Minnesota sports fans spend a fair amount of their fall weekends rooting hard for four teams: The Vikings, the Gophers football team ... and whatever teams are playing against the Packers and the Badgers football team.
If it happens to be a weekend when the Vikings are playing the Packers or the Gophers are playing the Badgers — or that ultra-rare weekend when both rivalry games are happening — we might as well shut down the state (or at least the Minnesota/Wisconsin border).
In the hierarchy of sports rivalries, those two are (at least in my mind) 1A and 1B in Minnesota. The breakup of the old WCHA ruined a lot of great hockey rivalries, most notably Gophers vs. North Dakota. You can make a case for Gophers vs. Iowa in some sports, but it will never top Gophers/Badgers. The Twins? We hate the Yankees, but I would hardly call that a rivalry. Not even the Brewers register high on that list.
But as Patrick Reusse and I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, the most unusual relationship Minnesotans have with a Wisconsin team is with the NBA's Bucks.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
The Bucks don't even come close to registering as a rival for the Timberwolves. They don't play in the same conference, with the Bucks shuffled off to the East while the Wolves toil away (some would say unfairly) in the West. They play twice a year, and rarely are both (if either) good at the same time. It's pretty much just another game on the schedule.
Even in recent years, as the Bucks have risen in the standings — and now sit just one game from winning an NBA title — I have detected more hints of admiration from Wolves/Minnesota fans than angst over their success.
Perhaps, as Reusse suggested on the podcast, it's because a Wolves fan can look at Milwaukee's success and imagine such things happening in Minnesota. After all, the NBA is perhaps the most market-driven league in all of major U.S. pro sports, so a mid-market Midwest team breaking through is a big deal.
Maybe it's impossible to dislike Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-way Bucks star who not only stuck around in Milwaukee but elevated that franchise and overcame an injury to star in these finals.
Or it could just be as simple as the detachment we feel from any rivalry, geography-based or otherwise, with the Bucks.
Pick your reasons. Combine them. It's clear: The Bucks aren't just a team Minnesotans have decided not to hate. They're a team even a Minnesota fan can love.