I’ve been an Orlando Magic fan now for 18 years, dating back to Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie season. Growing up, I had a mural of Shaq on my wall featuring him flying over Florida palm tree with a Superman cape on. I owned all of his rap albums. I owned his video game, Shaq-Fu. I had his No. 32 Magic jersey in blue. I went to Kazaam in theaters the nigh it opened. When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, I bawled. I hated Shaq and remained a Magic fan.
I’m still a Magic fan, but I’m wondering what it takes to transfer your allegiance to another team. That’s generally considered jumping on another bandwagon, but so be it. I never liked the Magic based on proximity and frankly, I feel like I should be supporting the local ball club. They have no bandwagon.
I watched the entire Minnesota Timberwolves game last night — the first time I’ve watched a full T-Wolves game when they weren’t playing the Magic. They’re awful, but in the cutest way possible. Last night, they lost at home despite scoring 116 points against a team playing without their two best players. Kevin Love, probably the best player on the Timberwolves, played just 23 minutes and sat the last eight despite earning a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) by halftime. This is one hot mess of a team that you can pay just a few bucks to see in person.
Last night got me thinking about Bill Simmons, the closest thing the sportswriting world has to a rock star. Simmons writes long-winded columns for ESPN.com, often riddled with obscure pop culture references as glue for his fragmented rants. Still, he’s managed to make a 700-some page book about basketball a best-seller. He must be doing something right.
Simmons and I suffer a similar affliction. He’s based in Boston where he makes no bones about his pro sports leanings. He’s a Red Sox and Patriots fan to the core, but when it comes to basketball, he actually chooses the putrid Los Angeles Clippers over the vaunted Boston Celtics. What gives?
On Dec. 1, 2004, Bill Simmons declared himself a Clippers fan for the good of the franchise. He wrote,
“After the Patriots and Red Sox won titles within a nine-month span, I found myself without any remaining challenges as a fan. I had climbed every mountain. I was like Garry Shandling after the final “Larry Sanders” show, at a complete loss for how to top what just happened. So I decided to go the Jack Morris route. I became a hired gun. I brought my winning résumé to a franchise that always loses. That’s right … I became a Clippers season-ticket holder. Only one outcome would be more improbable than the Sox winning the Series: The Clips winning a series.”
Simmons actually has the fan equivalent of dual citizenship. He’s a Clippers and Celtics fan. In fact, last spring, he started a new Twitter account — @CelticsChants — for the sole purpose of leading the Celtics crowd at TD Garden in heckling.
I won’t paint switching to a lesser team martyrdom like Simmons did. Sorry Orlando, but I’m doing it. Maybe not all at once, but I’m becoming a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. That means reeling through seasons of futility — like this one — and getting to know exciting young players, like Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic. It means calling for the coach’s head — watch it, Rambis — and plastering message boards with anti-David Kahn sentiment. It means tempering the shit out of expectations, which is second nature for fans of any Minnesota pro sports franchise.
I can do this.
Unlike Simmons, I bring no “winning resume” as a fan. I was barely eating solid foods when the Twins won their last World Series and the Vikings — well, you know. I did stay a Florida Gators fan after Mitchell, S.D.-native Mike Miller played there, so I get their back-to-back college basketball titles in 2006 and 2007. I was a Tiger Woods fan. The Michigan Wolverines split a title with Nebraska in 1997. That’s my track record and it’s not about to get any better.
I’m no Bill Simmons, but I want to be a voice for the Minnesota Timberwolves fan base. (All 13 of us.) Pro sports are about entertainment. Last night, I couldn’t look away from a squad that went 15-67 last year. This is going to be a fun ride.