ST. PAUL — “They’re gonna lose.”
Not exactly the words you’d expect to come out of Sid Hartman’s mouth. The longtime Star Tribune columnist and WCCO radio host was, after all, the biggest Minnesota sports fan you’d ever come across — “homer” is the oft-used reference now. For most journalists, that’s an accusation. For Sid, it was a badge of honor.
Yet, not even Sid could muster up the optimism necessary to believe in the Timberwolves on a nightly basis. Those three words came out of his mouth seemingly every evening spent courtside at Target Center — usually before the end of the first quarter. Such a proclamation was a pretty sturdy limb to walk out on, but often accurate nonetheless.
Larissa and Lacey, those are the names of the two nurses who escorted Sid just about everywhere he went over the final few years of his life. Both of their numbers are in my phone. Because as hard as Sid tried at first to find them closer accommodations at Target Center, they were instead seated in an adjacent corner of the arena to press row during games. Meaning Sid was left to sit by me.
So Larissa or Lacey would spend much of Timberwolves games looking over at the iconic sports columnist, waiting for the hand gesture that indicated he was ready to go home. Over the years, both women passed along their phone numbers so I could text or call them if Sid needed anything else during the games.
That, and helping Sid get to his feet for the playing of the national anthem, were the only true responsibilities stemming from a seating arrangement that largely left me laughing.
There was a Sid bobblehead stationed in the basement of my childhood home that my mom loved. Sports conversations with my grandpa consisted of him first asking me what I thought at the time about the Vikings or Gophers or Timberwolves, followed up by: “Well, Sid said this on the radio this morning …”
Last year, it was suggested to Gersson Rosas that, at his introductory news conference, that he thank Sid Hartman for attending. So, early in the proceedings, Rosas looked straight at an older gentleman with white hair who was seated toward the front and thanked Sid Hartman for coming.
Problem was, it was not Sid. Sid did not attend the news conference. He got the credit anyway.
We probably refer to too many people as “legends,” but Sid fits the bill.
So, sitting by him at nearly every Timberwolves home game was surreal, and, I now realize, satisfying. Games were just more entertaining when he was by your side.
The Timberwolves would give up an open corner 3-pointer and Sid would shake his head and mutter “no defense,” an astute observation.
The Wolves would miss a free throw and, with the frustration heightening, Sid would hammer his fists on the press table. Gotta make those.
Ten minutes into the first quarter, Karl-Anthony Towns would check out for the first time, and Sid would lean over and ask, “Why are they taking Towns out?” Sid often forgot that, unlike himself, most human beings actually need rest.
Sid would ask about 10 questions during the course of a game. His response to my answers was usually a simple “Huh?” Sid could still talk with the best of them. His hearing? Not so good, particularly not in the ear that faced my seat. But he developed a system over time. He would have a pen and paper on hand and pass them over so I could write my response down. He wouldd quickly read it and either nod or ask a follow-up question.
The back and forths slowed productivity, but it was well worth it. One former Timberwolves public relations member asked on a few separate occasions if I’d like to sit somewhere else. Not a chance.
Every time the Lakers came to Target Center, Sid would nudge me on the arm and, while beaming with pride, remind me that he brought the Lakers to Minneapolis.
Finally, the fourth or fifth time, I responded, “Why couldn’t you keep them here?” Sid heard that question loud and clear, and his smile subsided. “No stadium,” he said as he shook his head. Might have struck a nerve there.
Before he left most games — usually midway through the third quarter — he would ask what time practice was the next day, though he almost never showed up. The one time he did, he spoke to Tyus Jones. He always spoke to Tyus Jones, and always asked Tyus what it was like to play for Mike Krzyzewski. On this particular day, he informed Tyus that Coach K was a good friend of his — one of thousands, to be sure — and then proceeded to ask Tyus for Coach K’s number.
You’re never too old to stop sourcing.
Over the years, Sid would call me over when he’d see me in a Twins or Gophers football press box, usually to ask questions about the latest Timberwolves happenings. “St. Paul” was my nickname … pretty sure that’s what he called every Pioneer Press reporter he recognized.
I’ve heard a number of stories from colleagues at various outlets over the years about Sid’s competitiveness — and lack of friendliness in the reporting realm, to put it kindly — but those weren’t on display by the time I met him. Perhaps becoming a grandpa softened him up a touch. He was still competitive, no question, and he couldn’t wait to see if you saw the scoop or interview he scored in his most recent column.
But in his final years, he embraced younger reporters, and didn’t shy away from telling someone when they were doing well or wrote a good story. The man read everything. In those moments, it was obvious how he built so many strong relationships over the years. Pair that with his relentless effort and intensity, and just as sure as Sid was that the Timberwolves were going to lose, we all knew this:
Sid was going to win.