The first live stand-up show I saw was in 2004 or 2005, and had a bit about being a Kansas City sports fan. The comic described the torture that the Chiefs always put their fans through, playing well enough to raise their fans hopes, only to let them down in big playoff moments. He then pivoted toward the Royals, joking about how they don’t “mess” around, playing so badly, so consistently, that fans never have to open up their hearts to be broken in the playoffs.
A quick review of the Chiefs suggests he was thinking back to their stretch of seasons from 1990 through 1997. They made the playoffs 7 times out of 8 seasons, but never reached the Super Bowl. The Royals actually won the World Series in 1985, but then proceeded to miss the playoffs entirely from 1986 through 2013, a stretch of 27 seasons over 28 years (the strike canceled the ’94 Playoffs).
The city’s sports pairing is comparable to the football-basketball combination in Minneapolis.
Being a Minnesota Vikings fan has, throughout their existence, been defined by gut punches and misery. Older fans remember the 4 Super Bowl appearances and 4 Super Bowl losses. They remember the team that some consider the best of that era, taken down by Drew Pearson’s last-second catch in the NFC Championship when he got away with offensive pass interference. They remember Darrin Nelson dropping the pass that might’ve taken them to the 1987 Super Bowl. Fans my age remember 1998, the 15-1 Randy Moss-led juggernaut that was upset by the Falcons when Gary Anderson missed a short field goal that would’ve sent them to the Super Bowl. And Viking fans of almost all ages remember 2009, Brett Favre, Bountygate, the fumbles, the too-many-men-on-the-field, the interception, and the overtime loss.
Following the Timberwolves has been a lot like following the Royals must have been throughout the 90s and 00s. I don’t really need to rehash the whole “haven’t made the playoffs since 2004” thing for this reading audience. But it’s worth remembering that perpetual Wolves losing is not confined to the ongoing stretch; they began their existence with terrible season after terrible season, burning through 5 coaches in their first 7 seasons of existence. Also, making the playoffs by itself is not much of an accomplishment in the NBA. Over half the teams do it and almost all of them have no realistic chance of winning the title. In the Wolves history, 2004 was the only time fans ever even considered the possibility that they could win it all. Even with KG, Wolves fans almost never allowed themselves to be seriously hurt by a playoffs loss.
This background and city-sports comparison brings us to yesterday.
Let’s watch that again:
This play is the opposite of Minnesota Vikings. This type of unrealistic touchdown to win a playoff game is supposed to happen AGAINST the Vikings. Every Vikings fan who watched yesterday’s game had the same reaction, after calming down. This isn’t what happens to this team.
About an hour after Diggs strolled into the end zone, the Wolves and Blazers tipped off across downtown at Target Center. The Wolves went on to win the game easily, their 5th straight win on a 5-game homestand. The final score was 120-103. After a sluggish first quarter, the Wolves outscored the Blazers 26-10 in the 2nd and 34-31 in the third, putting the game mostly out of doubt for the duration of the game. Benches were emptied at the 4-minute mark in the fourth.
The Blazers are not a bad team — after last night’s L they are 22-21 and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Yet, the Wolves beat them easily. The Knicks are, likewise, not bad. The Wolves beat them by double digits on Friday. The Thunder were supposed to be better than the Wolves, and lost by 16 at Target Center last Wednesday. LeBron’s Cavs were absolutely annihilated in Minneapolis last Monday. And the Pelicans, another Western playoff contender, lost by 18 at Minnesota in the game before that.
The Wolves are now 29-16, winning almost two third of their games. They are a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the third spot in the West. They’re 3 games behind the Rockets for the 2-seed. They have the 4th ranked offense in the NBA and will catch the Raptors in third with another strong scoring output. Their defense, one of the league’s worst last season and the first part of this one, is up to 18th overall. Over the last 15 games, to highlight where all of this is trending, the Wolves have had the league’s best offense and 7th best defense. In Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, they have two players who will make All-NBA teams.
This team is on pace to be the franchise’s second best in its 29-year history. Rather than numb over the fans with 50-plus losses and another draft lottery, this team is forcing fans to open up their hearts and adjust to real stakes.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs have continued to break hearts. In 2016, they went 12-4, only to lose immediately to the Steelers in their first playoff game. Last week, they blew a big halftime lead to lose to the Titans, ending their season.
The Royals, however, did the unthinkable. First, in 2014, they actually made the playoffs; the first time since winning the Series in ’85. They swept the American League rounds and battled the San Francisco Giants to the 9th Inning of Game 7, losing 4-3. More KC heartbreak. But rather than resign to defeat, the Royals came back stronger the following season, won their division, and finished the entire job. They beat the Mets to win the 2015 World Series, something that seemed laughably improbable to anyone following baseball throughout the 90s and 2000s.
Whether the Vikings can ride the momentum from Diggs’s catch all the way to Super Bowl glory is anyone’s guess. But the play itself signals change. The Timberwolves have been consistently good for a half season and are trending in a positive direction. If they can stay healthy, we will have playoff basketball for the first time since George W. Bush’s first term.
A wild Vikings playoff win paired with a long, dominant Wolves winning streak… it all feels different.