Yesterday the Minnesota Timberwolves lost a basketball player. Yesterday Minnesota’s fans lost something more. Despite the perceived need for a trade, for a change, Minnesotans lost something that could be even more valuable than playoff victories and championships — a sports superstar to believe in — and, even more importantly — one who believed in Minnesota.

The loss of KG leaves such a big hole in the identity of Minnesota sports that I cannot imagine it being filled anytime soon. To me this is even worse than the loss of Kirby Puckett — the only other figure in Minnesota sports history who came close to meaning what Kevin Garnett did. While other Minnesota sports teams regularly transform themselves and jettison the faces of their franchises, the Timberwolves have never had another identity. KG’s 12 years with one team was the longest tenure of any active NBA player. KG built his home here; made his life here; and wanted to play his entire career here.

From an interview in October 2002:

“I’m going to be here until they don’t want me anymore. … I’m ‘Sota, man. This is where I live, 365 days — or in leap year, 366 days — of the year. I’m here. Life is tough. You can’t run from everything.”

In a few words, words that Minnesotans seem to appreciate more than most, KG was one of us.

Kevin Garnett may have been loyal to a fault, but that is why he was so special. In this day it is rare to find an athlete with much loyalty (at all) or even a sense of team pride. It is even more difficult to find examples when you are talking about a small market, in a cold city. KG meant more to Minnesota than scores and statistics and we may never, ever be able to regain what he meant. This is why fans are so torn up by this turn of events. I was lucky enough to be a season ticket holder for several seasons and was able to see firsthand how great KG was on the court. I remember the first time the Wolves beat the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. I got to see them advance to the conference finals in a game 7 victory over Sacramento. I witnessed the little things, the calls for the crowd to rise up, the pre-game rituals and antics and ensuing dust clouds, the dejected head hung low each and every loss. Some things I never got to see? I never saw KG give up. I never saw KG take a game, a quarter, or a minute off. I have read about KG’s generosity and kindness via his charitable works and the adoption of a troubled teen. Despite all that he gave people, fans, and me these past 12 years, there was never a thought that he might provide his latest gift, another NBA franchise for which to cheer.

It is for these reasons, and so many more, that I wish I could thank KG face-to-face. Because I can’t do that, this post will have to do.