A hero’s welcome
They were a giddy bunch, the media horde packed into the TD Banknorth Garden for Kevin Garnett’s official introduction to Boston, flitting around with the nervous eagerness of teenagers at a pep rally. But Garnett was running late, so everyone had to curb his enthusiasm, if only slightly. Some schmoozed; others ogled the procession of Celtics bigwigs (owner Wyc Grousbeck, franchise player Paul Pierce, newly acquired All Star Ray Allen) filing into the VIP lounge next door. A TV reporter cornered Grousbeck and peppered him with questions, grinning and (apparently) hyperventilating; when the Q-and-A finished, he clapped Grousbeck on the shoulder and croaked: “Congratulations!”
I glared, then stared sullenly at the magazine I was pretending to read. If anyone noticed my look of disapproval — which they might have, since the exchange in question happened about a foot to my left — they probably thought I was passing priggish judgment on this blatant display of media homerism. The truth, of course, is that compared to me, Grousbeck’s sycophantic interrogator was a model of cool journalistic detachment.
As I’ve explained, this tumult had autobiographical roots. But it was also about pure, unadulterated sports suffering. The Wolves franchise was just eight years old when the team made Garnett the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA draft, but we diehards had already witnessed a series of tragicomic lottery disappointments that make the Celtics’ run of bad luck this year in the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant sweepstakes pale in comparison: Laettner instead of Shaq, Rider instead of Webber, Marshall (Donyell, not Donny) instead of Kidd. We’d invested great hope in mediocre players (Gerald Glass) and GMs (Jack McCloskey) and coaches (Bill Musselman), and been rewarded with four straight 60-loss seasons. We’d resigned ourselves to the Wolves’ inevitable relocation to New Orleans in 1994 (34 years after the Lakers left for LA); rejoiced when they stayed put; then wondered why we cared, since the team was obviously destined to suck for all eternity.
Then came the 1995 draft. The top four teams in the lottery played it safe and took established college players (Smith, McDyess, Stackhouse, Wallace). And the Wolves — who’d been dazzled by Garnett at a now-legendary secret workout — actually got the player the team and the fans wanted. It was exhilarating and disorienting. Minnesota had been operating under some kind of weird pro-basketball hex, but suddenly the most intriguing and dynamic player in the draft was ours. Ex-Celtic and de facto GM Kevin McHale was obviously a genius. Everything was going to change.
Except that it didn’t. Yes, Garnett quickly became a spectacular player, and when glaucoma forced World Series icon Kirby Puckett’s retirement from the Twins, he also became the new face of Minnesota sports. But the Wolves’ miserable luck didn’t go away. It just got nastier.