On May 31st, 2004, newly minted league MVP Kevin Garnett led the Minnesota Timberwolves into the Staples Center to face Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The Wolves were trying desperately to force a seventh and decisive game on their home floor, a right they earned by posting the best record in the West in 2003-04. But it wasn’t to be. Felled by a key injury to Sam Cassell, who left Game 2 in its opening minute, played 5 minutes in Game 4 and missed Games 5 and 6 entirely, the snakebitten, shorthanded Wolves lost that night, 96-90, ending their once-promising run at a Finals berth.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of that game, significant because that was the last time the Wolves made the postseason, period. Minnesota’s fans are currently enduring the third longest playoff drought in NBA history, with only the Warriors (12 seasons, 1995-95 through 2005-06) and Clippers (15 seasons, 1976-77 through 1990-91) surpassing their futility. Across the four major American sports, only baseball’s Mariners, Blue Jays and Royals and football’s Raiders and Browns have longer active streaks of missing the postseason.
Given the circumstances, it’s fairly remarkable that the Wolves are in such company. Until 2012, only 8 of 30 MLB teams made the playoffs, and even now, the number is 10 of 30, or 33%. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams (37.5%) make it in. More than half of all NBA franchises get to call themselves “playoff teams” at every season’s end, yet the Wolves have still failed to capitalize.
I could probably dissect the drought and the myriad of bad decisions that rendered Minnesota professional hoops a desolate wasteland of apathy and punchlines, but those topics do not lend themselves to the appreciation of just how long it’s been since the Timberwolves appeared in a playoff game. It’s staggering to consider everything that’s changed since 2004 — and not just in the world of basketball, a fickle business that evolves rapidly. Everything’s different.
Consider what’s changed since May 31st, 2004…
In Pop Culture:
- When the Timberwolves last participated in a playoff game, Friends and Frasier had just concluded their final seasons.
- None of the following television shows had premiered yet: House, Veronica Mars, Entourage and Lost.
- Shrek 2 was the #1 film at the box office.
- “Burn” by Usher was the #1 song in America.
- The Funeral by Arcade Fire had yet to be released.
- Kanye West’s College Dropout was two months old.
- Britney hadn’t even married K-Fed, yet.
- The Da Vinci Code sat atop the New York Times bestseller list.
- Actually, Dan Brown had TWO books in the top five in May of 2004 (Angels and Demons was also high on the list). Man, 2004 was a dark time in literary history.
- Facebook (thefacebook) had been around for three months (and was restricted to Harvard University), Gmail was two months old, and and Twitter (twttr) was still two years away from being invented.
- World of Warcraft hadn’t debuted, yet.
- On May 31, 2004, Ken Jennings was a nobody from Salt Lake City. However, on June 2, he began his 74-show Jeopardy winning streak which ultimately netted him more than $2.5 million in winnings.
- Ronald Reagan, Marlon Brando, Ray Charles and Rick James were still with us.
- Speaking of Rick James – in May of 2004, “Chappelle’s Show” had just concluded its second season. In June, a rude crowd at a stand-up performance in Sacramento — and Chappelle’s reaction to it — offered the first glimpses into the problems fame was causing the comedian, which ultimately led to him walking away from Comedy Central (and more than $50 million) and into the periphery of the show business world. Basically, the last time the Timberwolves were good, Dave Chappelle was still on television, making us laugh. It’s been a long decade.
Local and National News:
- When the Timberwolves last participated in a playoff game, the War in Iraq was barely a year old and the Abu Ghraib scandal was fresh news.
- John Kerry was gearing up for his (unsuccessful) run at George Bush in the 2004 Presidential Election.
- The average price of gasoline was $2.06.
- Gay marriages had just begun to be recognized in Massachusetts – the first state to do so.
- The best-selling phones were the Nokia 2600 and the Motorola Razr V3.
- Minneapolis’ light-rail system didn’t even exist yet.
- When the Timberwolves last participated in a playoff game, on May 31, 2004, the Montreal Expos lost to the Braves, in Atlanta, by a final score of 8-2. They had just gone 3-8 on an 11-game “home” stand (which was actually split between Puerto Rico and Canada) where they played in front of an average of 8,600 people per night. They moved to Washington, D.C. the following season. But the point is, the last time the Timberwolves were in the playoffs, Montreal still had a baseball team.
- Seattle still had a basketball team, and Atlanta had a hockey team.
- St. Paul’s own Joe Mauer had just two major league games under his belt.
- Michael Phelps didn’t have a single Olympic medal to his name.
- The Curse of the Bambino was still a thing.
- On May 31, 2004, Tampa Bay and Calgary met in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, which eventually went to 7. The next season was locked out — there were no NHL games between June 7, 2004 and October 5, 2005, a span of 485 days.
- The New England Patriots had just won their second title in three seasons, cementing their place as the league’s new dynasty, but the biggest story to come out of the Super Bowl concerned Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, and Janet Jackson’s right nipple.
- On May 31, 2004, the Detroit Pistons were preparing for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers — a game they would win by the ugly margin of 69-65.
- The Pistons would go on to defeat the Lakers in the Finals – thus ending Los Angeles’ early 2000s dynastic run.
- The game was different a decade ago, and by different, I mean worse. Two teams averaged 100 or more points in 2003-04, and two teams allowed 100 or more. This season, those numbers were 16 and 18, respectively.
- The All-Rookie team that season featured four of the best players of this generation (LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh, ‘Melo) as well as the fifth guy (because there had to be a fifth guy, it’s in the rules)… Kirk Hinrich.
- 6 of the 15 players named to the All-NBA teams in 2003-04 are still active today: Duncan, Kobe, Dirk, Metta, Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett.
- Finally, the Timberwolves had a power forward named Kevin who seemed incapable of winning enough to placate his critics, despite being saddled with less than stellar teammates, thus prompting him to eventually seek leaving Minnesota for greener pastures …
Nevermind. I guess the past ten years haven’t really changed much, after all.