WASHINGTON, D.C. — I’m going to begin this with a few caveats because without caveats this is too broad, too far-reaching, too much the stuff of indiscriminate finger-pointing.
So, to clarify, this is not directed at everyone who’s ever called himself a Timberwolves fan. It’s not lobbed at a state or a city, ignoring the sane and making the unreasonable the only ones who warrant notice. But it is a reaction to a phenomenon and a sentiment, one that was loud enough Thursday night to become very much of a thing on Twitter.
Oh, and also to clarify, Kevin Love probably should have known better.
On Thursday night, Love posted a photo on Instagram and Twitter. It was of a gold watch lying on top of a book, West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life, by Jerry West. Along with the photo was a message, what appears to be a thank you, though it’s somewhat cryptic: “Appreciate @MAESTROKNOWS for this Infinity piece. Will wear it as a reminder that dreams don’t have deadline,” it read, ostensibly thanking this person for sending him the watch and also acknowledging the struggles the power forward has gone through on and off the court this season.
And that’s all it took to ignite Twitter. Jerry West played for the LAKERS, after all, and later coached the team and then ran it, and so because Love read his book and included it in his photo that must mean he wants to leave Minnesota. It must mean he thinks Los Angeles would be a far better place to play and live. It must mean he prefers beaches and celebrities to cold winters, thus fundamentally insulting the base nature of the state in which he’s played. It must, according to far too many people, far too many fans who exactly one year ago Friday were devastated that the guy didn’t get a max deal.
It all flared up again, the paranoia and discord that ran rampant in December after Love went to Yahoo! Sports and cut open a vein, railing about the Timberwolves’ management and leadership and losing. He says he said nice things, too, which were omitted. The writer of the piece did issue a rare, somewhat appeasing tweet confirming Love’s claim after the blowback reached epic proportions, so there’s that. But no one remembers that. Everyone remembers that Kevin Love is upset, and Kevin Love wants to win, and even though he said he wants to stay in Minnesota, they remember the opposite, that Kevin Love wants out.
Then Love, with his gimpy hand that perhaps wasn’t healed fully, or at least not healed right, continued to play far below the level he did last season. Then fans decided the team was better off without him (rational, right?), and then he unwittingly granted them their wish, in a sick sense, breaking the hand again. And now he’s gone, off rehabbing or whatever, and the first peep we’ve heard in days is that tweet.
Love was the golden boy for almost four years, but he’s had several months to get used to being something other than that, something scrutinized and branded with the scarlet “O,” for outsider who maybe, possibly, could want out. He’s had a couple of months to realize that though that tweet from a strictly rational sense is just fine, in his case, with the pervading insecurity of so many of his fans, it’s not. Like I said, he should have known better. He should have thought twice. But he also should have never, under any circumstances, had to apologize.
He did, though, with more than one tweet’s worth of explanation:
“For those Wolves fans concerned about my Jerry West book…my dad Stan played with and admired Jerry very much. I figured it to be a…”
“…Great read in such a trying time for the team and myself. Please know I have nothing but good intentions! Now lets all get healthy!!!”
I will admit, I have not read West’s book. But I do trust the words of Gay Talese, one of the greatest sports writers of all time, whose review of the book is posted on its Amazon.com page. “West by West is a rounded, honest and moving exploration not just of West’s life under the arena spotlights, but his passages through his darkest hours,” Talese’s review reads. “With remarkable clarity and courage, West explores his flaws and ghosts, his glory on the court and his struggles off. … Few would have the courage to look so deeply into the mirror, but in this exceptional book, West has done so.”
Oh my goodness. Love was reading a book about basketball, struggles and dealing with expectations? That is just far too rational of an explanation for this. It can’t have anything to do with the fact that maybe the book would help him deal with the fact that he is disappointed in how this season has gone for him, that he wasn’t able to capitalize on the roster put around him (one he repeatedly praises) and win, that he hasn’t been able to play alongside close friend and teammate Ricky Rubio. Again, too rational.
People tell me that fans in Minnesota are accustomed to their stars bolting and moving on to better things, and that that history has bred this current discontented standoff. I get that. I really do. I may not know what it’s like, really, but I get it. It sucks when talented, beloved players leave. As someone who was born and raised in St. Louis, I felt like I lost someone dear to me last week when Stan Musial died. He played his entire two-decade career with the Cardinals and lived in the city for the rest of his life after he retired. And so of course I wouldn’t understand the plight of the Minnesota sports fan, would I, when that’s what I grew up with?
Except wait. Just more than a year ago, I watched as the first baseman I’d followed since I was 13, Albert Pujols, was lured out of the Midwest by money, money and more money. I watched as he told St. Louis he loved it out of one side of his mouth and flirted with Miami and Los Angeles out of the other. I watched as Los Angeles and its deep pockets won that war, and I waved goodbye to Pujols. I didn’t burn my T-shirts or black out his face on my framed newspaper covers from the 2006 and 2011 World Series, though. Instead, I realized that to pay him would not have been in the team’s best interest, and that even to these heroes we create, heroes who have enough money to take care of their families 10 times over, paydays still matter.
A few games into last season, I talked to Pujols in the visitors’ locker room at Target Field. I told him I was from St. Louis, that I grew up idolizing him, and he stopped me mid-sentence. He told me how great St. Louis was, how great its fans are, and then he gave me a one-armed hug.
For a second, I wasn’t a sports writer. I was one of you, one of the fans, one who’d been robbed of a player she’d claimed ownership over for years. And I realized it wasn’t an insult. It wasn’t personal. I realized that some players will leave, and others will stay, and there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.
And I’ll say this: I enjoyed every minute I got of Albert Pujols, even in those last days, when not even an improbable World Series win clouded the fact that he’d very likely be gone. I don’t regret a minute of it.
I’m not saying Kevin Love is leaving or that a parallel situation will play out in Minnesota. I’m just saying that players leave. Players you love leave. And really, it’s not personal, not most of the time, and one tweet of a book and a watch shouldn’t ignite things the way it did.
Who cares where Kevin Love will be in five years? Minnesota is going to see him again in a Timberwolves uniform, and healthy, and he’s going to do things that few basketball players today can do. He’s going to be great again, and any worries about where he ends up or how he feels about Minneapolis shouldn’t obscure the game-winning shots and scoring binges, the dominance that the Timberwolves haven’t seen since the Kevin who came before.
Enjoy Kevin Love. Minnesota is lucky to have him, even if this may be a lost season for him, even if his relationship with management may not be perfect. Even if he is reading books written by Lakers.