From Kevin Garnett to Karl-Anthony Towns: Being Black in Minneapolis as an NBA player and beyond
In a community still reeling from the police murder of George Floyd, everyone from pro players to local business owners are figuring out what the city means to them
MINNEAPOLIS – Kevin Garnett is still the benchmark against which all Minnesota Timberwolves are measured due to his unmatched effort, passion, team records, and dominance. Just over two years ago, his beloved “ ’Sota” saw a different side as he was introspective and emotional while visiting the George Floyd Memorial, standing near where his friend’s last breath was taken just four miles from where Garnett used to play at the Target Center.
The Basketball Hall of Famer knew the fellow African American whose life was taken by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after he kneeled on Floyd’s neck on May 25, 2020, on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South. Among the cameras and locals surrounding Garnett on his day at the memorial was former Wolves ball girl Jeanelle Austin, now executive director and co-founder of the George Floyd Memorial. Austin used to toss basketballs to Garnett in pregame workouts.
“I was full of so many different emotions, if I’m being honest,” Garnett recently told Andscape. “I knew George. If anybody who was a ballplayer was out in the city, you knew dude. He was always consistent. Always fun-loving, always full of joy, always wanted to talk hoop, always was heavy-handed and always was funny as s—. Always good with the God. So, if you come from any of that spirit and understand, you are feeling the type of way you are. Looking at it, more needs to be done.
“But I was tense like everybody else to see just the impact of the whole situation and the impact that it has on the city. The city is mourning and still hurting from that along with the other victims and situations that occurred also. We have a sense of a resurrection and almost a reboot of the city to be able to preserve and bring on this new energy and new vibe.”
The 46-year-old African American is the centerpiece of history of a Timberwolves franchise that arrived as an NBA expansion team in the 1989-90 season. The Wolves and Minneapolis also offer one of the more unique NBA experiences off the court for an African American player. Andscape has written about what it is like to be African American playing for the Utah Jazz in predominantly white Utah and the Boston Celtics in a city that has long struggled with racism.
Next up is Minnesota, a franchise with winters so cold and challenging that it played a role in former star guard Stephon Marbury asking for a trade. While Minneapolis actually has more diversity than it often gets credit for, it is still a predominantly white town watching predominantly Black players. The Wolves are still seeking the town’s first NBA championship since the Minneapolis Lakers won in 1954. The city of Minneapolis is still fractured and attempting to heal in the aftermath of the Floyd tragedy.
The following is a look into the history of the Timberwolves through the lens of African Americans who donned their jerseys from the arrival of expansion, and locals who can relate to the good, bad, and little known or understood.
“The people didn’t care that they were losing their first season. “It was super because people were just excited to have an NBA franchise here.”
– Richard Coffey
WELCOME BACK TO ’SOTA
The Detroit Gems of the failing National Basketball League were purchased for $15,000 by Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen in 1947 and moved to Minneapolis. The two business executives changed the franchise’s name to Minneapolis Lakers in tribute to Minnesota’s “Land of 10,000 Lakes” nickname. These Lakers joined the NBA in 1949 and won titles in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. Hall of Famer George Mikan was not only the Lakers’ biggest star but the first superstar of the NBA.
Berger and Chalfen sold the Lakers to politician Robert Short in 1957. The team selected Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor with the first overall pick in the 1958 NBA draft. Minneapolis also drafted Hall of Famer Jerry West with the second overall pick in the 1960 NBA draft. After having bad attendance and problems with the venue in Minneapolis, Short moved Lakers and their young stars Baylor and West to Los Angeles in 1960, rejecting San Francisco and Chicago.
“The problem was that the Minneapolis Lakers didn’t have a place to play,” said Minneapolis native Bob Stein, a former NFL player who was the first president and CEO of Timberwolves. “I remember seeing them with my dad in the Minneapolis Auditorium, the Minneapolis Armory and in St. Paul. It was a much different status of economics.”
Minneapolis also had two short-lived American Basketball Association franchises, the Minnesota Muskies and Minnesota Pipers. Today, the Lakers are an 18-time NBA champion in Los Angeles worth $5.9 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Marv Wolfenson (Stein’s father-in-law) and Harvey Ratner, both minority owners of the Minneapolis Lakers, once tried to buy the Utah Jazz for $25 million in hopes of moving the franchise to Minneapolis. Then-Jazz owner Larry H. Miller declined the offer.
