The Minnesota Timberwolves may have found themselves a new rival, and it didn’t necessarily start with Towns vs. Embiid.
Fans of all sports love rivalries of all types – the long standing, traditional rivalries and the new and budding rivalries.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy watching the the Golden Gophers go to battle against the Badgers on the gridiron? Even when teams are performing poorly, those matchups are always excited because the atmosphere is intense and fans bring more energy to those types of games than any other.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have never been a traditional powerhouse that teams are aggressively on the attack against and, therefore, have not built these consistent rivalries that fans pay through the roof to see or constantly talk about.
Though the Wolves lost out on free agent D’Angelo Russell in the offseason, his initial interest in the Wolves showed that there is still a budding market here for promising players. Russell, though he didn’t sign, created a wave that drew eyes back to Minnesota when they were previously looking elsewhere.
The unique part of this development is that Minnesota has developed a new rival: the city of Philadelphia. Now, you wouldn’t typically think that Philly would be Minnesota’s major rival in professional sports. Traditionally, your mind would gravitate toward the ever increasingly popular border battles with Wisconsin.
To get to this new rivalry, we have to take a quick step back and look at the Vikings for a moment. Yes, that’s where this all started.
Think back to the 2017 NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles. The game was an absolute blowout, with Philly getting a 38-7 victory on its way to winning the Super Bowl.
While many remember the blowout, Minnesota fans remember the emotions and the people at the game. Philly fans were objectively crossing the line in their hostile treatment of Minnesota game attenders while in Philly.
Upon arrival, Eagles fans were throwing beer cans at Viking fans as they entered the stadium. Small parking lot scuffles before and after the game were recorded. Then, to cap it all off, Philly fans threw eggs, food and trash at the Viking team bus as it departed to add insult to injury. This is where it all started for Minnesota and where it all began between the Timberwolves and the 76ers.
Passionate Wolves fans will know that Karl-Anthony Towns is a Jersey boy and Eagles fan. By proximity, the Eagles would have been an easy team to root for as KAT grew up. KAT is vocal on social media in support of the Eagles whenever Minnesota matchups occur with them or when the Eagles succeed in a dominant fashion — like the 2017 NFC Championship victory over the Vikings and, of course, their 2017 Super Bowl victory.
So, what does having these ties to Philly mean for KAT? One could argue that he’s got something to prove. Any matchups against the Sixers would, potentially, bring home crowds for the big man, so he would have a lot of love being shown.
More importantly, the youth movement taking over both the NBA and NFL is sweeping across the nation. Joel Embiid was the third-overall pick in the 2014 draft with KAT following only a year later when the Timberwolves selected him with the first-overall pick. Both Embiid and Towns were selected to be cornerstones and the future of their franchises at the time of their selections. As the two continue to develop the past few years, they have developed a rivalry of their own as well.
Fans are constantly comparing Embiid and Towns and analysts are consistently comparing statistics between the two players. It is pretty evident that they will be at the top of this youth movement in the NBA at their perspective position. This rivalry is still budding though and there is more meat on these bones to discuss. Enter Jimmy Butler.
Butler came to the Timberwolves for the 2017-18 season rejoining the Wolves head coach, at the time, Tom Thibodeau. Butler brought a bulldog mentality to those Wolves and helped Minnesota reach the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Wolves fans finally had hope. It appeared that Minnesota had the beginnings of a firm foundation and multiple All Stars leading the way into the future.
Of course, this all came crashing down in the fall of 2018. Jimmy Butler demanded a trade and came out of the gate swinging hard, battling the starters with the third-stringers during a passionate practice in an effort to prove his worth and disprove the worth of the Wolves. The rest of the NBA watched this happen and teams began to realize that there could be a clear shot to securing the All Star.
Teams began making trade offers to lock Butler down all with the effort of winning a title. Title contending teams were the heavy favorites due to Butler stating his reason for demanding a trade was that “he just wanted to win”.
Ultimately, the Philadelphia 76ers made the move for Butler. This is when Butler threw fuel on the fire of this new rivalry by taking up arms with the Sixers on their way to the playoffs that season as well. Embiid and Butler formed a bond that season and Embiid continued his social media “trolling” by attacking Minnesota online and at the rim during their matchups. Embiid used the gasoline Butler provided to fuel his own personal rivalry with Towns as the two teams continue to battle.
This brief yet recent history all came to a head when the Wolves faced off against the Sixers in Philly on Oct. 30 during the fight heard ’round the league. While it was never determined who the aggressor in this fight was, Towns and Embiid were each suspended for two games. Ben Simmons, who was viewed by officials and the league as a “peacemaker” in the situation, did not receive any fines or suspensions of any kind.
The Wolves refuted this designation and requested a league investigation into the situation. While the Wolves were not happy with the results of the investigation, they are standing by President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas’ statement that the Wolves “understand the magnitude of this unfortunate incident” and that the fight was “a reflection of the highly competitive nature” of the league.
Wolves fans will continue to argue that Ben Simmons was not a peacemaker and almost as much at fault during this fight. The incident was likely worthy of only a one game suspension each for Towns and Embiid, but you almost have to think the social media barrage of blow trading between Towns and Embiid resulted in the additional game suspension. See the tweets/posts exchanged below.
Of course, there was one more tweet from Embiid that was pretty NSFW, but we won’t re-post that here.
Regardless, Towns being missed will be an understatement as he will attempt to build on what could be termed as an MVP campaign for the big man when he returns from suspension. Andrew Ites of Dunking With Wolves wrote a great piece on players who need to step up in Towns’ absence.
The fact of the matter here though is that Minnesota has a new rivalry with Philly and fans across multiple sports are thriving from it. This is why sports are so great. New rivalries can pop up at any time. Granted, this would only be Year Three of this new rivalry, Towns and Embiid project to have long, thriving careers in the NBA and, as long as they both remain on their current teams, this rivalry could go on for many more years.
The Timberwolves will face off against the Sixers when they come to the Target Center on March 24. In addition to what will be a highly anticipated rematch between these two teams, and big men, playoff implications could be on the line for both teams when they meet. Expect a loud, thriving atmosphere in Target Center.