Column: Looking Back At 2003-04
How often do you as a Wolves fan think back to that 2004 season and enjoy the memories you have from that particular run? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately as we head into May. Ten years ago this month, I was a senior in high school juggling my final semester, getting ready for commencement, eating tons of ham sandwiches and cake at classmates’ graduation parties, playing baseball every night and cruising Luverne’s “loop” between Subway and The Furniture House after practice.
I’m sure my frosted tip hairstyle and LHS letterman’s jacket were on full display.
And in between all the activities, I found myself in front of the TV whenever the Wolves were playing during their run to the Western Conference Finals. I remember hanging out in my friend Kurtz’s basement looking on as the Wolves finally made it out of the first round by beating Melo’s Denver Nuggets. I remember having all my friends together watching the subsequent series against the Kings, the jubilation after Game 7 and the heartbreak losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
I remember the excitement coming up for a game in March, a month before the playoffs began but the feeling that something special was about to happen. We lived 3 ½ hours away so we didn’t get to regularly frequent games, but we took a trip up here that spring during a visit to the University of Minnesota as I got familiar with my future school and future program. That weekend before we headed home, we sat about 12 rows up on the baseline during a Wolves/Rockets game. There was something about the anticipation in the building that stuck with me. We knew as fans this team was capable of doing so much more than we’d seen them do before. And we believed they’d win every time they took the floor.
I wrote yesterday about Kevin Garnett’s MVP trophy, which he received on May 3 a decade ago. I talked about how that team came together to complement its centerpiece, and when the time came to be recognized KG made sure the players and fans were part of the celebration.
We were all in it together, and we knew we were in for a great ride.
As time passes, I feel like we kind of go through phases of how we remember that team, that moment in our history. There were times a few years ago when you recalled it but didn’t fully appreciate what it stood for. Not enough time had passed. But today, after 10 years, we have better perspective on what that team meant both then and now. It’s not easy to win in this league, and you need to have the components that 2003-04 team had in order to thrive.
It all started with Kevin Garnett. He had the physical tools to put up monster numbers, and he did it every single night. But he also had the intensity that drove the players around him, and there was this reciprocal loyalty between himself and his teammates that fueled that squad.
Everyone on the team knew that he would mentally and physically help take that team to the next level on a nightly basis, and they followed suit. But unlike years prior, the physical ability his teammates had was far greater. They were able to not only raise their level of play based on that intensity, but they were able to back it up with their play.
Over the past two years, I’ve slowly conducted interviews about that team. I’ve talked with former players like KG, Sam Cassell, Mark Madsen and Troy Hudson. I’ve spoke with coaches Flip Saunders, Randy Wittman and Don Zierden. And I sat down with Steve Aschburner, who covered that team for the Star Tribune and is now with NBA.com.
I was genuinely curious about how they viewed that particular team, what made them so successful and what they thought about their chances at a title had they been healthy in the postseason. I’ve compiled those interviews and will post articles throughout the month highlighting different aspects of that season.
It was awesome to have the chance to talk with those guys about that special year. As a guy who grew up with this team in this state, I still look back fondly on what that team meant to my friends and me during that time in our lives.
I feel grateful having the chance to talk with these players and coaches from that team as I work for the team today, and I’ll try to convey their message the best I can over the next month.
Everyone has memories from that team. I’d love to hear yours. And maybe as you read over these features this month you’ll find a few more of those memories coming back to you.