Timberwolves

Game 7, Catharsis Be Thy Name: A Fan Experience

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As a sports-loving society, hyperbole is woven into our everyday language. We almost casually describe performances as “brilliant” or “legendary” and any significant moment as “epic” or “cathartic.” This behavior has, in some ways, cheapened the meaning of these potent words. The overuse of superlatives does provide some surprising clarity, though. When at last you see moments of true brilliance or witness a cathartic victory that will actually go down in local sports legend, you recognize what you’ve been looking for all this time.

As the Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray confidently drilled yet another three-pointer with 10:50 left in the third quarter to push a 15-point Denver halftime lead up to 20, the feeling in Ball Arena was a familiar one for a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. I have never found myself particularly aligned with the Chicken Little contingent of the Minnesota sports fanbase, forever expecting the sky (or Dome) to fall anytime one of the home teams is on a hot streak.

Nonetheless, as a lifelong Wolves fan, I have become very accustomed to watching the sky fall.

It was hard to ignore an eerily familiar sinking feeling as Karl Anthony Towns misfired on a seemingly desperate 27-footer on the very next possession. It’s a feeling that we Minnesota sports loyalists have come to know through a well-documented and darkly comic list of failures, missteps, and tragedies.

After attending multiple games in the series, including the outrageous Game 6 win, a couple friends and I made the last-minute decision to travel to Denver for the deciding event. An early Saturday afternoon text from a buddy was all it took. “Tickets aren’t that bad, flights are even better, and we can all split a room,” he sent.

“F—- it! let’s go!”

The next thing we knew, we were walking the streets of downtown Denver on Saturday night asking ourselves “what if?”

The whole town seemed at ease – disconcertingly so to wayward Timberwolves fans. They acted unshakeable in their role as the defending champions at home in a Game 7 with the world’s best player. It all made sense. That confidence was absurdly foreign to a Minnesotan who had watched Sam Cassel and a first-round pick get traded for Marko Jaric. Or listened to accounts of Glenn Taylor “wanting to look Andrew Wiggins in the eye” so he could trust he was going to try hard.

It felt like being an elderly Amish man in the middle of downtown Tokyo. What the hell was this energy around me? What the hell are any of these people talking about? Every Denver fan we spoke to appeared to have the vibe of Nicola Jokic in the waning minutes of the Game 6 blowout. There was just an air of inevitability.

For the first 25 minutes and 10 seconds of Game 7, their confidence was validated.

And then it happened.

This Timberwolves team is uninterested in your silly little Minnesota sports trauma. They weren’t here when Glenn signed that Joe Smith contract. They never watched Rashad McCants hoist one-on-one pull-up jumpers like someone dared him. Some of them weren’t even born when Stephon Marbury forced his way out of town because he hated the cold.

These Timberwolves are a rare piece of unwilting determination in a professional sports landscape obsessed with mentality and the moment.

The Minnesota contingent in Ball Arena wasn’t necessarily overwhelming, but it was overwhelmingly boisterous. I was told after the game that when Ant hit the three to go up 10, it sounded like a home game on TV. I think every Wolves fan in the building felt like 1,000 fans at that moment.

There was a young family from Mexico City seated near us in the stands. The man’s mother had been to the Mayo Clinic 30 years earlier and had returned home with a Marbury jersey. The family had been thoroughly committed from that moment and had traveled to Game 7 all the way from Mexico.

There was a dad and his adult daughter two rows down who, 20 years ago to the day, had been at the last Timberwolves game 7. Kevin Garnett’s masterpiece was the first sporting event he had ever taken his young daughter to, and they had lept at the opportunity to rekindle that nostalgia.

There was an elderly Denver resident at the top of the section who grew up in the Twin Cities and then moved to Colorado. He had flown home for 20 games in the team’s inaugural season and was wearing a jersey so old that it looked like Betsy Ross had stitched it.

With each bucket in the third quarter we made quick eye contact as if to say, “Maybe?” We seemed like a five-time divorcée on a first date with someone who had potential.

With each stop and bucket in the fourth quarter, we experienced something transformative. One of those moments that you will force into conversations for the rest of your sports life.

The disbelief at the Rudy fadeaway over the Joker. The joy of the Naz Reid’s defining minutes. Ants’ un-capituting star power. The validation of watching Karl-Anthony Towns have a quintessential performance in the biggest moment of his professional career.

The sky wasn’t falling. In this Timberwolves’ universe, the sky couldn’t fall. The team wouldn’t allow it.

This was no coronation. It certainly shouldn’t be celebrated like a title. Yet, perhaps the most paramount aspect of being a sports fan is living in the moment. This moment was truly, historically spectacular.

Chanting the team off the floor. Flooding the corridors, screaming and shouting with other long-suffering die-hards. It was brilliant. It was epic. It was legendary. It was pure, unadulterated sports catharsis. This team has earned our trust, and we as a fanbase must let go of our apprehension and let the NBA winds take us where they will.

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