Sports Nadir

Has any city ever experienced a sports drought as bad as the one the Twin Cities are now living through? I haven’t seriously tried to figure out the answer to that question, and no doubt our readers in Cleveland and possibly Philadelphia (not recently, of course) might contest the title. Still, it is hard to beat a town where the most exciting sports franchise hadn’t won a game (until last night) for 294 days.

Consider the facts: the Minnesota Twins, until recently the state’s most reliably competent team, lost 99 games last year. And the worst may be yet to come, as neither Michael Cuddyer nor Jason Kubel, perhaps the only Twins who had good years in 2011, will be with the team next year.

The Minnesota Vikings? 6-10 last year, 3-13 this year. Bad, but not bad enough to draft Andrew Luck.

The Minnesota Wild? (That’s hockey, for those who don’t follow the sport.) They haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, and currently have lost nine of their last ten.

The Minnesota Timberwolves? Worst of all; they haven’t done a thing since Kevin Garnett moved on to Boston, and had the worst record in the NBA last year.

Minnesota has big-time college as well as professional sports, and if you are a wrestling fan, the Gophers have long had a very good team. Unfortunately, most people focus on football, where the Gophers haven’t won the Big Ten since 1967 and have gone 3-9 in each of the last two years. Also basketball, where the Gophers have been respectable under Tubby Smith, but they didn’t make it to a post-season tournament last year and haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 1990.

Surely, you ask, there must be a bright spot somewhere? Well, yes: the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA–that’s women’s basketball–won their league title last year. I rest my case.

All of which explains why it takes only a ray of hope to get Minnesota sports fans excited. Currently, the state’s most exciting franchise is the Timberwolves–who last night, as noted above, won their first game since March 11, 2011, breaking an 18-game losing streak. But it isn’t just the team’s first win of the season that has Minnesotans buzzing. Rather, it is the team’s new look: along with Kevin Love, who routinely cranks out 25-point, 15-rebound games, the Wolves have added a new coach, Rick Adelman, the sixth-winningest coach in NBA history; the second pick in last year’s draft, Derrick Williams; guard J.J. Barea, one of the stars of the Mavericks’ title run last year; and–most of all–Ricky Rubio.

Rubio became famous at age 16 when he was the point guard on the Spanish Olympic team. The Wolves drafted Rubio two years ago, when he was 19, with the fifth overall pick, but many doubted that he would ever play for them. Rubio spent the last two years in Europe, where his career has seemed to go backward. Last year, he didn’t even start for his Barcelona team. Still, the highlight films were hard to ignore, even in a pink uniform:

With a lockout impending, Rubio signed with the Wolves for this year. No one knew what to expect, but after an abbreviated preseason and just four league games, all one can say is: whatever were those coaches in Barcelona thinking? Rubio’s passing has been spectacular, and reports that he can’t shoot have been untrue–so far, anyway. Last night, after three cliffhanger losses to start the season, the Wolves scored the last 15 points of the game to beat the defending champion Mavericks. Here are some of Rubio’s highlights:

So, do long-suffering Minnesota sports fans finally have something to cheer about? Time will tell, but for the moment things are looking up a bit. It’s about time!

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