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How Songs Save Fans When Rebuilds Don’t

Everyone has those moments that they look back on when they question if fandom is worth it. Some have a jersey or a picture or an interview. I have a song. And it is a great one.

Andrew Wiggins presented with 2014- 2015 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year Award Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

On April 25th, 2023, we all watched, through stream, TV screen or twitter feed as the Minnesota Timberwolves crashed out of the playoffs.

It was the end of a season that mirrored the opening lines of a certain Dickens play. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the tale of Twin Cities.

As soon as Anthony Edwards missed a three at the final buzzer, the offseason began. Whereas last season’s exit was accompanied by melancholic but good vibes, this season’s finale brought forward ugly conversations and repeated masochistic unearthings of past takes — on the Rudy Gobert trade, on Karl-Anthony Towns, and on the Wolves themselves as the worst franchise by win percentage in North American professional sports history.

This is what fans do now. Pessimists throw tantrums and roll around on the floor while optimists try to reframe and create a patchwork painting of the season’s great moments. It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to consume. It’s even harder to get in the middle and try to get a real conversation going.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

So what did I do after this Wolves season closed, both as the most successful two-year span in the past twenty years of the team’s history and the most wretched-feeling product I have experienced in my time as a fan in any sport?

I closed my stream. I took a breath. And I went back to a simpler time.

2014 marked the end of the Kevin Love focused rebuild. Between misused draft picks, knuckle pushups, and an era best but still playoff exempt 42 wins, it was the end of a period most Wolves fans do not look upon fondly.

So, on August 23rd, Love was sent to Cleveland for Anthony Bennett and, more notably, Andrew Wiggins. And on October 21st, Alex Smith of Minneapolis band Cosmonot released the song that would shape my experience of the next era of Wolves basketball: “Andrew, Savior of the Universe.”

The song itself is barebones. There’s no real drum line; instead the melody is just punctuated with tambourine hits and pre-recorded and packed hand claps. The bass line was a quick and simple one. The budget had already been used by previous projects in a long summer of recording. The song, however, carries such an intimacy of other fans who would be anywhere else if they could be but are also still here. But this time around? Maybe there’s something to be here for.

“There was a lot of excitement because they had actually, you know, executed a trade that people were excited about,” Smith told Canis Hoopus recently. The lyrics open on the focus of most fans at the time: “more than a decade has passed since our boys were last playing in a summer night.” It had been ten years since Minnesota had seen a playoff berth, a drought that would balloon to fourteen years before being quelled. It was assumed that Wiggins would be the one to turn it around, or as Smith said, “I thought it would be kind of funny to like, play up the superstar ability of their potential of Wiggins because, at the time, he hadn’t played a game yet.”

Andrew Wiggins presented with 2014- 2015 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year Award Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The team Wiggins joined was by no means ready. The roster was littered with cast-off veterans like Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf, franchise legends like Nikola Peković and Kevin Martin, along with a 38-year-old Kevin Garnett, and random young guys like Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III. And yet, the song predicts multiple championships (the only finals the Wolves have made were in the Summer League, and they lost both) and multiple MVPs (Kevin Garnett is still the franchise’s only MVP).

I think it’s this choice that makes this song such a safe haven for my fandom. At the basis of any clamoring over mid level exceptions or conversations of rotations is a blind homerism for your own players. They are the superheroes to whatever portion of the childhood brain still exists. There was a point in my fandom where I would refuse to include Kelan Martin in a mock trade. Or Josh Okogie. Or Gorgui Dieng. Or even Jarred Vanderbilt.

Ironically, none of those four remain on the team. The same can be said about those 2014 team members. In the ideal form, a rebuild is defined by the hope it brings. On a realer note, a rebuild is made possible by ridiculous roster turnover.

“It’s kind of like a little bit of a time capsule because anybody who follows sports knows that players are here one day, they’re gone the next. There’s just so much movement,” said Smith.

“And so it was kind of fun to like print that version of the Wolves with all those players. I think there’s that sort of that bridge section where you’ve got all these names of these guys, and then over the years, as they would get traded, I would text my friends and say, ‘Oh, another one bites the dust from the list’, you know, but it’s fun to just go back and see like that moment in time...

But when I was writing it, I was aware that it was like, it’s fun to to take this current energy that we have as Wolves fans, and this era of the team and kind of bottle it up, and it’s gonna be on the internet, you know, for as long as YouTube exists and people keep posting it somewhere else, I guess. But yeah, it’s, uh, it was fun.”

