Thank You Notes?

by Myles Brown

The Minnesota Timberwolves suffered their 12th consecutive loss Saturday night, after a hard fought contest with Houston’s Rockets. Though they’re long past taking any solace in character building, this game was still a small testament to the Wolves’ pride and professionalism. Laugh if you will, but after their first full practices under ‘Head Coach’ Kevin McHale, the offense began to align itself with his vision.

The spacing and ball movement are much improved, leading to a quicker pace and a team that could still reach 100 points despite losing one of their leading scorers in Mike Miller. From the beginning of his second stint as leader of the pack, McHale has emphasized the notion that practice is for coaches and game time is for players. So while the NBA’s unforgiving numbers game will file this one as no. 22 in the L column, it was still an encouraging one. It’ll be interesting to see what more time in the lab will do for this team’s chemistry.

But hard fought or not, the Minnesota Timberwolves lost their 12th consecutive game Saturday night.  With road games scheduled in San Antonio, New York and Dallas, along with their home matchups against Orlando and Memphis, it is entirely possible that this team will end the month of December without a win and break the franchise record of 16 straight defeats. Any reasonable person would ask—and I actually do know a few—what kind of masochist would continue to subject himself to chronicling such a hopeless situation. And any sarcastic person—which I have been known to be from time to time—would flippantly respond that there will usually be at least one good team in the building. Or that it’s free. Or perhaps I could become vindictive in this game of losers limbo and see just how low they can go. What’s the League record for consecutive losses? Has a team ever fired two coaches in the same season? Hey, it’s something new to write about.

I continue to do this because I see much of this team in myself. In the league of sportswriting, I’m a Timberwolf at best, if I were to make anyone’s roster at all. Relatively young, inexperienced and lacking direction. But every night that I show up at the Target Center I know that I’ll be sharing a table with some great writers and basketball minds, including two of the most salient scribes the business has to offer in Britt Robson and Steve Aschburner. Between them, Ben Polk and Stephen Litel, there isn’t one thing that happens on the court that isn’t caught by the second table in press row. Between them, there isn’t one original take to be had on this mess.

The Wolves show up because they’re contractually bound and handsomely rewarded. I don’t get paid and there’s no one forces me into my seat. I keep showing up because I keep learning. I keep showing up because I learn more about the game. I learn more about the business. I learn more about this craft. Hopefully, this time is well spent in preparation for when things finally do turn around for the Abstract realismMinnesota Timberwolves.

So as long as Sonia and the guys at Canis Hoopus keep blogging and my esteemed colleagues keep writing, so will I. Because for better or for worse, it’s still professional basketball and we all love this game.

I’d continue with some actual notes from this contest, but the opportunity has come and gone. The battle between Yao Ming and Al Jefferson sparked a debate on what exactly is a “good” or “bad” 20 and 10 in the NBA, but that’s a discussion for another post or the next time these two meet. Instead, I’d like to share a somewhat interesting postgame conversation I had with Ron Artest. Due to time constraints, we didn’t cover everything I wanted to, but it’s something else we can pick back up with the Rockets’ next visit.

SLAM: Queensbridge obviously shaped your worldview and made you who you are today. But your kids don’t live the same life you did. Why is it important to you that they know where you come from and experience your life as it was?
Ron Artest: I grew up in the projects. I always made sure that they grew up in the projects so they could be street. So if you speak to my daughter, she’s going to sound like she’s from the hood. Obviously she’s not going to experience everything I’ve experienced, but I still like for them to be street smart, so that if I’m ever gone they’ll know how to take care of themselves.

SLAM: What kinds of things do you want them to experience so they have that knowledge?
RA: Well when they go back home—back to Astoria or back to Queensbridge—all they friends is there and they just kind of pick it up. Obviously, I raised them right. Just because you live in the street, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be raised the wrong way. It’s all about the parents. But I don’t want them to totally forget about what’s real, what’s reality.

SLAM: You’re the bridge between your family’s past and their future. No one will ever have to experience that kind of poverty or be raised in that environment again. Most people would be more than happy to leave that behind, but you’re still so proud and attached to your neighborhood. What instilled that in you?
RA: It’s all about the kids. You’ve got kids that look up to you. You can make it and leave and never go back and live a nice life, but I think I’m here on this earth for more than that. More than just having a lot of money, you know? You’ve got to be able to go back and give back to the kids and throw little tournaments and be there for them because you see the struggle in those type of neighborhoods. And it’s not even my neighborhood or just my demographic. It’s about giving back to people. Like Dwyane Wade had that real good commercial with the Navigator, I think I was born to leave this world a better Hard livingplace than how I found it. I love that commercial.

SLAM: Does it ever bother you, knowing that no one else will ever have that foundation that made you who you are? Your grandkids are going to live a vastly different life.
RA: I raised my kids to want to help people. I think they’ll instill that in their kids, so I guess you can say Beyonce wasn’t really raised—Nah, that’s a bad example. Obama wasn’t really raised in the ghetto, but he still gave back to people that needed help in Chicago. I would hope that my kids could follow something like that. Just always thinking about others.

