henry it was a total win.

Sure, such Pollyannaism can be construed as the desperate act of a desperate man digging deep to find a pathetic silver lining born uniquely of the Minnesota sports fan singing “Here’s To The Losers” year in and year out. Whatever; something innocent and integral gets lost if all we’re left to care about is the won-loss record, and I’m telling you the Wolves were good medicine this year.

And losing record be damned, we’re not ready to say goodbye to Our Wolves yet.

Tune into sports talk radio or grab the sports page and you’ll find the angst high, the minutia endless, the perspective insane. Professional sports are about winning, not simply rooting for your squad, bonding with players, appreciating aesthetics, or just loving the game, and so the modern fan experience gets muted by marketing and mired in contract talks, records, stats and the business of sports to the point where now we’re all amateur color commentators, parroting whatever grouse or storyline the talking heads serve up.

Ugh, play ball.

Me, I’m here to thank Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Deng, Corey Brewer and the rest of the run-n-gun-n-done gang for what more often than not has been an amazingly entertaining season played by a team that was more often than not a thrill to watch, and for achieving a spectator sport basic: Providing a language for a father and son and months’ worth of shared memories and highlights that we’ll have for the rest of our lives.

Something kicked in with my lad this year. Seemingly overnight, he turned into a 19-year-old basketball and Timberwolves fanatic, and hearing him say stuff like “I love basketball more than anything, I love basketball so much I wish it was a person” has been a dream come true for a dad who coached him in grade school and took him to NBA games when he was little and hoped he might someday love hoops the way I have.

It’s happening. My phone is full of ball-related texts between us from this winter, and as much as the Wolves broke our hearts they also provided an always engaging topic of conversation — especially at 4:30 in the morning in sub-zero January, February and March as I drove him to work for his department store shift.

“What’d we do last night? Gimme some stats,” I’d say in the dark as the car warmed up, if the game hadn’t been televised or I’d missed it, and he’d already have it all downloaded into his brain.

He’d tell me how everybody fared, describe plays, give his opinion, and many mornings and nights we’d end up arguing about Rubio, whom I’d champion and he’d chide. He quickly became my go-to source whenever I needed to know specifics, and I’d pepper him with quotes I’d read in game stories and player profiles.

In short, we had a blast, and both times we saw them live this year, I looked around the sterile Target Center and wondered what other similar fan stories might be playing out, the kind of bonding that never gets acknowledged because we’ve been led to believe that they’re a bunch of losers and we‘re suckers for following them, cheering for them, caring about them.

The first month of the season, Our Wolves were one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA. They lost 10 games by one point, but they fought hard and their chemistry was a beautiful thing to behold. That’s why we have so much hope going into next year. We saw what they can be, and we know the Western Conference powers are aging, and we have high hopes that next year our patient passion will pay off.

If not, we’ve still got a shared basketball jones going for us. Another unexpected thrill this 55-year-old baller has experienced this year is that Henry and his fellow pick-up ball junkie buddy Andre have joined my regular Tuesday and Thursday game, and I now find myself enjoying the unexpected pleasure of playing basketball with my boy, of me throwing him the occasional alley-oop lob or back-door bounce pass, and us both encouraging each other, guarding each other, connecting and staying connected.

“MVP, baby,” he said to me, high-fiving me after I hit a three-pointer during one particularly hot Thursday I was having, and the sweetness of the moment wasn’t lost on either of us. Then again…

“That’s the first time I’ve ever beat you,” he proudly reported to me Sunday afternoon, after he won the first game of the year on our driveway court, but that’s another column.

That will not be written.

Any time soon.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected] and www.jimwalshmpls.com