Fun was the word Alex kept coming back to. From the writing process, a quick fifteen minute jot of lyrics sprawled onto printer paper, to the upswings in major key to the voice modulated demon requesting the Wolves win forever, it’s just a fun song. Even as we reminisced on the players the Wolves had ruined, including Wiggins himself, in their quest to rediscover how to do anything a capable organization should do, the reminiscing process was fun.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

As he had discussed the creation of the song, Alex had alluded to the problem with any overlap in sports and music: “I think it’s hard to do it without just coming across as really dumb basically, it’s just like having sports theme songs or whatever, there has to be a little bit of a level of irony to it... I think that when those types of songs are done best, it’s when it’s a little bit tongue in cheek.”

There’s other examples of this across other teams as well. Hobo Johnson’s “Sacramento Kings Anthem” loudly and repeatedly yells “we’re not that bad.” Memphis’ version of “Whoop that Trick” is not the original release, but is instead from the movie “Hustle and Flow”. My own mother even remembers when I showed her “Russell Westbrook on a Farm”, a song title so insane that even a non-basketball fan such as herself has held onto it even now in order to bring it into any Westbrook conversation. This is not to say there is no place for sports songs that are fully serious. Q-Tip’s “Won’t Trade” is still a personal favorite, although there are few Q-Tip songs I do not love.

Throughout my conversation with Alex, I found that answer about a fun song changing more and more. While we talked more and more about the corners of the internet this song had reached, it became increasingly clear that this song was not a “throwaway” as he had initially called it, but a valid song that was just vastly different than the rest of his catalogue. It is an extremely unserious, ridiculous song. It’s bitingly sarcastic about the expectations we place at the feet of young players, while also joining in on the same hype it’s mocking. It is almost anthem-like in the way it unifies people around an incredibly niche, yet shared joy.

By the end of our talk, I was met with an incredibly humble and sentimental man. A discussion that had started with an interview request sent over Facebook had led into a more philosophical discussion of what it meant to be an artist and a musician, on the coincidences of life, and on the community we find ourselves in unexpectedly.

“I do find joy in the fact that people have connected with this song and it has sort of an underground popularity with with at least a small subset of a subset,” Alex said. “It does make me happy and I think fulfills a lot of what I was trying to create with that in the first place was just trying to connect with it’s a little bit of an inside joke and it sounds like it at least found some kind of audience so that does make me happy.”

“If you don’t have a big following, you know, if you don’t have a built in audience or people that are that want to hear a lot of music from you, there’s not a big built in audience there, there’s not a lot of people that are just waiting for five songs or ten songs or whatever. I think it’s really healthy for artists to focus on just one thing at the end in a given moment and say, ‘I’m gonna make this song as good as I can. I’m gonna have fun. I’m going to have a reason for making the song and it’s going to mean something to me.’ It’s going to have almost like a thesis to it; there’s only so much time in the day you know, so you don’t really want to waste it making art that you don’t care about so much.

I think it is important to think about music like, ‘Alright, it’s really only a song at a time for the most part and said three minutes, four minutes, five minutes at a time and making a song like Andrew [Savior of the Universe] was fun.’ There was a clear story goal and it always was very easy. It’s easier than a lot of other stuff and it had a little bit more of a purpose, I would say. And so I think if people are just starting to make music or making it forever, or whatever, I think at the end of the day, it makes the most sense, you know?

Personally, time-wise, business wise, all that stuff to just try to put all of your energy and talent in what you have to offer into, like the best song, instead of trying to think of the best 20 songs or 30 songs or whatever it’s like, ‘What can you make that that will have an impact on people that you want?’ Maybe you don’t care about that. But if you do want to make an impact on people or make something that other people can enjoy, how can you distill what you have to offer into that three or four minutes?

Because I think we do kind of become victim of ‘Well, if I make twenty songs or ten songs, it almost papers over some things that allows you to be more unique or whatever across all this. But it’s like, ‘How can you do that in three-to-four minutes and bring something new to the table or do something interesting for people? That’s how I’m trying to like when I’m making music now.”

Cosmonot, and Flip Rushmore now, offer exactly what Alex says his focus is. It is some of the most genuine, heart-filled music I have ever heard, which is why it’s perfect to return to after a bad game, or bad series, or bad season, all of which have been unfortunately common since that 2014 afternoon.

“Andrew, Savior of the Universe” is an inside joke, it barely even makes sense anymore considering Wiggins was the last tenured member of the team listed in the song and he hasn’t been around in almost three-and-a-half years since he was unceremoniously dumped in a deadline deal for D’Angelo Russell, who also wasn’t a savior of the universe. But, it’s an inside joke that still makes me chuckle. Everyone has those moments that they look back on when they question if fandom is worth it. Some have a jersey or a picture or an interview. I have a song. And it is a great one.

Oh, and the Wolves once again have an enigmatic guard forward super athlete who was selected first overall. When asked about a potential follow up in “Anthony, Savior of the Universe”, I got a wry chuckle and a “yeah, we’ll see”.