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Maximum love in Minny

Garnett still means a lot to fans of Timberwolves

Timberwolves superfan Bill Beise - who has a seat on the floor at the Target Center - was unhappy about Kevin Garnett's departure. Timberwolves superfan Bill Beise - who has a seat on the floor at the Target Center - was unhappy about Kevin Garnett's departure. (FILE/Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Email|Print| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / February 8, 2008

Kevin Garnett's abdominal strain and unavailability for tonight's game at the Target Center in Minneapolis has clarified one very important part of Bill Beise's life: The longtime Timberwolves season ticket-holder can resort to his usual day-of-game routine, arriving at his courtside seat, across from the visitors' bench, about five minutes before tipoff.

"Frankly, for the last two months or so, I was feeling like I didn't even want to go to the game," said Beise, a familiar figure to everyone in the Target Center for the way he crouches in front of his seat and holds the game program, looking like a head coach. "It wasn't the happiest day for me when he was traded, although it made it a little bit easier in that he was in favor of it. But to see him live and in person again, right in front of me, with all that energy and passion, I think it would have been just too hard.

"I miss Kevin, that's all I can say. He's not there and it's a big void for me."

Garnett's first return to the city he called home for 12 years comes tonight and, had he been healthy, he likely would have received what former teammate Mark Madsen called "an outpouring of affection unlike has ever been seen in the Target Center for a basketball game. There's a lot of love in Minnesota for Kevin Garnett." Garnett won't play, but there are plans to recognize him before the starting lineups are announced.

One thing we won't see - Garnett watching the game on the bench in street clothes. As he put it Wednesday, "Because I don't wear a sports jacket [and] sitting on the bench and knowing that there are probably 10 steps to the scorer's table to check in, wouldn't probably be the best thing for the NBA, especially with me."

Agreed Beise, "He'd be in Doc [Rivers's] ear in no time to get into the game."

Even though he won't play, it stands to be an emotional time for Garnett, who, until getting traded to the Celtics, had never played for any other NBA team. He arrived in Minnesota as a callow teenager in 1995 and left, a dozen years later, as the unquestioned face of the Timberwolves.

"He gave everything he had to that organization," said Garnett's primary coach in Minnesota, Flip Saunders. "It was nothing before he came. When people think of the Minnesota Timberwolves, they think of Kevin Garnett."

Star in the community

Beise would be only one of many familiar faces Garnett would see at the Target Center. For starters, there probably will be the two men who decided not to re-sign him and then to trade him, owner Glen Taylor and basketball operations chief Kevin McHale. There are the ushers, the clubhouse kids, and the other season ticket-holders. (The Wolves expect a rare sellout.)

But one longtime Timberwolves regular who won't be there is Garnett's brother-in-law, music producer-songwriter James Harris, who goes by the name Jimmy Jam. He has given up his season tickets and will be in Los Angeles presiding over a recording industry awards ceremony for Aretha Franklin.

"This has been a hard year for me in one way," said Jimmy Jam, who used to accompany the Wolves on trips, even flying on the team charter. "I have become a diehard Celtics fan. And that is making me do something I never thought I could do because growing up in Minnesota, the team I followed and always rooted for was the Lakers. After Kevin was traded, I thought to myself, 'Can I be a Celtic fan?' The next day, I went out and got all my Celtic green stuff. I guess that answers the question."

It was Jimmy Jam who befriended then-rookie Garnett a month into the 1995-96 season, when the two started engaging in conversation while parked in a lot by Lunds and Byerly's, a 24-hour grocery store in the Twin Cities. But, Jimmy Jam remembered, the topic was hardly the stuff one might expect from a 19-year-old.

"I told him how much I appreciated watching him play and all he talked about was the community," Jimmy Jam said. "He asked me what the people wanted. What did they expect? He wanted to know about the local charities. All that intrigued me because you don't usually see young people value the advice of elders. He was the exact opposite of that.

"I told him all the people wanted was a good effort, but he was more interested about things off the court. He said, 'I want to touch people.' I told him about Kirby Puckett and everything he meant to the community. He said, 'I want to be like that.' That's pretty impressive stuff coming from a rookie."

Garnett supported a number of Minneapolis-area charities and received a community assist award from the NBA in 2005 for donating $1.2 million to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He also donated $100,000 in 2005 for relief efforts after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami.

"Here was a guy, who was at the top of the basketball world, doing more stuff in the community than a lot of guys, combined," Madsen said.

On the court, Garnett showed just as much, if not more, passion, the type that parents like Beise could appreciate, as long as he could shield the ears of his kids when he brought them to Timberwolves games. Garnett is well known for having a rather salty and graphic vocabulary during games.

"Kevin loved the fans and he loved the kids," Beise said. "I always told my kids, it's great to emulate Kevin and his passion for the game and his desire for the game. But do not ever speak like he does when he's on the floor."

Spirited revival

Minnesota had one great season with Garnett, the 2003-04 campaign in which he was named the league's Most Valuable Player. One of the celestial performances in Garnett's storied career came in Game 7 of the Wolves' second-round series against the Kings, when he had 32 points, 21 rebounds, and 5 blocks in an 83-80 victory. (You may recall that Garnett was disciplined by the NBA when, before that game, he said he was "sitting in the house, I'm loadin' up the pump. I'm loadin' up the Uzi. I got a couple M-16s, a couple 9s. I got a couple joints with some silencers on them. I'm just loading clips, a couple grenades. I got a missile launcher with a couple of missiles. I'm ready for war." He agreed the language was inappropriate.)

The Wolves made it to the Western Conference finals, losing to the Lakers in six games. One of the great unknowns from that series: What would have happened had Sam Cassell not been hurt? But the loss in Los Angeles in Game 6 represents the last playoff game Garnett has appeared in. The Wolves won 44 games the next season and didn't make the playoffs. Then, they couldn't re-sign Latrell Sprewell and eventually traded Cassell to the Clippers. The next two years resulted in 33 and 32 wins, and the eventual trade last July.

"I don't know why we never got better players around him," Beise said.

"Although the team got worse, it never changed how he played," said Saunders, who was dismissed midway through the 2004-05 season and is now coach of the Pistons. "But I could see it in his face. I'd had him since he was 19, kind of a father figure, and I could see it in his eyes, his expressions. His head would be down a little. When it's not there, you can see it."

But the spirit is back again now that Garnett has been reborn in Boston. Jimmy Jam, who spends a lot of his time in Los Angeles, caught the Celtics-Lakers game there Dec. 30 and plans to be with Garnett over All-Star Weekend. Saunders said he had planned to watch tonight's game (the Pistons are off) because he knew Garnett "would embrace the fans, the people that he knew, and then try to go out and kick [the Timberwolves'] butts."

As for Beise, his dilemma was solved. He had briefly thought about going into the building around 5:30 p.m. and coming out for warm-ups, possibly to link up with Garnett at that point. The two are friends and Beise often text-messages Garnett after a game or leaves a voice mail. Beise had thought about perhaps watching the game from the entrance tunnel so he wouldn't have to witness Garnett up close and personal.

And when Garnett is given a brief introduction before the game?

"I can't imagine why there won't be 19,000 people standing and cheering," Beise said. "And if it's anything other than that, well, then shame on them."

Peter May can be reached at p_may@globe.com.

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