Seven years ago, my older sister took me to the Timberwolves season opener during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season. I was a broke college student almost done collecting debt at the University of St. John’s and she knew how fanatical I was about the team. She knew I had to be there to soak up a moment that was years in the making.
I had been obsessing over the arrival of Ricky Rubio for two years after David Kahn drafted his prized Spanish Unicorn, and No. 2 pick, Derrick Williams, was supposed to be the next big thing at forward in the league. (HE COULD SHOOT THREES SO WELL AT ARIZONA, THEY SAID.)
Emily bought tickets for us to witness the two prized rookies make their NBA debut. We sat in the upper deck inside of a booming Target Center almost overwhelmed by this special magic in the air that had been absent since KG left town. There was this sensational, positive aura in the building that made me feel like the Spaniard and DWill were going to compliment Love, Beasley and the rest of the roster in a way that would finally push the squad to new heights.
The Wolves played the Thunder that night and lost, 104-100. Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka were all playing in OKC under Scott Brooks at the time. OKC went 47-19 that season and eventually ended up losing to the Heatles, 4-1, in the NBA Finals. The Beard would move south to Houston after an extension couldn’t be reached, breaking up the young core of the Western Conference champions. (Click bait title: What Happens Next In Oklahoma Might Surprise You.)
When reflecting back on that night, there are tons of old feelings that come flooding back into my brain. One that always sticks out, right up there with that incredible buzz that finally returned to Target Center, was what happened before the game even started. I got my brand new throwback Wolves hat signed by a young two-guard from UNC named Wayne Ellington. I was truly jacked up about getting his autograph.
Quick backstory: Fans used to be allowed to line up in the space that connected Hubert’s to Target Center to try to get autographs or pictures with the players, who would inevitably have to come by on their way into the arena. But the Hubert’s entrance into the arena was shut down this past season, cutting off that access, making this once hectic space full of exuberant fans trying to get a little bit closer to their team, only accessible to team personnel, media, and the fancy people sitting courtside.
That night, I told my sister I was going to get an autograph. We would wait there until someone signed my hat. Kevin Love or Michael Beasley was the goal, though I was prepared to settle for Darko Milicic and even a bit enticed to gun for the player on my Dad’s Wolves Mount Rushmore, Luke Ridnour.
So, I stood there waiting behind the ropes for one of the Wolves to stop by. Most of the players ran by quickly and weren’t interested in signing but then came Ellington. He stopped by to sign autographs mostly for young kids, collectors, and those dudes that get everything they possibly can get signed only to immediately sell the memorabilia somewhere else for profit. (I know some current players who dislike signing at games for anyone that isn’t a kid due to this.)
But Ellington stopped by to sign for everyone who wanted his signature. He had all the time in the world for the fans. At this point, Ellington wasn’t highly thought of as a prospect. This season would end up being his last in Minnesota before beginning a journeyman career in the NBA that only recently stabilized in South Beach.
Borrowing a kids black sharpie, I asked Wayne to sign the inside bill of my hat. I remember saying “Make it Wayne tonight!” He had this massive smile on his face and simply responded with, “my man.” Since that moment, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ellington. It was one small gesture during an odd season-opener in December many years back, but that one little interaction made him one of my guys. We all have our guys. Many people would go on to tell me over the years how genuinely nice of a person Wayne Ellington is. Tim Allen loved Ellington because he made him feel welcome in the locker room when he was just starting to cover the team. My only interaction with Wayne confirmed that inclusive feeling.
A few reasons for this story:
1) As Tory Lanez says on the intro to his latest album MEMORIES DON’T DIE, “people die every day but the memories don’t.”
Things are always changing in sports, as they are in all areas of life, but we will always have the memories and nobody can take those away. I like to remind myself to look back and appreciate the good ones for what they are.
People hustle all they life for diamonds and gold
And lose it all in one night by sellin’ they soul
As the memories come and the memories go
People die every day but the memories don’t
2) When thinking about this offseason, the Wolves most critical needs, and people I like, you best believe Ellington is up there on my list of guys I want to see the front office chase with the Mid-Level Exception. Whenever I think about Ellington, this memory back comes back. And to be honest, aside from nostalgic reasons, if Tom Thibodeau is serious about improving the three-point shooting next season, making a real strong play to sign Wayne with the intent to give him the same rope/role as Erik Spoelstra did in Miami this past year — allowing him to gun treys from anywhere — seems like a smart investment for the club. (227 makes on 579 attempts = 39.2%)
As we head into another offseason, it’s probably good to step back and remember the things that made us fans and kept us interested in the first place. Even small stuff like a player taking time for autographs before the game. Those memories really don’t ever die.