If I didn't care, more than words can say,
If I didn't care, would I feel this way?
Those are the first words in the film, The Shawshank Redemption. Those are also very fitting words for any Minnesota Timberwolves fan feeling the pressure of a 3-1 series deficit to the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite this line's relevance, the Shawshank Redemption offers more to us than just this depressing inquiry. While watching the movie, I couldn't help but notice the many similarities between inmate, Andy Dufrense and league MVP, Kevin Garnett. Both have been unjustly punished for the sins of other men. Yet both possess the indomitable will to survive amidst their seemingly impossible situations. If Kevin, too, will escape the walls of his prison, is a question that is still unanswered.
We are experiencing what is unquestionably the most uncertain hour in this Timberwolves' season. The odds are stacked so strongly against us. Many, including our own fans, have written us off. And so I, in one perhaps final attempt to revive a doubting T-Wolves nation, have turned to a film about overcoming the impossible for inspiration. In the next few paragraphs, I've altered quotes from the movie to fit them to this Timberwolves season. TNT, the station that hold the rights to the Western Conference Playoffs, prides itself on producing drama. Perhaps in the next few days, it will broadcast a tale similar to the one that follows. This, is our Redemption.
There may be no sweeter idea than that of redemption. The thought of a downcast individual triumphing over injustice is one than can lift the spirits of any human. We have an intrinsic need to see wrongs righted and injustices vindicated. And so we begin this story with a young man, thrust seemingly prematurely into the limelight of the NBA draft...
"I must admit, I didn't think much of Kevin first time I laid eyes on him. Looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. That was my first impression of the kid."
There were many doubters when David Stern called the name of Kevin Garnett as the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA draft. Between Ed O'Bannon and Damon Stoudamire, there was still an NCAA Champion and future Rookie-of-the-Year left on the board. Instead, a Minnesota franchise, infamous for horrendous performances on draft day, took a kid straight out of high school. Nothing like that had happened in the NBA since Moses Malone was taken twenty years earlier. He seemed destined for failure. But after surviving the initial waves of doubt, "Da Kid" rose to the occasion. In only his second year, he lead the Timberwolves to their first ever playoff appearance. They lost.
"Things went on like that for a while. NBA life consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, Kevin would show up with a fresh playoff defeat. The doubters kept at him. Sometimes he was able to fight 'em off, sometimes not. And that's how it went for Kevin. That was his routine."
I don't have to tell you how hard those seven years were. Each of us felt the sting of those first round playoff losses. No matter what happens in this series with the Lakers, except for perhaps a Game 7 loss, we won't feel the same crushing sense of defeat as we did each of those springs. A loss to the Lakers would be numbed by the fact that this was still the best season in franchise history. For each of those seven years, there was nothing but failure in the present and bleakness in the future. Of all the Minnesota Timberwolves, only Kevin endured all seven of those defeats. Looking back on it now, it's a wonder he didn't fold up and bolt at the first chance he got. No one would have blamed him. But Kevin signed another contract extension. He was determined to lead this team to victory. He was determined to break this routine.
"It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away. And for the briefest of moments, every last man in Minnesota felt free. It pissed the commissioner off something terrible."
When Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were announced as the newest members of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a state which was draped in apathy suddenly sprung to life. For the first time, there was a collective feeling that this season would be different. While the headlines read of Gary Payton and Karl Malone's signing with the Lakers and the championship it guaranteed, the fans of Minnesota secretly knew that their three-headed monster would stop at nothing to take the title away from the unholy alliance. And though the Lakers constantly stole the spotlight on ESPN, it was the Timberwolves who stole the best record in the Western Conference. Suddenly, the Finals were no longer guaranteed to draw the large TV audience of Hollywood.
"Here's where it makes the most sense. You need it so we don't forget...that there are places in the world that aren't made out of stone, that there's, there's somethin' inside that they can't get to, that they can't touch. It's yours."
Kevin Garnett won the MVP award by a nearly unanimous vote. His leadership, combined with his unparalleled excellence on the court, won over the doubters who had criticized him throughout his career. They could no longer deny that the high school kid had become the best player in the league. The MVP award usually means something besides the accolades it brings during the moment it is received. It usually means that a player is on his way to greatness and is consequently embraced by the media. But Kevin's MVP award brought no such affection. Instead, it placed another burden on his shoulders. He was expected to best his best performances. And when those unreasonable expectations weren't met, he was once again faced with the criticism he had endured throughout his pre-MVP years. But no matter what they said, it didn't change the fact that he was indeed, the MVP. And they couldn't take that away. It's his.
"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."
Game 7 against Sacramento was the defining moment of Kevin Garnett's career. No matter what happens in the future, it was that game that finally set him free from his past. Whatever he accomplishes, it will have been only made possible because he shined in that one moment. It was more than just "Win or Go Home". It was win, or face a lifetime of never being considered one of the truly "great" players in this league. Despite the fact that his point guard was ailing and the pressure was mounting, Kevin produced the best performance of his career. No one could doubt him any longer.
"Kevin Garnett, who crawled through a river of s--t and came out clean on the other side. Kevin Garnett, headed for the Western Conference Finals."
Kevin's reward for his dominating Game 7 performance was a date with the surging Lakers and a slew of negative predictions. Although Kevin performed to his best ability, he struggled to overcome his fatigue, the absence of his point guard, and bad officiating. A lesser man would have given up. But Kevin continued to battle against the odds. As the Lakers grew smugger, the taunts grew louder, and the media's perception became more warped, he managed to band his teammates together. They followed his lead, refusing to give up. They rallied back against every deficit, keeping each game close. And even now in the bleakest of circumstances, they still will not concede the series. Like their MVP, the Timberwolves will go out onto the court and play their hearts out for what may be the last time this season. If they go down, they will go down fighting.
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies."
Maybe I'm a fool for thinking the Wolves still stand a chance. No other team to rally from a 3-1 deficit faced the same obstacles as this team. To win three in a row at this point, under these circumstances, would be nothing short of a miracle. But though everything in my mind is telling me that this incredible run is over, I can't help but to continue to "Feel It" in my heart. And so I'm expecting the Minnesota Timberwolves to overcome the impossible. If ever an opponent deserved to go down in shame, it's the Los Angeles Lakers. If ever a team deserved to win, it's the Minnesota Timberwolves. We've come so far and fought for so long. It's time for our "Redemption".
"I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope the Timberwolves will make it to the NBA Finals. I hope to see Kevin Garnett raise the Larry O'Brien trophy above his head. I hope the joy is as overwhelming it has been in my dreams..."