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ESKO… I have never been more than a casual basketball fan over the years. I don’t dislike the game—it just seems that there are only certain levels of it that appeal to me, especially at this point. Which is kind of odd seeing as how my father was a high school basketball player. He was a point guard who specialized in the long shot. They would say today that he liked to shoot from “downtown,” and I would say maybe so, but that downtown might not be in the same city that the game was going on in. If there are players today who favor shooting the three-point shot, my pops liked to shoot from half court and he made more than he missed.
Just this afternoon I saw him toss a dog biscuit into a Tupperware container of about five by five inches from 12 feet away. He is about to turn 83 and is in the middle of chemo treatments to boot. He looked at me to make sure I saw what had happened, and I just told him to not say a word. I didn’t want to hear it. He talks smack, too. But this is the guy that took me to see the Archie Clark-Lou Hudson Golden Gophers in the winter of 1963-64. And don’t forget that there was a pretty decent Duluth player by the name of Terry Kunze on that team, too. That was a very good team. They finished third in the Big Ten and went 17-7 overall.
But I have to tell you that once this 8-year-old kid got inside of the arena, “The Barn,” for the first time and saw all the maroon and gold and that raised floor, that was the beginning of an ongoing love affair with Gopher hoops. Of course, we never missed the state tourney, either, and in the summer when I was a teen and not skating as much as in the winter, we played a lot of hoops. We had an informal neighborhood pickup team that played similar ragtag teams from other neighborhoods and did fairly well. If it was raining out, a local priest let us bring it indoors.
I can recall distinctly the winter we first saw the tall kid from Hibbing come down to the Metro for the big tourney, when a lot of people were talking about the young Kevin McHale. It was 1976 and his team was the runner-up in the state tourney. He was also named Mr. Basketball that year and was on his way to the Gophers. He had a good college career and went on to become a member of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, playing for the Boston Celtics. Needless to say, I pulled for the Celts during K-Mac’s tenure there.
After retirement, he made his way to the Timberwolves as an executive, and as you know had some mixed results. He managed most of his 15 years with the club and coached for parts of others, and the only way I can sum up his years with the Wolves would be to say that he should have been more careful with the choices he made and with whom he trusted to help him elevate the team. Yes, he brought in some players who turned around and hung him out to dry. One guy, though, didn’t disappoint, bringing some of the best years this club has seen in its existence. Kevin Garnett came to the Wolves right out of high school. “The Kid,” later to be “The Big Ticket,” would go on to be one of the best in the history of the league. I have never heard or seen information to this end, but I am guessing that K-Mac invested some substantial time into making KG the player he turned out to be. Their games differ greatly, but I’m thinking that KG was “grasshopper” to K-Macs “Master Po.”
In time, with the Wolves’ title window closed and KG’s career winding down, K-Mac sent him off to his Celtics, where he finally got a ring. And you know, in the years since the trade, I always wondered if KG just got worn out with trying to get a title in Minny and whether some acrimony between the club and him, and maybe even between him and K-Mac, led to his departure. I even openly asked that on a Wolves-friendly blog once, and my question was censored off of the site. So I was left wondering: K-Mac and KG—still buddies?
Though I still didn’t have the real answer to that, I did know that if there was no friendship left, there was at least some respect, and total respect at that. Anyone who has followed McHale knows of the recent passing of his 23-year-old daughter Sasha McHale. The UMD student succumbed to the effects of Lupus. After a leave of absence to be with his family, the Houston Rockets coach, in one of his first games back with the club, played KG’s Celtics at home. The Rockets won, and with the game clock winding down, KG, who had already been pulled from the game, got up and started toward the Rocket bench.
When he got there, he wrapped his arms around McHale and whispered some words to him. At that point, McHale buried his face into the towel wrapped around KG’s neck, sobbing heavily. They embraced for a few more moments before departing from one another. This was one of the heaviest emotional moments in sports that I have ever seen, and I have seen many. But you know what? I felt like I finally had my answer. Yes, I did… PEACE
THE MFAN NFL REGULAR-SEASON PICKS, FINAL:
WEEK 15: 7-9
WEEK 17: 14-2
SEASON, OVERALL: 161-94 (.630)
WILD CARD WEEKEND:
(HOME team in CAPS)
Cincy over HOUSTON
CHEESE over Vikes
Indy over BALTIMORE
WASH over Seabirds
LET’S GO, VIKES! OVER & OUT!