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MANKATO - Jo Johnson watches every Timberwolves game until the clock runs outs. Forget the score or typical bedtime of an 85-year-old — if the game is on, this grandma is watching.

After the Wolves managed to stay alive in the Western Conference finals Tuesday, she crawled into bed, the clock inching ever closer to midnight, and exclaimed "We won!" to her 87-year-old husband, Charlie, in midslumber. She could hardly wait for Thursday's game.

"It isn't over yet. But it's been a really nice run for them," Johnson said Wednesday at her home in Mankato.

Johnson doesn't own any Wolves gear. She hasn't been to Target Center in years, and no photos exist to show the times she went. She claims not to know a lick about the game, but wishes she knew more about the players — not their stats but their personal lives, who shaped them into the men they are today, how their children are doing. If they get along, if they're having fun.

She has two granddaughters but counts the 17-man roster as her grandsons. And she plays favorites — Anthony Edwards, of course — but adores Mike Conley ("They do better when he's playing"), and Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaden McDaniels ("I like those two skinny guys"). She loves them all. She thinks they're cute, too.

"They seem to be nice guys," she said. "You know, they have temper problems, but they do look like they could be your kid, you know, or grandson, I should say. Don't you wish you could see their babies?"

Jo Johnson says she is most relaxed when watching the Wolves play. She's been a fan since their inaugural season.
Jo Johnson says she is most relaxed when watching the Wolves play. She's been a fan since their inaugural season.

Kim Hyatt

Johnson has rooted for the Wolves since the team's inaugural season in 1989-90, but this season is "much more exciting," she said. She just hopes all this attention doesn't go to Edwards' head: "That's the biggest concern."

The Star Tribune asked readers to tell us about a Timberwolves fan in their life. Johnson's daughters sent a message to granddaughter Annika Ferber with only one woman in mind: "Do we know anyone?"

Johnson said she's not a superfan. "I don't even have a jersey," she said.

But sometimes the most passionate fans aren't sitting courtside or repping blue and green. They're sitting at home, clapping with the crowd they see on TV — because, like Johnson, they live hours away, and two hip replacements would make it pretty challenging to navigate the concourse and stairs at Target Center.

Lately, Johnson said she hasn't been feeling well but the Wolves help keep her spirits high.

"This has been so nice to have," she said. "I've been just feeling off last month and I don't have any energy. And so having that to look forward to has been really helpful."

She's most relaxed when watching the Wolves, even when texting Ferber midgame with updates on her anxiety.

"Poor Wolves last night," she texted after a loss. And after a win: "We need some champagne."

Grandpa Charlie sends Ferber updates, too.

"Watching the Wolves now! She can't miss them," he texted Ferber with the grandma emoji.

Another game he told Ferber: "She hasn't talked to me for the last hour! Her eyes are glued to the TV! Your grandma wouldn't miss a game!"

Ferber said in an interview that the Wolves are a way to stay in touch with her grandparents. It's also a way for them to understand more about Ferber's work as an athletic trainer for the University of St. Thomas women's basketball team.

"It's helped build a connection, and I love talking about it," Ferber said. "I love telling people, 'Well, my 80-plus-year-old grandma watches the Timberwolves and knows more about it than I do.'"

Ferber, 33, favored hockey growing up. But she always knew her grandmother was a big basketball fan. When working for Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the years leading up to COVID, Ferber lived with her grandparents. Even then she couldn't stay up as late as Johnson to watch to the end of the game.

Johnson's fandom began when she worked on insurance claims for Taylor Corp., owned by Glen Taylor, who also owns the Wolves (and the Star Tribune). She started with the company in 1989 when the Wolves joined the NBA. During her decade at Taylor, she saw "these big, tall guys come in and out," she said, including players and former coach Kevin McHale.

She left Taylor to work with English-language learners in Mankato, but her love for the Wolves remained.

"I watched them, nobody else in the family did. But I always kept track," Johnson said, adding that aside from herself and Ferber, "We're not sports people."

Johnson took up painting during the pandemic and now attends weekly classes at the local senior center, where she reminds friends when the Wolves are playing.

Postseason, she's considering painting portraits of her favorite players to pass the time until next season.

In a text to Ferber after Tuesday's win, Johnson's optimism was crystal clear.

"One more game and then next year? I'll still be a fan."

Jo Johnson’s 2024 portrait of granddaughter Annika Ferber, shown as a young girl reading the sports section of the Star Tribune.
Jo Johnson’s 2024 portrait of granddaughter Annika Ferber, shown as a young girl reading the sports section of the Star Tribune.