Ask anyone who has a friend from Minnesota, and it likely won’t take long for them to tell you that Minnesotans love telling anyone and everyone that they’re from Minnesota. It’s like no matter where we are in the world. We’re contractually obligated to blurt out our hometown and how far away it is from Minneapolis. Like the scene in D2: The Mighty Ducks when Team USA finally comes together because they sat in the locker room shouting out their hometowns (Phil Ford: Coon Rapids, Minnesota).
Perhaps it’s because we don’t get a lot of national exposure, but we love anything that is remotely associated with us in the national media. Any movie filmed in Minnesota automatically becomes one of our favorites (Fargo, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Jingle All the Way, and Purple Rain, to name a few gems). We welcome Prince as a member of the family. Everyone who lives in Dinkytown claims Bob Dylan lived in their exact house during his semester at the University of Minnesota (it was definitely my house).
Never is this fierce tribalism more apparent than when it comes to sports. We love a good ole’ Minnesota boy (or girl) tearing it up in front of the entire sports world. Hibbing’s own Kevin McHale was a key cog on the ‘80s Celtics team that won three NBA championships. Larry Fitzgerald went from Vikings ball boy to one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. And Dave Winfield came out of St. Paul to become one of the greatest baseball players ever.
Minnesota isn’t short on talent, but what we crave more than anything is the hometown hero. Bloomington’s Kent Hrbek leading the Twins to World Series titles in ‘87 and ‘91. Lindsay Whalen taking the Gophers to the Final Four in ‘04 and winning four WNBA titles with the Lynx. And Mr. St. Paul himself, Joe Mauer, a three-sport athlete for Cretin-Durham Hall, was taken first overall by the hometown Twins and went on to win an MVP, three batting titles, and grace the cover of magazines and video games all over the world.
The next Minnesotan who has a chance to take up the hometown hero mantle is Jalen Suggs (Paige Bueckers has to wait a few years). The St. Paul native became a household name last weekend when he banked in a buzzer-beater to send Gonzaga to the National Championship and was named to the all-tournament team for his stellar play.
Suggs didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, though. He was a highly touted recruit coming out of Minnehaha Academy. After winning both Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football during his senior season last year, he was the 11th best recruit in the country according to Rivals and 247 Sports, and ESPN had him sixth. Suggs was already high on most analysts’ draft boards before he began his freshman season at Gonzaga.
A fantastic freshman season for one of the great college basketball teams of our time cemented his position as a top-3 draft pick. And would you look at who is the worst team in the NBA? You betcha it’s the hometown Minnesota Timberwolves, doncha know.
Before we start hanging banners at the Target Center and singing “We are the Champions” around a campfire, let me hit the brakes and point out the elephant in the room: There’s a 60 percent chance that the Wolves will lose their first-round pick and have no chance at taking Suggs. Last February, Gersson Rosas sent a top-3 protected pick with Andrew Wiggins to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell. We know what happened after that. Karl-Anthony Towns broke his wrist. COVID-19 shut the league down. Minnesota got Anthony Edwards with the first pick, injuries, more COVID, a coaching change, and more injuries ruined a once-promising season. Now the Wolves desperately need some ping-pong balls to fall in the right order to get the chance to select their version of Joe Mauer.
Let’s say NBA Lottery guardian angel David Stern is looking down on us and takes pity on the plight of the Wolves faithful, gracing us with a top-3 pick. It’s an NBA miracle. But with a high lottery pick and a potential 19-year-old Paul Bunyan-esque Minnesota basketball legend in the making, the question has to be asked. Should the Timberwolves draft and subsequently deify Jalen Suggs?
The easy answer is hell yes. He’s a potentially great basketball player who can change this woeful franchise’s trajectory along with Towns, Edwards, and Russell. But some layers make a Suggs-Wolves marriage a little murkier than it seems on the surface.
The first layer is that Suggs is coming out in what is reportedly an incredibly strong, if not top-heavy, draft class. Cade Cunningham is the consensus No. 1 prospect and has the potential to be a generational talent. Evan Mobley is a game-changing seven-footer who can step out and knock down a three while blocking shots on the defensive end. Even Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga have the potential and athleticism to become high-impact NBA players.
If the Wolves luck out and get the No. 1 pick again, they would be insane not to take Cunningham. As much as I love Jalen Suggs’ game, It’s scary to think that the discourse around the Suggs story could trump the player assessment and cloud the judgment of a front office that, let’s be honest, has a mixed track record. If the Wolves land the second or third pick, go nuts, take your guy, but the No. 1 pick could turn out to be a disaster if they pick Suggs, and Cunningham is who everyone thinks he is.
The second part is how the good people of Minnesota will react to a 19-year-old becoming their basketball savior? I want to bring back another Minnesota lad I compared Jalen Suggs to earlier in the article, Joe Mauer. The Twins took the St. Paul kid first overall in the 2001 MLB Draft ahead of Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira. The hype around Mauer was insane across the land of 10,000 lakes.
From 2001-10 being both a Twins fan and a Joe Mauer stan was awesome. He won three batting titles, the 2009 American League MVP, and became one of the league’s most popular players. The Twins benefitted as well, winning division titles in 2002-04, 2006, and 2009-10. But they never won a single playoff game with Mauer in the lineup, and he was never the same dominant player after his injury-hampered 2011 season and suffering a concussion in 2013. All this after the Twins signed him to an eight-year, $184 million extension to stay home.
Did Joe Mauer have a fantastic career? Of course. Do we love him to this day? You betcha. But there’s always the what-if factor with him and other stars who play for their hometown teams. What if our guy could have done it, won a championship, and celebrated in front of the Minnesota faithful. It would have been the perfect moment for the snake-bitten sports fans in the Twin Cities, making it that much more painful that it didn’t happen.
By all accounts, Suggs can handle adversity. But can we, especially if it’s from one of our own? Can we handle a LeBron James-Cleveland scenario? Suggs is phenomenal right away but never has the pieces to compete. He eventually leaves (probably more ceremoniously than The Decision). We begin to resent him. Then either make-up if he returns or remain bitter if he remains away and finds success with a more nationally prominent franchise? Any other outcome besides Suggs becoming a superstar might obliterate Wolves diehards for good.
All I’m saying is if Jalen Suggs is the pick then make the pick. But don’t make it because we Minnesotans love a good story, make it because he’s the right player for this team. We’ll remind people he’s from Minnesota no matter where he goes.