The ball is hurled into the air, the thing that was the center of attention just a few seconds before, forgotten while the packed Target Center goes nuts and the Minnesota Timberwolves team does the like. Black, green and white confetti starts to fly from compartments atop the stadium, sending the paper strips floating down to the ecstatic crowd below. Citizens clad in Wolves' jerseys, with players from Szczerbiak to Garnett to Jefferson, try to run out on the court, and many are involved in tussles with nearby security guards. TV reporters and photographers flood the court, trying to be the first to the players.
The scoreboard now reads Timberwolves 99, Knicks 92, but this reading is soon overtaken by an exuberant proclamation reading, "The Minnesota Timberwolves Are Now the Champions of the National Basketball Association!" Sitting up in the press boxes, basketball reporters and hoop columnists tap away gleefully at their laptops (Myles Brown is undoubtedly one of them), getting the latest news onto their site or into their newspapers.
David Stern, commissioner, walks out to center court once the excited commotion gets somewhat under control. Stern was recently commended for the halting of NBA players going to Europe to play in the Euroleague for more money after the rush of players that left in '09 (even though he barely had anything to do with the decline), and he gets a respectable round of applause. The Minny players are shepherded over to stand around the podium that the commish is standing on, silly grins plastered all over the face of every player.
"This 2012 season was a great one for the NBA." Says commissioner Stern in his slight monotone, "And I think that it has been capped off greatly. In a thrilling playoffs and Finals, the best team came out on top. I now present the Minnesota Timberwolves with the Larry O'Brien Trophy!" The award of the golden basketball on the verge of two points is now handed to Al Jefferson, the starting all-star power forward-center for the Western Conference this 2011-2012 season. Jefferson holds it above his head triumphantly, showing off the award.
"And now," Calls out Stern, waiting for the exceedingly noisy crowd to quiet down so that he can make his next proclamation, "The NBA Finals MVP Award is now awarded to point guard Brandon Jennings!" The smaller silver-and-gold trophy trades hands and comes to Stern's.
After being drafted by the Wolves third overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, the 6'0" point guard went to work immediately for Minny, more than living up to his hype. After spending a year in Italy to play for Lottomatica Roma in the Italian League rather than going to college, surprisingly, not one player followed in his footsteps, preferring to compete for the Big Dance in college. He won the Rookie of the Year Award after their horrendous 2008-09 season, averaging 8 assists and 16 points for the rising Wolves.
Over the next few years he gradually came to average 19 points and 9 dimes, enough to make him a leader on this Timberwolves team along with Big Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. For the seven games of the Finals, the clutch point guard averaged 23 points and 11 assists, plus he added a reverse layup with three seconds left in the fourth when Minny was down by one basket, saving Game 6 in a stylish way.
Grinning as wide as Eddy Curry's backside, the 23 year old walks up to the commissioner, takes the gold and silver trophy slightly reminiscent of the Larry O'Brien and displays it over his head. A thunderous cheer is the crowd's response to this action. As New York Knicks players file out of the arena, heads bowed, the party is just beginning in Minneapolis. Back to the locker room for the Wolves, it's champagne time for the celebrating players.
Sixty minutes later, Al Jefferson enters the spacious room full of reporters and photographers for his press conference, straight from the locker room celebration. He is wearing a championship hat and a championship shirt, and Big Al is wet with the champagne that he was sprayed with profusely by his teammates. He settles down with the Larry O'Brien trophy, smiling from ear to ear. Reporters start yelling questions at him, and he replies, "Whoah, calm down, one at a time."
"What," said a reporter, "where your thoughts going into the game tonight?"
"Well, I knew it would be tough, that's what we learned from the previous six games." replied Jefferson, "I mean, obviously, when LeBron James gets a supporting cast like he has now, great things happen. The Knicks have one of the greatest scoring cores with LeBron, Jamal Crawford and Danilo Gallinari. If it wasn't for Danilo they wouldn't have come this far, that draft pick in '08 turned out to be the smartest one of that draft, people didn't expect him to go very high. And they weren't happy with the decision once it was made.