SLAM: There’s a lot of Chinese media following Yao Ming around the country and you two are from drastically different cultures. What kind of exchanges or experiences have you had with him, and what have you learned?
RA: I feel like he’s from where I’m from because he plays so hard. You know, a lot of people say he doesn’t play hard because he’s 7-5 and 300 pounds and a little slower than a guy who’s 240 pounds. So he’s not going to be that fast, but he’s out there moving and when you’ve got someone out there who works that hard, you automatically build a bond or relationship and respect for each other.

SLAM: Do you feel like he’s still a target out there because of the attention and accolades?
RA: Oh yeah, he’s a big target. Sometimes he don’t get calls that he wants, sometimes he gets double and triple teamed and he’s learning how to pass out of that. He’s a big target out there, but the thing about Yao is that he has help. If they want to double him all day, then you’ve got Tracy and a bunch of other guys.

SLAM: Another guy you share a sort of kinship with may be Tracy. You both have all the All-Star appearances and all kinds of other achievements, but neither of you have experienced the kind of success you’ve wanted to, or that you’ve been expected to.
RA: We have not experienced that. Nobody on this team has except Brent Barry.

SLAM: Is that something you two ever talk about?
RA: It’s nothing to really talk about, it’s just “Do you want it?” Some people become successful at a later age, some people become successful earlier like Tim Duncan. Michael Jordan was 27 when he got his first ring and I always wanted to be 27 when I got my first ring. But I’m 29 now and we’re just moving forward. If everything was easy in life, everybody in the world would have a good life.

SLAM: Are you satisfied with the team’s progress thus far?
RA: Um…no.

SLAM: What do you think you could be doing better?
RA: We could be doing a lot of things better. Our record speaks for itself. So we’ve got nine losses, Boston has two. They’re the best team in the NBA right now. So that record speaks for itself. That seven-loss difference, that says enough. And it says that we have a lot of work to do.

SLAM: So I saw that post about tight pants on your blog. If you had to choose between a 30 game suspension or 15 games of wearing tight pants, which one would you go with?
RA: Well it’s not necessarily that. What it is, is people in the media—like I’m from a neighborhood where we wear things baggy. And you’ve got a lot of people who started out how I started out, but then they switched up and now they’ve got all these people following them and the wrong message is being sent out there. I just think the wrong message is being sent out there and people are doing things—I don’t have anything against gay people—but there’s subliminal messages like that, like that’s how you should be.

SLAM: So you think the tight pants are a gay thing?
RA: No. No. There’s many other things that’s happening too within the hip hop community and it’s been talked about a lot. People can’t really pinpoint it, but it’s just like hip hop was just so different back in the days and now they’re trying to add all this other stuff that’s not really—at least I don’t think—the truth. I can’t even go on the radio and hear a Styles P or a Jadakiss. I don’t even hear it no more. And I can’t go on MTV and see anybody hood, dressed like where the music really came from. So it’s always frustrating and it bothers me a lot, especially since I’m doing music. So I’m hoping—I’m praying—we get another Biggie. Jay Z, he’s getting older, so I’m praying we just get another Biggie so we can be on top again.

SLAM: But what do you think that the wrong messages that are being sent out there are?
RA: Man, there’s just so many of them. I just don’t want to say any more names cause I’ve been speaking out about it so much. Actually, I know exactly what I want to say, but I made a conscious effort not to say certain things because I’ve been talking so much on my blog and I don’t want to give people the wrong message, but some things I had to say. If you go back and look at my blogs, you can really get the answers. I really don’t want to speak out on people that much no more, but you know what? It don’t have a lot to do with people wearing tight jeans and all that stuff. It has a lot to do with—as far as the media— it has a lot to do with people acting like they’re gangsters and thugs and they not. That’s messing up the music’s order, along with everything else. And every time I say something, I think about it and see if I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong about certain things that I say. But that’s got a lot to do with the music, because people are given the wrong message, talking about “Killin’ this, shooting that, drugs this, smokin’ weed.”

Background: Ron, are you going to take a shower, man?!

RA: We having a good ass conversation here!

Tracy McGrady: Your ass is going to get left.

SLAM: So where are you hoping the game will go?
RA: I like Bun B. I like Scarface. Bun B and Scarface are the only rappers that never made cookie cutter music. I’m a big fan of Hov, I know Hov. And Nas is from my community. But I think Bun B and Scarface, they kept it the realest. When you’re rapping and you’re living what you say…a lot of people they rap and they fool fans. I’m a fan first and I don’t like being fooled.

SLAM: I know that you don’t curse in your music because you want to set an example for your kids. But at the same time, when speaking of what you like, you talk about how you don’t want to be fooled and you don’t want to hear someone pretending to be something that they’re not…

TMac: Ron Artest is going to get left!

RA: [Laughs] This is the last one…

SLAM: So how do you strike that balance between what you want your kids to hear and what you want to hear?
RA: When I first started out, I wanted to be like every other rapper so I’d curse and stuff. But then I was like “Hold on, I got kids.” I would go in the studio and drink, but I got kids, so I can’t act like that no more. So you might hear a couple old songs that’s crazy, but I really made a conscious effort to not do that no more cause other people got kids too.