It was surreal a moment as I’ve experienced in my brief sportswriting career.
The access was even better.
From Jiggly Boy to James Harden disrespecting a female reporter and being two feet from the “State Farm Guy,” Saturday night in Minneapolis was one to remember.
Oh, I didn’t even mention implications of it all.
With the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves hosting their first playoff game in 14 years, the anticipation and anxiety was certainly at another level. Welcoming one of the NBA’s greatest offensive teams into town (the Houston Rockets) added another layer.
This rural Iowa sportswriter was privileged to walk the sidelines for a portion of Game 3 of the Western Conference first round while taking in the entirety from a birds eye view, in a top-notch press box.
Minneapolis, to me, is the perfect NBA city.
The Target Center (the Timberwolves’ home court) is in the heart of downtown, directly adjacent to the newly built Target Field (Actually, they share a courtyard on the north side. It’s pretty cool). It’s not too big of a city yet not too small. It’s easy to navigate and not overwhelming. And there are plenty of entertainment options.
The halftime show was the most head-scratching while the game in itself didn’t disappoint.
We were promised a special performance (teased with Lil’ John promos and thoughts of rappers of a by-gone era danced through my head). But we were eventually treated with some Russian girl dancing and flipping on a bouncy balance beam held by two macho men. It was more confusing than anything. But hey, I had a court side seat for that. I may or may not have snuck around several parts of the arena with my credential in tow. Though my reserved seats were in the press box in the rafters, my credential gave me access to the actual floor. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that? I stood within a rock’s through of Jimmy Butler, James Harden and Chris Paul as they warmed up. Saw how much of a grouch Thibs actually was in person.
The live action on the floor was thrilling. The Timberwolves led the Rockets throughout (it may have had something to my tendency to be a good luck charm), as even Derrick Rose, the fragile, emotional human being got in on the scoring.
The crowd was juiced but anxious in the first half despite the Wolves’ good fortune. Perhaps they felt another miraculous Rocket comeback brewing or they had become accustomed to demoralizing let downs. But the Wolves managed to hang on and treated the fans with a delectable playoff victory.
What stuck out to me during this barrage of points and celebrations in the first half was Minnesota’s frequent use of cheesy promos (Jimmy Butler was at one point a Skip the Weatherman and also a garbage can salesman). But it was entertaining to say the least, especially the infamous “Jiggly Boy.” Legit, he was an adult man dressed in an old Timberwolves jersey tasked with pumping up the crowd. I can’t tell if he did or not, but it sure was interesting.
The experience was so much more than the game.
At one point, a security guard who sat next to me asked where I was from. When I told her Iowa, she was flabbergasted, curious to as why I would make the drive up north and how she’d never been to the immediate state to the south. She then preceded to tell me she needed to visit more exciting places. I unfortunately had to crush her dreams, informing her Iowa probably wasn’t the place to start.
As the first playoff victory in 14 years became more apparent, the crowd loosened up, and “Big T,” dressed in a T’Wolves jersey and full Kiss makeup with a mohawk, let loose. I hoped to catch a giant with the strange fella, but he unfortunately escaped my grasp.
Once the game concluded and the fans scattered, it was off to my first playoff post-game press conference. It was held in a small, dark room. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni was more calm and personable than I thought, as was Chris Paul, who has made a name for himself through the State Farm commercials.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota’s star wing had on a wild, glittery shirt post game, so I figured, why not ask him about it? He laughed, as did the press room, and told me he was a loud guy (no you aren’t, Wigs, sorry to burst your bubble) and that was that.
When James Harden was asked a fairly decent question about the Rockets’ defensive game plan, he took a moment to disrespect the female reporter, staring blankly back at her before laughing and throwing his hands up in confusion.
Honestly, James, it wasn’t that bad of a question. Fortunately, in a surprisingly kind gesture, CP3 walked past the woman and apologized to her.
Sometimes superstars do have hearts, just not Harden, apparently. He didn’t play that well either, he was probably still pissed at his two air balls in the second half.
The biggest takeaway from the incredible experience was I discovered the beat writers and national reporters that get to cover the NBA on the regular are truly blessed. It was fun stepping into their shoes for a night. Access is a wonderful thing.
Until next time, go catch some rays and tune in to the playoffs.