Sunday, March 26, 2006

Minnesota nice.....unless you ask for a trade.

In case you didn’t realize (and judging by consistently empty seats at Target Center, you in fact didn’t), the Minnesota Timberwolves still have seven home games remaining this regular season.

Their final stretch begins today when the Wolves host the eeeevil Stephon Marbury and the New York Knickerbockers. We all remember Marbury. He was the young point guard phenom the Wolves acquired in a draft day swap with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1996. Upon that acquisition, visions of countless NBA championships danced in the heads of Wolves fans. Steph and Kevin Garnett were the modern day Magic and Kareem, bringing “Showtime” to the Upper Midwest.

However, after only two seasons, the dreams were shattered.

In February 1999, Marbury demanded a trade to a team where he would be highest paid. Under the collective bargaining agreement signed by the NBA and its players in 1999, the maximum contract Marbury could attain was a 7-year, $86 million pact. Since Garnett signed for $125 million prior to the new agreement, Marbury could not be highest paid on the Timberwolves. I guess his ego couldn’t handle the degradation of getting by on only $12.3 million per year. So Steph forced a trade to the New Jersey Nets where he signed the exact same 7-year deal the Wolves offered, all so he could be the richest guy on the Nets squad.

In Marbury’s first visit to Target Center as an opponent, he was booed mercilessly by the Wolves faithful. Every time he touched the ball, a steady stream of cat calls would rain down. In fact, whenever Marbury returned to 600 1st Avenue in subsequent seasons (whether it was with the Nets, Suns or Knicks), he was served constant reminders of how the fans felt they were robbed of an NBA title or two.

I have been a Minnesota sports fan for almost thirty years now. I can honestly say that Twin Cities’ sports fans have some of the thinnest skin amongst any devotees. A player demands to leave a Minnesota organization for whatever reason, the Minnesota faithful feel spurned. So the fan reaction towards the defectors upon their return with a new team will sometimes border on the irrational.

I remember when Chuck Knoblauch asked the Minnesota Twins to trade him after the 1997 season. The former second baseman was dealt to the New York Yankees for pitcher Eric Milton, Shortstop Cristian Guzman and Outfielder Brian Buchanan.

Knoblauch was a popular player here since his inaugural season of 1991 when he was voted AL rookie of the year. He was also a key component of the Twins winning the World Series that same season.

However, after about five or six years when it became obvious the Twins didn’t want to field a competitive team, Knoblauch asked to be traded after his seventh season with the club.

You can imagine the slap in the face the fans felt when Knoblauch caught on with the Yankees in 1998, the first year in what would be three straight seasons ending in a World Series title for New York.

Despite the Twins getting in the trade a solid starting pitcher in Milton and a slick fielder in Guzman (both made the AL All-Star team in 2001), the fans only remember Knoblauch committing the unforgivable sin of wanting to leave Minnesota.

The absurdity culminated in May 2001 when Knoblauch came to town with the Yankees, this time as a left fielder. Since Knoblauch had completely lost his competence as a second baseman, he was relegated to the outfield. In left field, he was easy pickings for the still-bitter Twins fans as they who proceeded to shower Knobby with hot dogs, coins, etc. The game even had to be delayed until the impromptu littering ceased. It was bad enough that Knobby’s career was in a downward spiral. He had to face the wrath of some scorned Twins fans.

Whether it’s the Minnesota Vikings’ faithful jeering former lineman Todd Steussie or Minnesota Wild fans booing an entire team (The Dallas Stars, formerly our Minnesota North Stars) in the Wild’s debut season of 2000, sports fans in this state seem to have long memories.

It’s time to GET OVER IT!

The fact of the matter is there will never be another “dynasty” in pro sports where it’s the same players year in and year out leading a single team to glory.

As long as the jersey says “Minnesota”, the player donning that attire is who’s representing this state in the sports world.

Like Jerry Seinfeld once accurately proclaimed: “We’re rooting for laundry.”

No comments: