Timberwolves 83, Suns 84: Winter Is Coming

Steve McPherson —  February 27, 2013 — 12 Comments

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Frankly, it’s become exhausting. It’s enough to make you question why you keep watching something that just looks like a flaming wreck drag itself to the finish line. How can you pull meaning from this? The early promise struck down; the lingering and crippling injuries; the sense that just when things seem to be turning around they get worse: I wouldn’t blame you for just packing it in and waiting for next season, when things might get better.

The Timberwolves? No, I’m talking about Game of Thrones.

The next season of the HBO show premieres on March 31, and to get primed for it, I’ve gone back to rewatch the first season. This is largely because my first time through I was caught up in seeing how they were handling the move from the pages of George R.R. Martin’s book to the small screen. As such, by the end of the season, I counted it largely successful in having hit all the major points, but I had not really perceived the darker undercurrents of meaning. I was too busy tracking the different characters and plotlines for future reference, but now that I have a handle on them and can set my attention to Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen on autopilot, I’ve grasped the thread that lies at the heart of the show’s first season, the one that wraps itself around the story of Eddard Stark.

[I’m going to keep this as unspoilery as I can. I will be talking in more general terms about themes in the show and steering clear of specific plot point reveals.]

It would be easy to look at Game of Thrones (hereafter, GoT) and say it fits neatly into the HBO model: a genre show on which they’ve dumped heaps of blood and sex. But that kind of reductive thinking ignores what makes GoT so revolutionary. The thing that sets the show apart is not its willingness to wallow in violence, but its upending of the traditional moral compass of the fantasy setting.

Even moreso than in the western or the cop drama (already explored and revolutionized by Deadwood and The Wire), the fantasy genre relies on the idea that goodness and justice will win out in the end. It’s a bedrock of our sense of the setting and GoT effectively uses that sense to show us something different.

From the very beginning, we can see that Eddard Stark is a Good Man: a just leader of his people in the North, a man who takes responsibility, a loving (if sometimes out-of-touch) father, and a good husband to a wife who was promised to his brother before his death. In essence, he has done all the things we expect a good fantasy hero to do in order to be fit for hero duty.

And yet, when the story takes him to the capital to serve the King, his sense of honor, of justice, of duty ends up betraying him. If that were all there were to it, that wouldn’t be much. Turning the tables and showing evil winning out over good isn’t particularly revolutionary. What GoT does instead is show us that holding fast to ideals of honesty and fairness is not wrong, just … ineffective. Being good or being greedy or being backhanded do not in and of themselves make a person successful in the Seven Kingdoms: the key is seeing the whole field clearly. GoT gives us a fantasy setting that is not moral, but rather indifferent.

And yet we as the audience cannot help but struggle to assign and then align our own morality with that of the characters in the drama. This is where Game of Thrones is not so different from sports. You see it when local announcers refer to their own team as “the good guys.” You feel it when your hatred for another team transcends competition and becomes something more. It gets into you when you feel like your team is cursed or somehow snakebitten.

It’s hard to see the Timberwolves so listless, hard to see them barely eke out 33 points in a half and not even crack 90 in an OT game against a team composed at least partially of cast-offs from the Wolves. It was bad enough to see them down by 18 with under a minute to go in the first half, but as they drew close in the 4th quarter, I was reminded of Ned Stark and Game of Thrones. If they had come back to win the game, it wouldn’t have made them good any more than losing the game makes them bad, not in the moral sense.

We like to ascribe losses to a lack of effort, which translates to a lack of heart, a moral failing. When a team wins, we like to see it as a group effort, a triumph of grit over adversity, a sign of purity and goodness. It’s not wrong to do this, but it’s helpful if we can understand that we’re doing this, if we can know that being good doesn’t lead inevitably to success, just as failure doesn’t ineluctably come from being bad.

Sports is its own kind of fantasy setting, the place where we cling most doggedly to the notion that the way we as observers act or think during a game can somehow influence the outcome. We wear the same socks or hats to game after game, sit in the same spot on the couch, eat the same foods, drink the same drinks. We invest teams with our hearts, assign them our morals, as surely as we do characters in a story. I would just ask you to know that you’re doing it. As Hamlet pointed out to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when they protested that Denmark was not a prison to them, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Steve McPherson

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12 responses to Timberwolves 83, Suns 84: Winter Is Coming

  1. Nice article. As someone who has suffered through a marriage to this team for going on 20 years. I have decided to go ahead with a trial separation. I wont we seeing other teams, but really feel like its time to see what life is like without this cloud hanging over me every winter. Being a fan is supposed to be fun and it just hasn’t been.