"It all just worked out for them. And David Lee is still steady as one of the best centers in the league, as well as Wilson Chandler still being a great swingman, just like previous years. Kyle Korver had those big threes for New York in the Eastern Conference Finals as well, really picking New York up, and that's what he does best. They are a good team. That's why they took us to seven games in the Finals. LeBron is a great player, with the two MVP awards and all of that. He also almost single-handedly won the semifinals series against the Heat threesome of Boozer, Wade and Beasley. LeBron will win a championship eventually, but this year wasn't his year!"
"The Western Conference Finals against the Blazers was very tough for you guys." says another reporter, "What can you tell us about that series?"
"I mean, the Blazers are a great team, they have the best front court in the league with Oden and Aldridge, except for us with me and Kevin. And they have one of the best back courts in the league as well, with Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless. They were very deep on the bench with the consistent Spanish players, Fernandez and Rodriguez. Batum also shot well this season. They're a very deep team, and they've been together a while, not much has changed since Oden was drafted in '07. But Kevin and I kept LaMarcus and Greg under control, and we just upset them."
"The Celtics certainly got what they wanted when they traded for Garnett in '07." said another reporter, "And you guys definitely got yours. What does it feel like to finally have your own championship?"
"I feel like I'm on top of the world." Replied Big Al, "Watching that Celtics mini-dynasty with the back to back titles in '08 and '09, it just made me hungrier for a title. I felt great for Paul with his MVP run in '09 as well, even if he didn't win the award. And with me, Sebastian and Ryan traded for KG, the man who helped win those championships, it certainly gave us the confidence in ourselves, that we had the qualities to do the same thing. Bassy was huge for us, he finally lived up to his high school hype by playing above par in the NBA. He was superb off the bench, picking up a lot of points in not many minutes. Of course, to win this championship, all of us had to step up.
"Mike Miller is a bit older and not quite in his prime, but he was our go-to guy for the three pointers against Durant and the Seattle Sonics in the semis, and he delivered. We're a very deep team, with great guys like Randy Foye, Craig Smith, Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes off of the bench. That would be a decent starting five in this league. But the addition of Caron Butler was the turning point in this season. Caron really wanted to go seriously for a title, going to us in this offseason. The Wiz were old and couldn't stay healthy, they needed to give up Caron's hefty contract, and we gave them two second round draft picks. And Caron just played like Caron plays, and he really brought us together."
"The Timberwolves were well represented in the All-Star game, with you, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Love and Butler cracking the squad." said yet another reporter, "Did you know by then that you would win the championship?"
"We knew that we had a shot," says Jefferson with smile, "But we weren't assuming anything. There are some great teams, and we knew that we had to get through such clubs as Portland, Utah, New Orleans and Memphis. Utah and New Orleans were great because of their point guards, Chris and Deron have been in the MVP talks annually, but with regards to their teams, New Orleans is the only one with a championship, in 2010. They still got Paul, who has won an MVP award, Tyson Chandler and David West, and their team is a beast to get through. Luckily, we didn't have to match up against the Hornets, Portland took them out first. And Mayo, Gasol and Rudy Gay are a deadly threesome in Memphis, a huge improvement from their terrible team in the 07-09 range."
"Do you think that Minny has a chance to repeat?"
"Oh, yeah. It will be a tough regular season schedule, the Eastern Conference is especially good at the moment. It'll be a great challenge, like this year was, and it rarely happens, but hey, it happened with the Celtics and KG. Maybe it'll happen with the T'Wolves and Big Al," he cracks, "But it will be tough. You got guys like Xavier Henry and Kevin Durant tearing it up in Seattle, and other guys like Dwight Howard on the Magic, taking his team pretty far. Howard's 17 rebounds per game last year was way unprecedented. The league has incredible competition. It'll be hard, but right now I'm gonna enjoy the title that we just won."
Al Jefferson then stood up, flashed two fingers as if to say "Peace!" to the reporters, and walked out of the room, presumably going to celebrate his most recent victory in the 2012 NBA season.