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 learned about the trade that sent Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota.
Some of my earliest memories involving the Timberwolves came from those situations, reading newspapers in the backseat of the trucks my family took our road trips with. One other memory was nearly 20 years ago when I tried to read about Isaiah Rider’s drug abuse. I say tried reading because, despite the effort, it was pointless. I was only five years old and, looking back, I mispronounced so many words, especially names of players in NBA Live 95.
I could only hear my father’s version of the story about Rider, which happened to be filled with “bad words” as I looked at the picture of his 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 Sprewell 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 remains one of the most strangest Timberwolves acquisitions 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 high-profiled players who were enigmas. Their inconsistent performances on and off the court, despite immense talent, may have left something to be desired but it’s what both intrigued me and drove my father crazy. Rasheed Wallace was my favorite, but Sprewell was right up there. Stephon Marbury was at the bottom, but the Wolves got Terrell Brandon and, in the summer of 2003, Sam Cassell to erase 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. Sprewell 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 can’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 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 the playoffs to Memphis and Denver, the latter team the Minnesota handled in the first round in 2004.
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 made me laugh. It’s like Rider’s and Sprewell’s troubles that drove him crazy so many years ago happened only yesterday. Their stays in Minnesota were short-lived, to put my father’s complaints about them in the politest way possible.
Maybe that’s true, but Sprewell in particular is a player 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 more than complain about because it’s so ridiculous it could only come from Sprewell himself. He was part of the best of times and the worst of times, and 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 is the case for every city owning a professional sports team.
The Timberwolves’ 2006 season wouldn’t be any better for my father. Ricky Davis would be traded to Minnesota. I couldn’t help but complain too, but only because the news of Davis’ arrival wasn’t as weird, confusing and exciting as when another polarizing scorer came to town 30 months earlier.