The Lure of 10,000 Lakes

March 02, 2015

IF YOU DON'T understand why Kevin Garnett would waive his no-trade clause with the Nets to return to Minneapolis (where it was 9° below zero on Sunday) and play out the string for the Timberwolves (who haven't made the playoffs in 11 years), then you've never lived in Minnesota, which is harder to escape than Leavenworth and has a higher rate of recidivism.

Hardly anyone leaves Minnesota, and those who do almost always come back. "[Garnett] doesn't look at moving from Brooklyn to here as change," said Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who went to the University of Minnesota out of Cleveland and has returned twice to coach the T-Wolves. "He looks at it as being home."

"This is home for me," former Twins star Torii Hunter, an Arkansas native, said in December, when he signed a free-agent deal for his second go-round with the team. New manager Paul Molitor was raised in St. Paul and finished his Hall of Fame playing career with the Twins, whose current stars Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins grew up in Minnesota and never left.

Kent Hrbek never left. Kevin McHale came back. So did Jack Morris and Dave Winfield. Even Prince never left for long.

Garnett came to Minnesota from South Carolina by way of Chicago at age 19. Kirby Puckett came from Chicago, Alan Page from Canton, Tony Oliva from Cuba, but all grew attached to this peculiar place, where cheese is served inside the cheeseburger and people write personal checks for five bucks of gas at SuperAmerica.

Who would ever leave? "Minnesota is a state of public-spirited and polite people, where you can get a good cappuccino and eat Thai food and find any book you want and yet live on a quiet tree-lined street with a backyard and send your kids to public school," according to Garrison Keillor, who left for Copenhagen and New York City but inevitably returned to St. Paul.

"What's wrong with American cities? is a question that demographers and economists have debated for years," The Atlantic noted last week. "But maybe we should be looking to a luminary exception and asking the opposite question: What's right with Minneapolis?" The magazine reported that Minneapolis has the second-lowest "outflow" of college-educated people among America's largest 25 cities. In other words: People don't leave.

Everyone thinks of leaving, but only in February, that stretch of hard time between the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and the state high school hockey tournament. That's when Minnesotans are torn between all that is right with the state and that which is not, as best expressed in a line by beloved Minnesota band The Hold Steady: "He loved the Golden Gophers, but he hated all the drawn-out winters."

Frontman Craig Finn did the reverse Garnett, leaving Minneapolis for Brooklyn, in body if not in spirit. I also left, but only physically, creating a Bloomington-by-the-Berkshires in New England, content that certain safe words—"Hardware Hank," "Red Owl"—can instantly take me back like Kane's Rosebud.

In Garnett's first stint with the T-Wolves, owner Glen Taylor reluctantly gave him a $126 million contract, then the most lucrative in sports history. At the time, Taylor was not eager to talk to me about it but eventually relented, sighing, "Well, you're from Minnesota. I can trust you."

He was invoking family ties—every Minnesotan's shared history of hotdish, Pearson's Nut Goodies, Schmidt scenics and something called The Cannon Mess. If that reads like secret code to you, that's precisely the point.

Minnesota isn't for everyone. "When I left there, man, I knew one thing," the former Robert Zimmerman once said. "I had to get out of there and not come back." But he had to change his name to Bob Dylan to remain at-large, a fugitive on the lam from some powerful authority. So did Frances Gumm, who left Grand Rapids, became Judy Garland and is now best known for clicking her heels together, wishing she were home.

Why would Kevin Garnett return to the T-Wolves? He couldn't help it: No one leaves Minnesota, and if they do, they almost always come back.

If you could choose to play in one pro city, which would it be? Join the discussion on Twitter by using #SIPointAfter and following @SteveRushin

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ILLUSTRATION

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