Wolfenson and Ratner ended up paying $32.5 million for the NBA expansion Minnesota franchise that began play in 1989. The Minnesota franchise selected the nickname Timberwolves over the Polars and had 14,000 season-ticket holders during their inaugural season. The Timberwolves’ first venue was the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which at that time housed the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins. The Wolves moved into the Target Center, their current venue, in 1990.
Stein hired several executives from American professional soccer to help him get the Wolves off the ground and asked around the NBA for advice.
“I was so over my head trying to build the arena and the figuring the business part and the basketball part of the organization,” Stein said. “My God, I was in the red zone all the time. I don’t know if anything had specific experience for that. I didn’t. It was constantly being on a steep learning curve and hiring good people to make it work.
“It was an opportunity I was very appreciative of. It was, honest to God, it was blood on the floor every day with all the stuff going on.”
The Timberwolves made their NBA debut on Nov. 3, 1989, against the host Seattle SuperSonics. Sam Mitchell, then a rookie forward, said the Wolves players debated before the game about who would score the first basket. Mitchell earned that honor on a layup after a steal but left the 106-94 loss early with an ankle injury. Tyrone Corbin scored a team-high 20 points off the bench for Minnesota.
“People were so excited to have the NBA back in Minneapolis,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t understand at the time that it was history-making. Being part of an expansion team’s first roster never changes. You’re a part of history forever. At the time you’re just an NBA player trying to prove that you deserve to be in the league. But thinking back on it, I scored the first two points in franchise history.”
On Nov. 8, 1989, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls came to Minneapolis to christen the franchise in its first NBA home game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Jordan scored 45 points in a 96-84 win over the Wolves in front of 35,427 fans at the indoor venue typically used by the Twins and the Vikings.
“We were in a football stadium. We had no backdrop in the stadium. It was bad for shooting. But we had so many people. We led the league in attendance that year,” Mitchell said.
Stein said Wolves fans honked their horns and celebrated as if they had won a championship when they earned their first franchise victory on Nov. 10, 1989, in Philadelphia. The Wolves finished their first season with a 22-60 record while coached by Bill Musselman. The Wolves led the NBA in attendance their first season with 1,072,572 total spectators.
Richard Coffey was a star basketball player at the University of Minnesota when the Wolves played their inaugural season. It was the North Carolina native’s first introduction to the NBA. His lone NBA season in the NBA was with Timberwolves during the 1990-91 season when they moved into the Target Center.
“The people didn’t care that they were losing their first season,” Coffey said. “It was super because people were just excited to have an NBA franchise here. And the one thing Minnesota would do, they would support.”
While the Wolves had such stars as Garnett, Marbury, Wally Szczerbiak, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Edwards over the years, the franchise has never won an NBA championship. The closest Minnesota got was the Western Conference finals with Garnett leading the way in 2004.
With Towns, Edwards, and Rudy Gobert now, the Timberwolves expect to be a playoff team with longshot championship aspirations.
“The talent that we have, the strength we have, it’s unique,” said Gobert, who was traded by the Jazz during the offseason. “Now we’ve got to put it together. Learn how to win. Learn how to put the team first and that, obviously, takes a little bit of time. Sometimes longer than other, but I think we can get there.”
“I didn’t think about my color so much [in Minneapolis]. I wasn’t blindfolded so much where I thought color didn’t matter. But for the first time, it didn’t lead my thoughts here.”
– Sam Mitchell
There may not be a better spokesperson for Minneapolis or the state of Minnesota than Towns.
The Afro Latino player has been starring for the Timberwolves since 2015 and is the longest tenured player on the team. The 6-foot-11 248-pounder says he loves the nature of Minnesota and that his favorite restaurants are in Minneapolis.
While Towns is a New Jersey native, he loves Minnesota so much that he sells it like a “travel agent” to those unfamiliar.
“I’m superexcited every time I get to Minnesota,” Towns said. “But I never say Minnesota, I say home. I’m excited when I get to come home and go to my favorite restaurants and see my favorite views here. Go to the parks. Walk around. Just do like everything a Minnesotan does. When they bleed, I bleed. When they’re rejoicing, I rejoice.
“I feel like now I am the one who is trying to sell people on coming to Minnesota. In the summer, it’s [a] top-10 [city] in America. In winter, while it’s cold, if you’re with someone like me who knows what they’re doing, it could be really fun.”
Minneapolis is a predominantly white city at 62.9% and the state of Minnesota is close to 85%, according to the U.S. Census. But several of the current and former Timberwolves players told Andscape they were pleasantly surprised to learn there was an African American, African, and diverse presence here. In 2020, Black or African Americans made up 18.6% of Minneapolis, 5.8% were Asian, 4.5% were biracial and 4.4% were Hispanic, according to DATAUSA.
