Requiem for a person I didn’t know


Basketball blogger and writer Tim Allen, recognized as @timallenonline on Twitter, will be remembered at a memorial service in Fridley this afternoon.

Like me, others who knew him only by online interaction with him will attend because Twitter , where we “met” while tweeting our passion about the Timberwolves, allows us to “know” people even without meeting them. Their lives and losses are a part of us because we have a relationship, if only on social media.

As a newsroom manager at MPR wrote yesterday in a much more lighthearted way, this is a foolhardy illusion.

Tim Allen killed himself the other day, his friends say, and a lot of people who did know him the old-fashioned way are at a loss to explain why. Those of us who didn’t know him had no clue of whatever torment may have led him to take his own life. We minister to ourselves by reminding each other to reach out for help and human contact, and fail to see the irony of our own advice.

Mr. Allen’s final tweet — all of his tweets, really — gave us no indication of what was to occur a few hours later.

Even in the hours after his death, knowing Mr. Allen was a nearly impossible task. Only one of his online friends indicated the cause of death. Tweets spoke in reverent, but muted terms, and private messages spread the unspeakable reports about how he died. To do otherwise, even now, would be disrespectful, some acquaintances said.

Most of his online friends got the news from another favorite online personality of we Timberwolves fans — @femalesportslvr — a close friend of his:

I remember sitting with him at a Twins game recently. He knew how much I hate the White Sox, so he decided he’d cheer for them. I cut him some slack because he was a Cubs fan. He found it incredibly humorous that the one game I made it to this year was against the White Sox and A. J. Pierzynski wasn’t in the lineup for me to “boo”. I felt ripped off.

Tim was a big Kobe Bryant fan. This was difficult for me to swallow because I cannot stand Bryant. He would routinely text me with some obnoxious stat about Kobe and rub it in. He even told me that his dog, Sam, had her own Kobe jersey. I told him I was going to report him to PETA for cruel and unusual punishment of his beloved dog. He just laughed and shook his head. We had that kind of friendship where you give each other a lot of crap, but you care very deeply for each other.

She wrote a lovely memory of him, and I’d love to tell you her name. But even though we’ve tweeted each other over the last year about the Timberwolves, I never asked.

At A Wolf Among Wolves, Zach Harper asks that we not get into the question of why this death occurred.

I never got to know Tim in the way I thought I eventually would, but I did get to know enough about him to know that I wanted to know more about him. He was a great guy and I never read or heard a bad word about him or his insightful writing about the Wolves. Over the past couple days, people have been kind enough to offer condolences to me and said that they’re sorry for my loss.

The truth is that it doesn’t feel right to have someone phrase it in that way. It’s not my loss. I obviously wasn’t nearly as close to him as his family and friends were. I wasn’t as close to him as the editorial team on Canis Hoopus or the commenters he bantered with on a daily basis. I was just a new person in his life hoping to foster a friendship. I do know though that his passing is everybody’s loss. Whether you were close to him or more on the outside looking in, he probably had a positive influence on your life.

It’s true that we should not be defined by the method of our death, but neither are we just the blog posts we write or the tweets we make, or the acquaintances we make in the form of human contact while working.

And yet there is still a critical role that social networking and blogs make at a time like this. They can speak the unspeakable, force us to confront the utter normalcy of struggling with a periodically treacherous brain, and allow us the cover to tell our own stories.

On her blog, Jillian Unplugged, Jillian Hiscock told her own story of depression, inspired to do so, apparently, by Mr. Allen’s death:

Over the next several months, we worked diligently to determine the proper medication and dosage for my depression. This was probably one of the most frustrating parts of my mental illness for me-I felt so helpless and hated the fact that I needed a pill in order to feel ‘normal.’ I struggled with this feeling for years and only after several conversations with family and friends did I get to a point where I can comfortably say “I take antidepressants, and I’m okay with that.”

Now I live a relatively ‘normal’ life with my perfectly flawed self. I still have days that I need to stay in bed for hours in order to work up enough energy to face the world. But luckily for me and all those around me, my depression is managed well with the help of a daily dose of SSRIs and the constant love and support of my family and friends. I know I am one of the lucky ones who has people around me who I can talk to about my mental illness without feeling judged or misunderstood. There are a lot of people who don’t have that support and that’s where you come in. Tell the people you love how you feel about them. Be an active listener.

This afternoon, no doubt, we will listen to stories about Tim Allen’s life and walk away from the memorial service wishing we’d known him better, perhaps feeling a bit ashamed that in our online world, we didn’t know him at all.


  • Sara

    Wow. A News Cut story that left me in tears! I’m sorry for your loss, Bob. I have depression. Part of me “gets” why he killed himself. Fortunately a larger part of me is now scared of suicide thanks to my husband, children, doctors, therapists and medicine. Today has been a down day for me (but no one would know it). I needed to hear these stories, especially Jillian’s. Thank you for sharing and thank you for being in my online world.

  • allie

    I just started meds this past month after an extreme acute anxiety episode, but probably should have been on something for the past ten years. It makes me wonder how much time I lost to panic and depression. Thank you for talking so openly and honestly about mental health, and highlighting the struggles that we everyday people have in trying to find our equilibrium. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t, and often neither outcome ever entirely makes sense to us or others.

  • Dana

    Sorry for the sad news – I loved his tweets, and am grateful for your requiem.

  • Snyder

    Great column, Bob. You captured the way I felt perfectly. It was nice seeing you at the service today.

  • Minn whaler

    Clinical depression hurts beyond comprehension… Anxiety is emotionally/physically consuming…

    I wish I didn’t understand motives for suicide.

    I also wish for a cure. Blessings to all involved with the loss of Tim Allen.

  • Bird

    Great write-up, I am an avid canis-hoopus-er. I enjoyed TA’s articles. He will be missed. But you are right, I didn’t really know him.

  • A Tim Fan

    I was lucky enough to get to know Tim as a co-worker and editor who shared the cube next to him for about two years. First, Tim was every bit the person you would imagine him to be: funny, aware, nice, hard-working and completely devoted to basketball. Second, if you knew him, he was the guy you wanted on your team. The life of a workaday copywriter can be incredibly grueling: high production goals, demands from those around you, and the mental distractions that break your rhythm. Tim wrote to a high standard every day and built a successful writing career with Canis Hoopus on top of it. That kind of dedication to craft is extremely rare — many full-time writers don’t even want to see a keyboard, much less type on it, at the end of the day. Tim was an extremely strong writer to contribute the way he did. I moved to another part of the company, but fully expected that I would hear in a few months that Tim left for a great sportswriter gig doing what he truly loved.

    Here are the memories I will bank on: the spot-on Dwight Shrute he did for Halloween on year, his eclectic collection of basketball screensavers, and that little pause before he laid the smack down on a friend at work. Good stuff, good person all around. We are lucky he shared his talents as he did!