sports blog by andy shenk

Howling at the Moon

In At The Game on April 13, 2012 at 10:41 PM

Last night my wife, Nikki, and I, along with one of my clients, John*, attended the Wolves-Clippers game in Minneapolis. Nikki and I don’t own a car, but we were able to borrow one from a friend for the evening. She picked me up from my job in Dundas a little after 3 pm and we made the twenty-minute drive west to Faribault to pick up John. From there it’s just an hour drive north on I-35 to downtown Minneapolis and the Target Center. We stopped for a quick supper at Chipotle in Burnsville, then booked it the rest of the way so that we could be there when the doors opened ninety minutes before the 7 pm tip-off.

We made it to the arena right at 5:30. Even though we’re not season-ticket holders, the Wolves’ staff let us in through the season-ticket holders’ entrance, half an hour before the general public is allowed to enter. I went off to buy some Wolves gear on which to collect autographs, while John and Nikki hung out on the concourse. When I got back, bearing some Wolves decals, John was buying a large soda from a concessions booth. Nikki and I had told him beforehand that sodas cost about $5 at the game. He couldn’t believe it and decided to buy one right away. He had to wait a bit for his $5.75 souvenir Mountain Dew, since the vendors hadn’t set up the cash register yet,  but that made it all the more fun – he made the first purchase of the night from the booth.

From there we moved down to the court so that we could watch the Clippers and Wolves warm up and hopefully snag some autographs. Nikki camped out on the Wolves’ side, while John and I observed the Clippers. Far more fans were clustered around the Clippers, most lining the tunnel through which the visiting team walks on their way to the court. It pained me to see the lack of attention paid to the home team, but it also seemed fitting, here at the end of this tragic Wolves’ season. Soon after we arrived the man everyone was waiting for, Blake Griffin, sauntered out. He paused for a few minutes to sign autographs, inducing the crowd to surge around his 6’10”, 250 lb frame. Neither of us got a signature, however, so we moved back to some seats to watch him, and the rest of the Clippers, prepare.

Though we didn’t get the Griffin autograph, we were rewarded with ink from DeAndre Jordan and Bobby Simms. When we met back up with Nikki, we found out she also had scored one from Timberwolf Derrick Williams. Initial warm-ups complete, we headed up to our seats in section 116. They were near the top of the lower bowl, opposite the Clippers’ bench and they did not disappoint. Just a few minutes before game time, the Clippers, back out on the court for final warm-ups, decided to loosen up the rim and backboard as well. Thunderous dunk followed thunderous dunk, capped off with one gravity-defying dunk from Griffin. Standing out at the three-point line, he threw the ball up in the air, waited for the bounce, then sprinted forward, grabbing the ball high above the rim and slamming it through from what looked like a distance of at least ten feet. John and I had ooohhhed and aaahhhed over the dunks from the beginning, but when Griffin delivered the final slam we turned to each other, high-fiving, nearly jumping out of our seats. The Wolves’ fans seated around us didn’t seem too happy, looking our direction perturbedly. Griffin’s not very welcome in Minnesota: his attention-seeking dunks and celebrity status contrast starkly with Minneapolis’ adopted son Kevin Love, the prototypical, unassuming lunchpail, blue-collar big man. With Love unable to play due to a concussion suffered in Denver the night before, Griffin would be opposed most vociferously tonight by the hometown fans, who rained chants of “Overrated!” down on Griffin several times during the game.

Such loyalty had no pull on me, however, a Spurs fan, or on John, self-avowed enemy of all Minnesota sports teams. With a crowd-pleaser like Blake Griffin in the house, John’s rooting interest tilted even further from the Wolves.

The game unfolded much according to script. Minnesota’s injury-ravaged roster finagled a one-point lead going into halftime, pleasantly surprising the 16,000+ fans. The third quarter bore witness to an initial Clippers surge, countered by the Wolves, who cut their deficit to three near the end of the period. The crowd, truly awake now, howled with fury at the full moon suspended from the upper deck of the arena, implored to do just that by the PA Announcer. Nikki and I joined in, howling brazenly at the players below, happy for one night to channel those fearsome inhabitants of the North Woods.

Alas, Minnesota crumbled in the fourth. As the game slipped further and further away, the Clippers’ offense, contained for so long, opened up at last, freeing Griffin for several trademark alley-oops. John celebrated accordingly, turning excitedly to the fans nearby, who, not surprisingly, remained nonplussed. I had no trouble sharing his happiness, however. The game had entertained far more than I expected, and, besides, I was far more invested in the scoreboard updates, which showed that the Spurs were stuck in a nailbiter with Memphis.

After the final horn we hit the exits, heading straight for the Timberwolves’ garage, located just around the corner from the Target Center First Avenue entrance. We mostly went there to gawk at the cars as they drove out one-by-one, but we also thought we might snag a few autographs in the process. First came big men Brad Miller and Darko Milicic, inactive for the game. A bit later Ricky Rubio, implored by the fans to stop for autographs, made his getaway, piling into an SUV with several friends and avoiding the crowd. Eventually, the meat of the active team, those who had played significant minutes, began heading home. Anthony Tolliver walked right up to the three of us to sign autographs. While he signed for fans, his wife brought out an adorable yellow lab puppy from a dog carrier in the trunk of their SUV, giving it to Anthony when he was finished. He plopped down in the passenger side, puppy on his lap, and his wife drove him out into the Minneapolis night.

Finally, the highlight of the night. Michael Beasley, his wife (wearing one of her husband’s jerseys), and little boy piled into $400,000 worth of vehicles. Mr. Beasley drove out first, stopping to sign autographs from his Audi R8, followed closely behind by Mrs. Beasley in a black Bentley sedan. Soon after they left the garage door closed, the fans dispersed, and we slowly headed back to our parking garage a few blocks away. John had grabbed three autographs by the garage, Tolliver’s, Beasley’s, and Wes Johnson’s.

An hour later we were dropping John off at his group home in Faribault. Following a quick stop in Dundas to throw my bike in the trunk, we pulled into Northfield a little after midnight. Our little apartment felt even smaller after the night in the big city. I still felt the buzz of interacting so closely with fabulous wealth. But, soon enough we were ready for bed, for sleep and its welcome pause before waking to another spring day in small-town Minnesota.

*Name has been changed for privacy purposes

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