I still remember a matchup between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Minnesota Timberwolves like it was yesterday. Few others would.
It was Jan. 5, 2011, and there I was with my friends Chuck and Jesse among the bigwigs near courtside at Target Center. Well, the bigwigs who actually cared to show up.
We were juniors in high school who attended games regularly. As soon as the school bell rang, we hurried to the library to get our homework done right away so we could enter the arena as soon as it opened.
We’d drape ourselves around the tunnel where the Timberwolves and opposing teams strolled out from for pregame warmups in hopes of an autograph or a towel thrown up to us (which, in hindsight, was actually pretty gross).
After getting our hastily scrawled autographs, we’d hightail it back to our seats in the upper deck.
This night was different.
The Bobcats were in town adorned in their hideous black pinstripe uniforms that paired suitably with their 12-20 record. Believe it or not, the Twin Cities’ faithful didn’t come out in full force to catch the Bobcats face the 9-26 Timberwolves on a week night.
Game time drew closer and closer, yet pockets of empty seats remained.
We saw a group of seats open in the third row behind the Bobcats bench, which happened to be right by Jesse’s relatives who owned season tickets.
We made our move without any guff from the unknowing arena ushers. Nowadays, you can’t even sneeze without your ticket getting checked in the upper deck.
It ended up being a morbidly fascinating game.
The Wolves lost the second quarter 33-20 and won the third 30-14 as these two dreadful teams went to overtime where Charlotte prevailed. Kevin Love chipped in 35 points and 15 rebounds while the crazy-haired Michael Beasley used 25 shots to get 28 points in his typically inefficient fashion. Who could forget Tyrus Thomas’ 12 first-half rebounds for the ‘Cats?
I’m probably the only one who even remembers the game happened. Being up close to the action, even if it was between two lottery teams, was fascinating.
I have dissonant nostalgia for these days when you could go to a game for a few bucks, sit most anywhere you wanted and see the NBA’s greatest play. Oh yeah, and the Wolves were there, too.
But why am I waxing poetic about a worthless game from seven years ago?
It’s because days like those are over.
A raucous sell-out crowd filled the Target Center Wednesday, especially in the third row, to see the Wolves end their 14-year playoff drought. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s bunch proved the doubters wrong by winning a thrilling win-or-go-home overtime game against the Denver Nuggets.
Remnants of lousy teams like the 2011 squad are long gone. A new crew featuring the versatile Jimmy Butler and the post presence of Karl-Anthony Towns led the Wolves this season to the team’s first winning season since 2003-04.
Minnesota’s even gone so far to rebrand itself. New uniforms, logos and color scheme work to disassociate the franchise from the forlorn post-Kevin Garnett years. I insist that the old pine tree uniforms would have been the way to go, but that’s a battle for another day.
I’ve attended about a dozen or so home games this season. Some affordable tickets are still there for the taking, but you’d be hard pressed to be anywhere as close to the action as my pals and I were without paying face value.
This is just one season. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself.
If I know anything about this franchise it’s that Murphy’s Law can strike at a moment’s notice.
Still, with a nucleus of talented players all in their 20s, even brighter days than these appear on the horizon.
The Wolves’ poor salespeople no longer need to promote who’s coming to town to entice prospective ticket buyers; the talent here is finally sufficient.
Minnesota could very well be swept in the first round of the playoffs by the explosive Houston Rockets. That’s fine.
Just having a team to be proud of is a huge step in the right direction. I enjoyed monitoring the standings not to see how many ping pong balls the Wolves could get in the upcoming NBA Draft lottery, but to see what seed we could land in the playoffs.
I’m now resigned to watch the new Wolves sitting closer to the rafters than the court, but I can assure you: the view up here is a lot better.