Two and a half years ago when the late Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves’ all-time winningest coach, returned as team part owner and head coach, he said the first thing he was going to do was lead the culture change of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Unfortunately, before his second season cleaning up this misguided organization was to begin, Saunders died after a sudden battle with cancer.
That is a significant statement about who you are and where you need to go as an organization in 2014, and brings up major concerns about how you are perceived today. You see, the Timberwolves have missed the playoffs now 12 years in a row. Of the 30 NBA teams, 16 qualify for the playoffs, and 14 that fail are in the lottery. The Wolves, believe me, had a chance to draft Stephen Curry and passed.
Chris Wright is the team president. He believes in his heart he knows what’s best for the way the team is marketed, but he has failed big time just like the team has — the one that the organization has put on the court for years that gets out-scored and falls on its face annually.
Wright, in his marketing of the team, ignores the single most important element about the NBA. It’s common sense to do as others do around the league: market the team to the Black community.
The majority of the league’s players are Black players — can you say 77 percent? Yet Wright, who was not born in the United States, fails to connect the team and its players with its roots. He wants them to be something else. These players are depending on people like Wright to be right.
Numbers don’t lie. The Timberwolves average about 11,150 fans a game at the Target Center; the crosstown Minnesota Wild average about 18,900 every night for 41 dates. They play in a league where only six percent of the league’s players are Black.
The Wild don’t market their team to the Black community either. They don’t have to — it’s the state of hockey. Hockey is a culture in this state, and Wright has refused in his better than 11 years in his current position to do what’s best and what’s right for the Timberwolves.
He’s a stubborn man. He honors military veterans, it seems, at all 41 Timberwolves games, and the team connects with high schools and that’s great.
But last year the Timberwolves traded the franchise’s superstar Kevin Love to Cleveland for their number-one pick Andrew Wiggins. They also drafted guard Zach LeVine from UCLA. This year the team won the lottery, hip hip hooray, and drafted Kentucky All-American star Karl Anthony Towns. Towns led Kentucky last year to the NCAA Final Four — they were 38-0!
The Timberwolves have three gifted and Black 20-year-olds. The sky’s the limit with patience and seasoning. It will not happen overnight, but the Timberwolves will eventually start winning.
I hope they eventually start marketing the team in the Black community. Wright, it appears, does not have a great deal of respect for that community. I have communicated with him my concerns. Maybe he’s not a fan of “Black Lives Matter.”
Saunders and the Timberwolves also drafted in the first round Tyus Jones, the gifted Apple Valley star who led Duke to the NCAA Championship in 2015 and who has fulfilled his dream of playing for the Timberwolves. Wright may not notice, but Jones and his head coach, interim Sam Mitchell, hand-chosen by Saunders, are Black and so is General Manager Milt Newton.
Team owner Glen Taylor is selling part of the team, and the sale will become official sooner than later. At that time change will again likely happen for the Timberwolves. In the last three years, the Timberwolves have had three different coaches: Rick Adelmen, Saunders, and now Mitchell.
Mother of mercy, this team, as young as it is, mourns still the loss of the heart and soul (Flip Saunders) of this organization. He was the guy with the plan. He brought Kevin Garnett back a proven winner. He said culture change was needed within the organization ASAP.
Wright needs to look himself squarely in a mirror and admit he is failing Minnesota and what Saunders was trying to do and knew needed to be done. Our community is still waiting. I rest my case.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.