It seems that the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves is destined to be defined by years. It took the franchise seven years to earn its first playoff berth. It took another eight before the Wolves would win a playoff series. And now the earth has spun around the sun three times since this team last played post-season basketball.
As fans, we have the gift of time. Seasons come and seasons go. And if it takes the Timberwolves another five years to break out of the lottery, we'll still be here to cheer them on. However, there's one person in particular who doesn't share that luxury with us. With twelve seasons under his belt, his career is likely more than half-way over. At 31 years of age, his prime may last for only three or four more seasons. And if the Timberwolves continue their trend of taking more than half a decade to switch gears, he faces the prospect of never winning a championship. Over a decade ago when he burst onto the NBA scene, that seemed an impossibility. Now, as the leader of a 32-50 team that's well-over the cap, has few tradable assets, and has two of its future first-round draft picks promised to other teams, retiring without a title appears to be more of a reality every day. With his options dwindling, his odometer spinning, and the clock mercilessly ticking, it's painfully clear that these are very dark days for Kevin Garnett.
That should really come as no surprise. After all, Kevin Garnett has spent most of his career in the shadows. Sure, when the cameras are flashing and the lights of the Target Center shine down on him, he appears to be living the glamorous life of any other sports star. But as those of us who have followed his career closely and know him as well as any outsider could know this intensely personal man, understand, there is a cloud of darkness shrouded over our hero's soul.
You see, Kevin Garnett is not content to show up to work, cash his paycheck, and head home to his mansion. To him, basketball is not a way to make a living. It is his life. And while that undying passion for the game is what makes him so admirable, it's also the thing that has ultimately become his tormentor. It's his passion that won't allow him to settle for mediocrity. It's his passion that makes him spill his blood, sweat, and tears to win. And it's his passion that keeps him up at night reliving every one of his team's losses.
Many men would find solace in the fact that they are one of the world's premiere athletes. Many would find comfort in the fact that they've signed not one, but two, one-hundred-million-dollar contracts. Many would find fulfillment knowing that they've spent a large portion of those contracts rebuilding homes for hurricane victims. But not Kevin Garnett. Plain and simple, he was built to win. And nothing other than victory can fill that void. Some may call that a character flaw. I see it as a calling.
Some people were put on this earth to be teachers. Some people were put on earth to be doctors. Some people were put on this earth to be sports super-stars. I believe Kevin Garnett was put on this earth to win. From the day he was born, KG has been in a fight for survival. Whether it was the streets of Maudlin, South Carolina, the NBA Draft, or the first-round of the playoffs, Garnett has always had to overcome unbelievable odds. And every time, despite all the obstacles, insults, and nay-sayers in his way, Kevin Garnett has always managed to overcome them. It may not have been at the expected time or easiest way, but he has always come out a winner.
Again, it all comes down to that passion. It's what makes the throngs that fill the Target Center love him so. It's what makes other athletes stand in awe when he enters the room. It's what makes his performance on the court so matchless, that one can't help but watch him play. And it's what makes all of us know that justice simply will not be served until this man gets his ring. No matter who we are or what our background, there's a certain part within each of us that understands what's right. And I don't see how anyone can look at the career of Kevin Garnett, what he's done for the game, for his fans, for people he doesn't even know, and the flawless work ethic, loyalty, respect, and character that he displays, and not feel that this man deserves his moment in the sun. It's certainly a messed up world that we live in. But if there's any ounce of fairness left, if there's any reason to hope for that fairytale ending, then Kevin Garnett will get his title someday. That's what he represents to the fans of Minnesota. That's what he means to me.
But "this ain't tennis." "This ain't golf." It's basketball. This isn't a sport where Kevin Garnett's pure dominance and will to win is enough to get him that championship. It's going to take teammates who share his ultimate commitment to winning to bring Garnett to the promised land. And judging by this season's dismal performance, that's something that he just doesn't have. Over the course of the past 82 games, there were far too many selfish outbursts, disrespectful actions towards the coach, "me-first" attitudes, and outright lazy, "couldn't care less" performances. Let's be honest. This season, The Ticket couldn't even count on his teammates to put their jerseys on the right way, let alone help him make the playoffs. Something's got to change. If Kevin Garnett is ever going to get his title, something has got to change.