Coming from the South, Mitchell said, it felt “liberating” going to Minneapolis in 1989.
“I didn’t think about my color so much,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t blindfolded so much where I thought color didn’t matter. But for the first time, it didn’t lead my thoughts here.”
The percentage of foreign-born people in Minneapolis from 2016 to 2020 was 8.4%, according to the U.S. Census. The number of Black immigrants living in Minnesota has increased by 274% over the last two decades, to roughly 100,000, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2020, most of the foreign-born residents living in Minnesota were Mexican, followed by Somalians. Minnesota now ranks ninth in the nation when it comes to the number of Black immigrant residents, according to Axios. Towns said he wants to have an impact on the Hispanic community in Minneapolis. Minnesota also is believed to have the nation’s largest populations of Liberians and Somalians, according to Axios.
“I’ve noticed a lot of East Africans here,” Gobert said.
Third-year Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels said: “I noticed a lot of Somalians here just like [at home] in Seattle. It makes me comfortable knowing there are a lot of different races out here.”
Said Timberwolves guard Jordan McLaughlin: “There are a lot of Ethiopians and Somalians here. It is good to see some color. Minnesota is predominantly white, but it hasn’t been discouraging in any way.”
Former Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, who is from Senegal, still has an offseason home in Minneapolis. He hosted a fundraiser on Oct. 25 at the former home of late Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders for his Gorgui Dieng Foundation, which is building a hospital in Senegal. JNBA Financial Advisors CEO Richard Brown, Roger and Nancy McCabe of the Roger and Nancy McCabe Foundation and Deephaven Data Labs CEO Pete Goddard and his wife, Jenn, who are all white Americans, have donated half of the $3 million needed to build Dieng’s hospital.
Dieng said he made a point to talking to the Wolves fans sitting courtside at games to get to know them, and it paid dividends to meet the Browns, the McCabes and the Goddards. Dieng has also partnered with others to build the hospital with MATTER, a global nonprofit in St. Paul, Minnesota, which has a mission to help people launch projects that improve communities.
“I appreciate them for everything they do for me and my people,” Dieng said. “They did it because of me. All these young guys got to understand, the basketball is small, but it can open a lot of doors for you. It’s all about your platform. What can you do? How you carry yourself on and off the court, it matters. You can be whatever you want.”
Gobert added that his early biggest joy about being in Minneapolis is that his personal chef has enjoyed cooking with the meat, fish and vegetables in Minnesota that were harder to find in Salt Lake City.
“My chef is very happy, and I’m really happy because he’s getting good products here,” Gobert said. “Organic fruits. Fresh fish and meat. Everything. It’s been really good here, so it’s a good thing.”
The Timberwolves have a renowned barber in Akeem Akway, who regularly gives private haircuts to Towns, Edwards and guard D’Angelo Russell. Akway’s family moved from Gambella, Ethiopia, to Minneapolis about 20 years ago when he was 10 years old. He first started cutting his teammates’ hair for $5 a cut while playing for Fridley High’s boys varsity basketball team in 2009. His hair-cutting skills were highlighted in the Star Tribune newspaper.
After graduating from high school, Akway attended barber school, landed a job as a full-time barber, and eventually opened up a shop. Today, he owns three barbershops named Akway’s Sports Barbershop in the Minneapolis area and is a courtside regular at Wolves games.
“Africans are one of the main reasons why my barbershop has been successful,” Akway said. “We get a lot of Somali clients. Liberian, Nigerians, Ethiopia. They all come and support. So, the African community is pretty supportive here in Minnesota. A lot of people don’t even think there’s Black people in Minnesota.
“So, when they come here and they see African people are striving here in Minnesota, that’s kind of surprising. And you see a lot of African restaurants and African barbershops.”
In Minneapolis, Garnett met his now-former wife, Brandi, who is Mexican American. Garnett says seeing interracial couples in Minneapolis was commonplace with no issues. Minneapolis has been one of the nation’s leaders in support of the LGBTQ+ community, as same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota in 2013. Minnesota was also the first state to reject a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage by a popular vote.
“The city has always been a city that was celebrated for having great gay rights early,” Garnett said. “You had interracial relationships that [were] open. It’s not even foreign to be in Minneapolis. I see a Black man and a white woman hold hands down on the street, go to dinner. Just normal life. And I actually like the complexity of that. I like the diversity of just everybody just getting along and [being] chill.”
