Ten years and two months ago, I was a 14-year-old geek sitting in the backseat of my father’s pickup truck. My father drove my family and I back from our annual summer vacation from Wisconsin while I blasted Metallica in my CD player and read the Star Tribune.
That was when I came across the trade that sent Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota.
Some of my earliest memories involving the Timberwolves came from reading newspapers in the backseat of the trucks my family took our road trips with, one of them being nearly 20 years ago when I heard about Isaiah Rider’s drug abuse. I tried reading about it from the newspaper, but it was pointless. I was only five years old and either eventually or already mispronounced every name in NBA Live 95.
I could only hear my father’s version of the story, which happened to be filled with “bad words” as I looked at the picture of Rider’s mugshot in the newspaper. This is the guy that won the slam dunk contest, I thought, he’s really good and his name reminds me of riding bikes but he does drugs and my father hates him.
It was my first of several experiences with pessimism in Minnesota sports. I cried.
Eight or nine years later, the Timberwolves landed ‘Spree’ in a trade. Sam Cassell was also traded for, but Sprewell stuck out far more. One of the most volatile players of the 90s, the face of the New York Knicks in the early 2000s, and now…a Minnesota Timberwolf? It was and still is one of the most random Timberwolves stories of my lifetime.
Perplexed about the trade, I asked myself why and if it was all a joke. It was as if one of the most popular girls in my school wanted to date a pale geek like me. It wasn’t too good to be true, but rather too cool to be true.
Back then, I had a fascination with players who were enigmas but nonetheless popular names across the league. Their inconsistent performances on and off the court, despite immense talent, might have left something to be desired but that’s what both intrigued me and drove my father crazy. Rasheed Wallace was my favorite but Sprewell was right up there too. Stephon Marbury was at the bottom, but the Wolves got Terrell Brandon and, in the summer of 2003, Sam Cassell to erase our memories of a young, rising point guard who didn’t want to play in Minnesota.
We know how everything ended for the 2004 Timberwolves. It was a hell of a ride that fell just short, but Kevin Garnett became the NBA’s MVP. ‘Spree’ was also everything I thought he would be: the dreadlocks, scowl, streaky shooting, and fast break dunks that gave flashbacks of cherry picking with him in NBA Live 98. It was all there that season.
I couldn’t say the same for 2005: the year the championship parade would be held in Minneapolis, as Stephen A. Smith once predicted on national television. It was the most disappointing Timberwolves season of my memory, starting with the infamous quotes about Sprewell turning down a 3-year, $21 million contract because he had family to feed and ending with the Timberwolves missing out on the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets, the latter being a team the Wolves handled in the first round the season before.
Sprewell had the worst season of his career and hasn’t played another game since. I couldn’t believe he came to Minnesota and I couldn’t believe the way he left. My father did, only because he experienced a tumultuous departure so many years before. I recently asked him if he still remembers Rider.
“Pain in the ass,” he says. The frustration in his voice and immediacy in his response makes me laugh. It’s like Rider’s troubles that drove him crazy nearly 20 years ago happened only yesterday.
I get a similar response when I bring up Sprewell. He was another troubled scorer whose stay in Minnesota was short-lived, to put my father’s complaints about him in the politest way possible.
Maybe that’s true, but Sprewell’s someone I reminisce about because of how fun 2004 was. He gave at least one memorable season rather than none at all, and the “I’ve got family to feed” incident is something I joke about more than complain because it’s so ridiculous it could only come from Sprewell himself. 2005 was full of underwhelming performances from just about everyone not named Kevin Garnett. The opposite could be said for the pieces around Garnett in 2004.
‘Spree’ was just part of the best of times and the worst of times. Though he could’ve left on better terms, so could’ve several other notable players in Minnesota sports. He wasn’t the first to leave not-so elegantly and he won’t be the last, as with every city that owns a professional sports team.
The Timberwolves’ 2006 season wouldn’t be any better for my father. Ricky Davis would be traded to Minnesota, only I couldn’t help but complain too. The news of Davis’ arrival wasn’t as weird, confusing and exciting as when another polarizing scorer came to town 30 months earlier.