The “Cheering for the Other Team” Target Center Phenomenon

Few things cause an irreversible gag reflex quite like a melodramatic sports article inspired by infomercial-purchased NBA championship DVD’s and musical scores from such sports movie classics as Rudy and The Mighty Ducks. We all know that “the Wolves are coming, but it will only take 3 more years.” We all know that “United We Crawl Run” We all know that every year, the Wolves win the season opener, lose the next 5-10 games in a row, and optimism falls flat like a happy hour buzz midway through the 2nd quarter of a Wolves vs. Lakers/Celtics/Cavaliers blowout at Target Center. We all know this sucks. We all know the last thing we want to read is some 1994 sports movie inspired cliche’-driven, sensationalized plea to “rally-behind-these-guys-because-they-need-you” bit.

We all know that with the Wolves, being one of the few things that keeps us somewhat alive in the winter, tiny bits of comedic value are what keep us watching. Whether it be the way Oleksiy Pecherov runs/dribbles, a driving layup by Brian Cardinal, Nathan Jawai actually being able to legitimately dunk a basketball, Al Jefferson’s odd resemblance to the troll from Ernest Scared Stupid, consecutive Corey Brewer airballs, Dave Wohl’s ever-gradual transformation into a cross between Martin Scorscese and Woody Allen mixed with a hint of a cartoon-character-to-be-determined, Bill Laimbeer’s halftime interviews, Tom Hanneman’s quick witted, right-on-the-MARKO Hannemisms, and a myriad of other collective idiosyncrasies that make each season what it is.

So, the following was not designed to inspire anyone in that sense. I don’t think Martin Luther King Jr. could inspire Wolves fans, nonetheless a manifest published on the team website. This is about is a basic, fundamental thing that has irked me ever since Garnett returned, and actually played, last November 21st, 2008. So, what is it?

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November 21, 2008. Boston vs. Minnesota

Last November marked Kevin Garnett’s first active return to the Target Center. It was going to be, without question, the game with the highest attendance during the 2008-2009 campaign. The previous season, Kevin was injured, but was welcomed back to the arena with a halfcourt reception that may have been the longest standing-ovation ever at a Timberwolves game. Back to 2008. This game was packed. Brock Lesnar and his plastic mannequin-wife Sable were sitting close (I feel like she could be a Mrs. Potato Head doll, each of her parts individually removable). The entire Viking’s roster was in attendance. Maybe a few other low-rent local celebrities were in the crowd. There were actual pyrotechnics used in the starting lineup introductions. A fun night was about to be had. Well, minus the blowout that would ultimately occur, but who cares right? Garnett was back!

As the game progressed, and players like Kevin Ollie were playing significant minutes, I started to notice something very unusual. People around me were legitimately cheering for the Boston Celtics on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ home court. I am not talking about only when Kevin Garnett made a play, I am referring to any player on the Boston roster. Paul Pierce fadeaway? The crowd reacts with a cheer. Big Baby enters the game? Cheering and whistling. Ray Allen three? Yes! Garnett putback? Bring on the heart attack! I then looked around and noticed most of the crowd was wearing green t-shirts. Not T’wolves green, but those stupid, green Kevin Garnett Boston Celtics t-shirt/jersey things that everyone seems to have in our city. Why?

Now, I can understand a degree of bitterness, and of course a little cheering for the guy who lifted our franchise into quasi-relevancy for about 12-13 years. No doubt, it was a special night to see the Big Ticket back in Minnesota. However, what irked me that night was both the rooting of the entire Celtics team in addition to the home team not receiving a similar reception. That, my friends, is unacceptable. This is a by-product of poor roster management, not Al Jefferson and then-Wolves Randy Foye and Mike Miller’s ability to play basketball. McHale should have been the one crapped on, not the players. However, given it was perhaps the most fun had in Target Center all season, and it was Garnett’s first time back on the court playing in ‘Sota, I let it pass and forgot about this strange phenomenon. Until a few weeks later.

December 17th, 2008. Cleveland vs. Minnesota

I believe this was the next game I ended up attending last season. The Wolves were picked apart with fancy passes, their own poor defense, terrible shooting and execution, and were overmatched completely. LeBron proved to be the best player on the planet. Clearly enjoying the attention, I recall a pre-game sequence in which James sat on a folding chair at half-court and attempted to make shots while sitting in the chair. Better yet, he actually made one or two. Immediately the crowd was on his side. Every shot LeBron made was met with the utmost level of happiness from the crowd. It didn’t matter if Al Jefferson dunked over Zydrunas Illguaskas, LeBron had won the crowd over. Target Center was suddenly a low-class version of a fictional little-Cleveland. I was ashamed. I was ashamed more when LeBron James pulled off the unthinkable: he received a standing ovation from the Target Center “faithful.” He even stood up and waved to the crowd in confident reception, as if to symbolically urinate on the faces of the Wolves fans who were actually there to see Al Jefferson dominate a 7’3” bald center named Zydrunas Illgauskas, who at that point, looked as if the only thing on his mind was how soon he could return to his Rascal Scooter.

Boston? I will let it pass because of KG. Cleveland? Not acceptable.

