Players, Fans Alike Feel The Changing Atmosphere At Target Center

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The moment is unforgettable. With two minutes to go in the Timberwolves’ Jan. 1 matchup against the Dallas Mavericks at Target Center, rookie Ricky Rubio displayed a hint of early-season magic that would become almost expected throughout the 2011-12 season at Target Center.

With the Wolves up 95-82 and two minutes left on the clock, Rubio drove to the basket, placed a seemingly impossible bounce pass in between Dirk Nowitzki’s legs and found an open Anthony Tolliver on the baseline for a game-sealing 3-pointer. Running back to Minnesota’s bench, Tolliver’s ear-to-ear grin as the Target Center crowd erupted said it all:

The magic is back.

“It’s just one of those, like, I wouldn’t say out of body moments, but it’s euphoric,” Tolliver said. “You know they’re not just cheering for you. They’re cheering for your team and the guys on your squad.”

There were plenty of those moments this season for Wolves fans to enjoy—from Luke Ridnour's buzzer-beating floater against Utah on Feb. 22 to countless Rubio alley-oop passes. For a team coming off 32 combined wins in its previous two years, the 2011-12 campaign marked a return to relevance—a jump back into national and international conversations.

And it all really begins with the feeling inside Target Center each night. The Timberwolves’ sellout against Oklahoma City last Saturday was the team’s 11th of the season in 30 home games. That’s the most Minnesota has drawn since selling out 14 times during the 2003-04 season.

The change is noticeable—a shift in electricity on game night that prompted Wolves players to deem their fans the team’s sixth man.

(Related story: Wolves to say 'Thank You' to fans at Fan Appreciation Night on Thursday, April 26 vs. Denver)

“They help pick us up,” forward Kevin Love said. “When we go on big runs, they’re so loud at the end of games. They’re on their feet. At the start of games, they get us ready. In preparation for what’s to come they help us. Even in the summer when, when we have packed crowds and such a good fan base to look forward to coming back to the Target Center, that’s just going to be huge for us. At least for me, that’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

That feeling is reciprocal between the organization and the fans, who have also enjoyed the resurgent Wolves this season. Season ticket members said they now hear Timberwolves chatter in their neighborhoods, in their health clubs and out and about in the Twin Cities. The bus advertisements are correct: Everybody’s talking about the Wolves.

For Terry Kunze, a former Muskies player who has held season tickets since the team’s inaugural year, the change in atmosphere has been enjoyable. He said it all begins with Rubio—who not only brought an innate ball-handling gift but also leads the team defensively—but also coach Rick Adelman and his staff. Adelman has the team believing in one another every night, he said.

“People have jumped on the bandwagon,” Kunze said. “I think people have liked the effort they’ve shown throughout the year, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Season ticket members Paul and Marlene Sorenson agree. Paul Sorenson said the players’ passion for the game is showing each night they’re on the court. Even during the team’s rough stretch at the end of this season, the Wolves continue to battle each night.

Tolliver agreed.

“The biggest change is attitude,” Tolliver said. “Coming into this season from Day 1, Minute 1, Hour 1, everyone came in with the same idea, the same focus.”

Both Paul Sorenson and Kunze agreed the team is a player or two away from making a deep playoff run. That and a healthy season in 2012-13 could mean big things for the Wolves.

“The pieces are there; we just have to add one or two [players],” Kunze said. “And I think the future is looking pretty bright.”

The players and fans are looking to work together to make this feeling around Target Center last. The fans are hungry for more memorable Rubio passes and late-game heroics. The players, in return, understand how important the fans’ presence in the arena is to their success.

Both go hand in hand, and both look forward to continuing that relationship next year and beyond.

“Most people agree any great team has a great fan base,” Paul Sorenson said. “Without fans, the team doesn’t really have a lot, I think. That’s what’s growing. That’s what’s coming back, and I think that really helps the team.”

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