I was twelve years old when Kevin Garnett put on that Minnesota Timberwolves cap on draft night. Over half my life later, my favorite player finally won an NBA Championship. To an outsider, that may not seem like such a phenomenal event. Championships are won in sports multiple times a year, and the story of a long-suffering player or fan base finally getting a taste of glory is certainly nothing new. But to dismiss what happened on June 17th, 2008 as something common-place or meaningless would be an incredible mistake. To those of us Timberwolves fans who stared wide-eyed at the television screen as a lanky teenager stumbled across the stage and shook David Stern's hand, that night meant everything.
As sports fans, we spend an inordinate amount of time and money discussing the team, attending games, buying merchandise, and obsessing over every single move our front office makes. Somewhere along the way, most of us convince ourselves that we matter as much to the team as the team does to us. We trick ourselves into thinking that our favorite players will be as delighted to meet us as we are when we encounter them. The fact that we do this to ourselves is not surprising at all. After all the investment we make into a team, it's psychologically devastating when we actually stop and realize the people we're adoring don't even know we exist. Instead, we just block those thoughts from our mind and continue our charade.
I think it's pretty safe to say that this "imagined" relationship has never manifested itself more strongly than with the way Timberwolves fans related to Kevin Garnett. This simply wasn't the case of a bunch of fair-weather fans attaching themselves to the next "big thing" like Lakers fans with Kobe Bryant or Cavs supporters with LeBron James. The only thing that Wolves fans had to gain by associating with Kevin Garnett was pain and more pain. It wasn't a marriage of convenience. It was a deliberate choice to walk the road less traveled and continue on it until the end, no matter what the cost. During our twelve year journey with Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves fans were subjected to the most bitter of frustrations, the most painful of betrayals, and a heart-wrenching detour through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet through it all, The Big Ticket never wavered in his devotion to his team and his fans, and we, in turn, never faltered in our unconditional support of him.
By the time the summer of 2007 rolled around, Wolves fans had become so emotionally invested in Garnett's quest for a title, that he essentially became the franchise. Needless to say, when the news rolled out that he'd been traded to Boston for a package of youngsters, there was an incredible disconnect. Suddenly the player who we thought was playing his heart out for us was wearing another team's jersey. While we were sitting there, stunned and empty, KG's face beamed as took questions from the Boston media. In that moment, it became painfully clear how "imagined" our relationship with Garnett actually was. No matter how much our minds tried to fight it, there was no denying that we were just a bunch of people who would show up to his basketball games and clap our hands. He didn't know our names. He couldn't even pick us out of a crowd. So what would make him even give us a second thought now that he had a new group of people to clap for him?
As the 2007-08 season progressed, some Wolves fans found themselves coming to grips with this reality and "got over" Garnett. Others, like myself, refused to believe the obvious. We continued to rally behind KG as fervently as ever. After all, that was what he taught us during those twelve unforgettable years - loyalty, respect, and the uncanny ability to "keep on keep'n on", no matter how improbable the odds. As he and the Celtics marched through the playoffs and headed towards the Finals, we cheered for them with every drop of passion in us. Yet still, we couldn't escape the feeling that we were no better than a broken-hearted loser, pining away for an ex-girlfriend that had long moved on.
I have to admit that I spent the entire season feeling like an outsider with KG and the C's. Despite my best efforts to keep up with the latest news, watch games when I could, write articles on a regular basis, and even podcast about their playoff run, I still felt as if I had invited myself to the party. I was a Timberwolves fan, through and through, and had no more right to wear the green and white than any Celtics fan does to don the blue and black. I felt that my excuse of "I'm Garnett's biggest fan, and have waited my whole life to see him win a ring" came off as shallow, considering I belonged to the Wolves nation long before KG showed up on the scene. For better or for worse, I just couldn't bring myself to sports poligamy. I was and will always be a Timberwolves fan first, and a Garnett fan second. So even though I had perhaps more emotional investment in the Celtics' title hopes this season than any fan in Boston, I knew I'd never be able to enjoy the moment as much as they did. I was a Timberwolves fan, and KG was no longer a Timberwolf. He was theirs now, and I was just the stubborn fool who wouldn't let the past go.
"This is for Sota!"
With those four words, Kevin Garnett changed everything. Suddenly the gates to the mansion were flung open, and all the outsiders, like myself, were allowed to come flooding in. After nearly a year of silence from him regarding his original fans, the ones who stood by him since his first game, who suffered through every disappointment he had to face, and who loved him unconditionally, Garnett finally shouted across the universe how much we really meant to him. He hadn't forgotten us. He hadn't abandoned us. Even though he followed through with his new responsibility - to bleed Celtic green and endear himself to the Boston fans, it didn't mean he had tossed us aside.
Fans lie to themselves all the time. They fool themselves into thinking their favorite athletes will care. Sometimes, they're even crazy enough to think that player will still care after they've been traded to another team. I knew fully well how insane it is to believe those things, yet I continued to follow Kevin Garnett anyway. I clung to that small, slim hope that if any superstar was going to break the mold and make the ridiculous become reality, it was KG. The man is the definition of loyalty, and once again, he managed to stay true to the end. It was Kevin Garnett's dream to play his entire career in Minnesota and bring us home a championship. It was our dream to be a part of him winning it. Though neither of those perfect moments will likely ever come to pass, he did the best he could to give us a taste of that glory anyway.
"This is for Sota!"
Forget the details, like the jersey's, the stadium, and the other men on the floor. In the end, Kevin Garnett hoisted a trophy and the Timberwolves nation reveled in the splendor of it all. A dream was realized, a promise was kept, and a bond that will last the ages became just a little bit stronger.