October 28th, 2009, New Jersey vs. Minnesota

The offseason came and went with plenty of buzz and optimism. David Kahn was hired and heralded by Wolves fans as the second coming of Jesus Christ, and we were destined for greatness. However, when the Nets came into town on October 28th, I could see the pessimism start to leak out. Once the Wolves fell behind by 17 and I had tweeted my 6th or 7th all-hope-is-lost-themed Tweet of the night, I had begun to irrationally convince myself that David Kahn was a bad GM (a topic for another day: what if McHale had made identical moves as Kahn did this year? The team would have moved to Juneau. Think about the point I just made though because it’s an important one to consider in order to remain objective on the team’s future). Well, what transpired was borderline heroic (yikes, there I go with early-90′s sports movie cliche’s again). An inspiring comeback and the 21st game winning shot in Timberwolves history (might I add, the 20th game winner was Mike Miller’s versus OKC in November of last year, which caused us to lose out on the 3rd pick in the OKC draft tie-breaker, and potentially, the money required to lure Ricky Rubio to Minnesota, so great hit Mike! Thanks for the memories!). When Wilkins hit the putback, the crowd went nuts. The team was going places, Flynn was the guard of the future and Al Jefferson was questionably not a fit (not my true opinion currently, but it’s getting there, give it a month to form an opinion) and I spent the rest of the evening debating who good trade deadline targets were for a package of Al, Brewer and the rights to Rubio (how sick of a package is that by the way?).

October 30th, 2009. Cleveland vs. Minnesota, and the 2009 Boston game

After the incredible win versus New Jersey, I expected two things going into last Fridays game: 1. That the Wolves would probably lose, and 2. That the fans would at least show some hint of enthusiasm on what should have been a great night at Target Center. I ended up going 1 for 2 on my predictions when the Wolves collapsed in the second half.

But once again, play after play, the Target Center crowd cheered for LeBron James. Even Shaq was celebrated. It didn’t matter that the young guns had come through in the home opener, Cleveland was going to get all of the love.

As it ended up, I sat directly behind Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington’s parents near the Cleveland bench. If you thought yelling anything enthusiastically while attending a Wolves game was awkward as it is, try quietly calling out a Jonny Flynn turnover while sitting behind an older version of him. It was an interesting experience. One I’m not sure I would repeat.

While there was no standing ovation for LeBron this year, I was left feeling aghast at one sign of life towards the end of the game. As the crowd was heading for the exits, I heard a passionate fan yell the following quip, “Hey LeBron! No Ring! No Wedding Ring! No College Ring! No Promise Ring! No Championship Ring! No Rings! Get over yourself LeBron!” Now, this was clearly audible by anyone sitting in the entire section by Cleveland’s bench, including LeBron (the crowd was not loud at this point since LeBron was on the bench). It was a very witty statement that should have ignited the section into, at worst, a light courtesy chuckle. What transpired then is reflective of this entire write-up. The crowd seemed to gasp, seemingly in fear of what LeBron might think of them. There was no laughter; only what seemed to be a worrisome inhale as if everyone had simultaneously accidentally sent  a link to an adult web site to a client at work. There was chatter (of people in my age group might I add. Think “young-professional happy-hour-before-the-game, sports fan” psychographic) of “this guy is an idiot.” One man even yelled back at him to “quiet the hell down.”

With this story in mind I ask collectively: why not try showing some enthusiasm at these games? After all, aren’t we spending money (or accepting free tickets) to be entertained and watch a sport we enjoy? Didn’t the home crowd deserve some respect and encouragement after the win versus New Jersey? What city do we live in again? Why is it that even a 50-year old nun and her mother would still attend a Viking’s game, get plastered, dress up as a fictional barbarian “noble savage” who once ransacked and slaughtered Europe with medieval weapons, flick off the opposing quarterback and yell obscenities towards children and be ok with, even seek out, an appearance on national television in that very state of being? Why is it that at an NBA game, it is as if we are in a movie theatre during the most dramatic scene in The English Patient? Since when has the NBA turned into a “date spot?” A place where passionate fans are a nuisance instead of a key ingredient to the building atmosphere? How many Coach purses can one cram into a building? Why am I asking so many questions?

So, I have one request for the people attending the 2009 Wolves vs. Boston game tonight. You do not have to cheer for Flynn’s 5th turnover of the half, or Ellington’s 3rd mid range-jumper brick. If you are busy, skip the enthusiasm for Brewer’s breakaway dunk steal from Paul Pierce. Or Big Al’s thunderous dunk, Pecherov’s 2nd three pointer of the game, or Session’s nifty drive, or Hollins’ 3rd quarter stuff on Brian Scalabrine. Or Brian Cardinal’s 2nd drawn charge of the 3rd quarter. Skip the enthusiasm if you have to.  But for the love of Crunch/inflatable Crunch/Andre DeLoya/Jim Stack/Stojko Vrankovic/yourself and any other character that has once been employed by our esteemed organization, don’t cheer for the other team. Let’s stop pretending to be victims, because we aren’t. Order some more concessions on a Wednesday, and make Target Center a little more fun for people who like to go there and root on their team in what may be a more vulgar fashion than the 9a-5p talk we are all used to. We need it. And Rajon Rondo needs to hear how much of a clown he is. So let’s tell him. To his face.

wallyworld

About wallyworld

Mike has been writing for TWB as a hobby since the Kahn era, and currently resides in a Dallas suburb where he can often be heard loudly arguing with his neighbors about his strong dislike for JJ Barea. When not working, Mike enjoys playing the drums and pretending to like other sports.

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