  2. In sickness and in health, for richer and poorer. That’s the vow I made to the wolves. I’m not throwing in the towel and sulking because of some struggles.This is when they need me the most. This is when they need to see bodies in the Target Center and hear the fans cheering them on.

    Same with Love. Kevin Love that is. The kid who was talking to one he trusted and opened up about some frustration, but the other guy broke that trust and skewed what was said to his liking. Booing Love for this? Wouldn’t even occur to me. Love is still my boy. Kids make mistakes, but we need to be able to forgive them and still show them we love and support them.

  3. Just re-watched the first season of GoT over the last few days too, but I only rewatched because of a terrible memory. Nice article and great explanation, last night felt like teh Bobcat game from earlier in the season. You knew we were going to come back at some point, the team we were playing was just too bad for it not to happen. It just seems every break (apt word) has fallen the other way this season. Mehh, at least baseball is almost here, oh wait I live in Chicago and like the Cubs. Sigh. Keep up your writing though it’s a reason for me to enjoy the T-Wolves. Apologies for the all over the place comment, btw.

  4. Thanks for this. It’s good to be reminded that losing and winning are not moral things, despite our incessant desire to project morality onto them.

    At the same time, it’s getting awfully hard to remain emotionally invested in this team, as Steve said ahead. When being a fan is so miserable, it gets hard to forcibly refuse to acknowledge the (proper) perspective that basketball is just part of the “toy department of human affairs,” and that thus basketball, and its fandom, has no intrinsic meaning or value, and all of my “suffering for my team” probably just makes me an idiot.

  5. Sorry, I meant “as Steve said above“.

  6. What’s the record for one-point losses in a season? We’ve got to be knocking on that door if not completely busting it off the hinges. In other news, I was tracking the game on my phone last night and saw one play appear on the screen: “Wes Johnson two point shot (Michael Beasley assists).” Naturally I thought ‘The Onion’ had started doing fake sportscasting. Did anyone see such a play as I just mentioned? It just sounds like such a farce. I can’t remember those two doing either of those things – much less in the same play – as members of the T-pups. It must have been a dunk so the shot didn’t have a chance of any knuckleball action in the air…

  7. Tim, I had exactly the same reaction to seeing that. I was following in on gamecast so I didn’t see it in real life. That should be like #1 greatest play of the year. Two amazing feats in one, first Beasley actually passing the ball and then Wes scoring. But, maybe it was really Beasley dropping the ball and wes happening to pick it up.

  8. Hey guys, it has been tough this year on us. But there is light at the end of the tunnel and if you dont see it, youre blind. Williams has been playing fearless. He is gettting his swag back that you seen so much when he was in Arizona. Rubio has been playing lights out, with the exception of last game where he couldnt seem to get a rythem going on both ends. Pek is a top center and what else do I need to say about Love? If Williams keeps playing the way he does, I wouldnt expect him to be traded any time soon.

  9. Goals for next year: Get healthy, sign a shooter, draft Victor Oladipo with our first pick. Oladipo is Sefolosha with more offensive potential. Him and Kirelinko would be an absolute terror on the wings defensively. No major changes, the main concern right now is to get healthy.

  10. They need to do more than just get healthy though . . . somebody (ok, the Blazers) will certainly throw a lot of money at Pek. You lose Pek and it’s bad, you overpay him long term and that is a bit tricky as well. Derrick Williams looks like he is a player but he still doesn’t fit with Love on the floor so he may still need to be moved over the summer (his value should be pretty high though). Budinger is a free agent and given he is coming off season ending surgery and will want a raise, what do you do with him? What do you do without him? They also need to figure out which of Shved, Berea and Ridnour to move and see if they can persuade Roy to retire or take a buyout. It’s sad to say but I think we should assume that if the Wolves aren’t deep in the playoff mix next year Love will try to force a midseason trade. So this offseason is pretty critical in where this team is headed over the next five years IMO.

  11. You nailed what (for me) is the essence of GoT, well done. This wolves season has been interesting and fun to watch despite the losses. In contrast, watching Ryan Gomes, Mark Blount and the Rambis teams had no redeeming qualities.

    I know I’m in a minority from the hive on this one but I think Pek is so very average. Did anyone notice him being subbed out on D at the end of the PHX game? Would be great instead to have a center who could jump for rebounds and rubioops. Pek is 27 already and I don’t think he is going to age well so by the 3rd year of a big deal ($14M/per), he is going to be an albatross wrt making other improvements.

  12. pagingstanleyroberts February 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Most losses by 1-3 points (one possession) this season: Indiana and Washington, 7; Cleveland and Toronto, 6; Detroit and Minnesota, 5. Most teams have at least 3. They’ve lost a lot of games in the 4th, but they’re not particularly unique in having close losses.

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