When the Minnesota Timberwolves won their play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-104, Patrick Beverley stood on a table courtside. He hollered at the manic, glory-impoverished crowd, tore off his jersey and threw it into the masses. The Wolves were heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, and just the second time since Kevin Garnett left town. It was a moment of tremendous joy for the young team, their fanbase, and, yes: Beverley. The cantankerous 33-year-old veteran has been instrumental in the Wolves becoming a more meddling presence, and he was clearly ready to celebrate the acknowledgement of that on a national stage.

Fans of the NBA at all levels were, likewise, ready to mock Beverley's sincerity. We are not just talking about Twitter, that unfortunate never-ending Hater's Ball that should've ended years ago, but is instead still full of men who have drank their way through several different hangovers, and continue to cook up new ways to ridicule the world's best basketball players instead of going home to their families. On the TNT broadcast, Beverley was catching just as much—if not more—mockery. Several NBA players joined in on Twitter, too, simply posting laughing emojis by the dozens—everyone knew what they meant. There was then, natural as a mudslide, a counter-discourse about whether it was morally correct to roast the Wolves' accomplishment, and what this immediate cruel comedic sizzle said about the nature of NBA culture versus that of NCAA basketball.

Tired stuff, most of it, though the Beverley element of it all is objectively pretty hilarious. The rascally point guard's sincere cinematic snarling was a bolt of life to the NBA scene when he was a revenge-tour type of player with the Houston Rockets a decade ago, having fallen out of the league and played overseas for two years, only to come back with a signature vengeance. At this point, though, it's cartoonish. He is the floor-slapping older dude at a local playground run, who everyone jokes about on their walk home afterwards, whether he was any good on the court or not; why, the spirit of the humor asks, does he have to be quite that extra?

The feverish chatter about the Wolves' moment is obviously par for the NBA Twitter course, but it also acted as a cultural referendum on the state of the play-in tournament as it enters its second season of existence. Single game matchups with franchise-changing consequences are fundamentally counter to the seven-game series norm of the NBA postseason, and that difference swirled with the energy of a desperate fanbase to show the sport posing like its college counterpart, or like the NFL. The reaction of the staid old heads, unimpressed by the supposed cheapness of the Wolves' thrilling victory, was, well... reactionary. They like what they like, and it isn't this burst of odd competitive ecstasy, too random, unpredictable, and unproving to think critically about, too quickly cooked for them to eat.

Most of the play-in tournament hasn't been, and won't be, like this. The mini tournament is more likely to produce clinical dress-downs between mediocre teams, or wake-ups from contenders in waiting, like Kevin Durant's grizzled Brooklyn Nets, who took down the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers in the day's previous game after stumbling tired through most of the regular season. Adam Silver and the league's front office would likely prefer to take what happened in Minneapolis and bottle, mass-produce, and sell it, though. The war of attrition fare of the traditional long playoff series is great for hardcore fans, but the instant context of one high-stakes game—with jubilant players and fans, to boot—is closer to what the average viewer is hoping to get out of sports. 

As part of their razz session, the TNT broadcast played "One Shining Moment" over footage of Beverley's chest-pounding reverie. For the NBA's true believers, always perceiving March Madness from a critical and aloof distance, this was hilarious; but, really, one shining moment is precisely what sports are about for much of the world—the undying earnestness of "the ball is tipped, and there you are"; "you're running for your life, you're a shooting star." The NBA has instituted the play-in tournament at least in part as a trial balloon for looking at ways it might become popular to people who have been indifferent to it, and the fans already deep into the league's roots have shown how they feel about the potential future that it suggests. Let the battle for tomorrow's NBA begin.