Throughout his career, Kevin Garnett's most successful moments came when he had a true "sidekick" to lean on. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, those players never stuck around very long. Stephon Marbury was the first. Together, Starbury and Da Kid had Wolves fans dreaming of the second coming of Stockton and Malone. But Judas couldn't handle having his name second on the marquee, so he put a knife in KG's back and fled the Twin Cities. If that wasn't enough, about a year later, the closest teammate KG's ever had, Malik Sealy, had his life taken in a car accident. Then there was Chauncey, who stuck around long enough to earn a fat contract offer from the Pistons. You want some salt in that wound? Billups became the NBA Finals MVP two seasons later. And then came Sam and Spree, two fiery veterans who were the absolute perfect compliment to Garnett. Together, the MV3 showed a level of passion that this league has never seen before and led the Timberwolves all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, a few months later it became clear that the veteran's "passion" for the game was merely a mask hiding their true desire for a contract extension. When the multi-million deals that were far above market value "insulted" the two, they staged an all-out sabotage that cost Garnett both the only NBA coach he ever had and his last legitimate shot at a championship.
Since then, Garnett has been forced to wallow alone in the dimness of the NBA's basement. Even though every passing day it becomes more and more likely that he's found himself living a tragedy, that he's a man who's destined to represent squandered potential, he still refuses to give up. All the empty promises made by his front office to "overhaul" the roster and "make some real changes" haven't lessened his desire. All the times he's been falsely led to believe he'd be partnered with a all-star like Allen Iverson haven't broken his will. He just keeps fighting, night in, night out, embracing the darkness. As another off-season approaches, the Timberwolves' salary predicaments nearly assure that he will be forced to carry on in the shadows for yet another year. But like every other obstacle he's faced, this, again, will not stop him. Hidden deep inside him, that burning desire to win lingers on, fueled by the hope of a better day.
Like Kevin Garnett and every faithful fan who has continued to support this team over these past three years, I continue to hope for that better day. Every time I watch a game, every time I talk with fellow fans, every time I write a piece, I keep asking myself the same question. It's the same question that's burned into Garnett's soul as he suffered through this losing with us... "How Long?" Will it take this franchise another four years before we taste the post-season again? Will it take even longer? Or is that day we've been waiting so long for actually right around the corner?
May 22nd, 2007. No other day in the foreseeable future holds as much potential to alter the course of Kevin Garnett's future as this one does. It's the day of the NBA Draft Lottery. It's the day when the Minnesota Timberwolves have about a one in ten chance to turn their dismal 32-50 record into a player who can save the franchise. It's the day when a pair of ping pong balls can right every wrong that this league has thrust upon Garnett. Some might say that a 10% chance just isn't good enough for an organization so closely attached to bad luck. But for me, one in ten is plenty enough. I don't believe that this world is so far gone that a fairytale can't happen. And so I'll take the Wolves ten percent chance and rely on justice to make up the other ninety.
Maybe I'm fooling myself. Maybe I just need a break from all the losing, so I've convinced myself that the Wolves are finally going to turn the corner that day. But until that card comes down off the #7 spot and reveals the Timberwolves logo, I'm going to continue to believe that Greg Oden or Kevin Durant is heading to the Twin Cities to give Garnett his due.
They say it's always darkest before the dawn. I simply can't imagine things getting any darker for Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Our time is coming. Whether it's May 22nd or some day even further down the road, it will come. And so we, as Wolves fans, wait on the shore and overlook the sea of possibilities. We wait there with our hero, Kevin Garnett. And as we sit, huddled together in the inky blackness, we look to the horizon for that sliver of light that will mark the arrival of our day...
2007 NBA Playoffs Predictions:
Detroit over Orlando
Cleveland over Washington
Toronto over New Jersey
Chicago over Miami
Detroit over Chicago
Cleveland over Toronto
Detroit over Cleveland
Dallas over Golden State
Phoenix over Los Angeles
San Antonio over Denver
Houston over Utah
Dallas over Houston
Phoenix over San Antonio
Dallas over Phoenix
Dallas over Detroit