Former Timberwolves guard Chauncey Billups said he “changed his career” for the better after signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2000. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP played with his close friend in Garnett before going to become an NBA All-Star with the Detroit Pistons.
“North Minneapolis was the Black community there then,” Billups said. “It was pretty strong. It had all the barbershops, stores and restaurants. It was cool. It was a nice spot. It reminded me of where I’m from in Denver. Denver is not heavily populated [by Black people]. Nor was Minneapolis.”
Yet, Minneapolis boasts one of the deepest soul music histories and music scenes in the country led by singer-songwriter Prince.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born and raised in Minneapolis and sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. The movie Purple Rain, which starred Prince, was filmed in Minneapolis and included a famous scene at Lake Minnetonka. Prince, also known as “The Artist,” was a huge basketball fan who attended Timberwolves games occasionally, but had a closer bond with the Minnesota Lynx. Prince died at age 57 on April 21, 2016, after accidentally overdosing on fentanyl at his Paisley Park home and recording studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
“Prince was kind of the rebel in which everybody wanted to be like or emulate, and [his] sex appeal was not something that you frowned upon,” Garnett said.
Said Mitchell: “He came to some games. He was around. But he wasn’t the most chatty person. I had been to his house, his apartment, but I wouldn’t say I knew him.”
Minneapolis also boasts such R&B music legends as Morris Day and The Time, Alexander O’Neal, Mint Condition, Sounds of Blackness, and music producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced five albums for singer Janet Jackson. Jimmy Jam and Lewis were big Wolves fans and regulars at games.
“We always saw Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in our locker room,” Mitchell said.
The historic First Avenue & 7th Street Entry nightclub that launched Prince and singer-rapper Lizzo, was featured in Purple Rain and is still open and showcases local and national acts. Any big concert tour typically stops through Minneapolis. Prince had a nightclub in the early 1990s called Glam Slam.
“There was always something to do in the city of Minneapolis that was diverse,” Mitchell said. “That’s what I loved about Minneapolis. There were many R&B spots to listen to music with so many people. A place would have R&B music or a R&B band and most of the people in there were white. If it was in the South, 85% of the people in there would be Black.”
The music scene is still hot in Minneapolis for today’s Timberwolves.
“They have a couple good performers that always come out here to perform,” McLaughlin said.
Although Garnett was the megastar of the Timberwolves during his era, former Wolves forward Gary Trent Sr. said he kept a low profile in public for good reason.
“When you’re in Minneapolis, you’re a rock star, especially when KG [Garnett] was on the team,” Trent Sr. said. “We were winning. Every night you go out, or in the arena, it was popping, and they treated you well.
“They would be staring all the time. Then you got people [who] feel like this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to speak to Kevin. So, they’re going to climb over the rope [in the VIP section of the club] and just come and just be fascinated with who he is.”
Mitchell pointed out that there were soul food restaurants in Minneapolis. Garnett talked about finding a Harold’s Chicken Shack like the one he went to in Chicago. Marbury said he used to go to South Minneapolis to get his hair cut and go to a restaurant owned by a Black Minnesota Vikings player.
In recent years, the Wolves have also done a better job of connecting their alumni with the franchise thanks to work of former Wolves forward John Thomas.
Thomas was the vice president of player development for the Timberwolves and Lynx and now is in charge of the Timberwolves’ social responsibility. The Minneapolis native started a database of former Timberwolves players. Former Wolves players Coffey, Trent Sr., and Hudson, who all still live in Minneapolis, all have made guest paid appearances for the franchise at games and events.
“The hardest part was getting the database,” said Thomas, who also played basketball at the University of Minnesota. “Throughout our team’s history, we’ve had an average time per player of [a] little less than two years. What does that do for the players and how they view the organization, but also fans and how they think of players? If there’s no connectivity, they don’t know them and can’t build a relationship with them. What I’ve started to see now is that we’ve got a more stable core [of players] that show well to our season ticket holders, community partners and corporate partners.”
Said Trent Sr., who played with the Wolves from 2001 to 2004: “John contacts former players and he’ll shoot me tickets to the game. I can bring my kids, and he wants to get former players back around. So, over the last one or two years I have gotten a little bit more involved.”
Trent Sr., and Coffey said that another attraction to the business world of Minneapolis is the 19 Fortune 500 companies in 2021, according to Twin Cities Businesses. Hudson and Trent say their Timberwolves connection is still paying business and local dividends. Coffey owns multiple businesses, has worked in corporate America, and has given presentations throughout the United States.
Thomas hopes to connect the former Wolves to as many local companies as possible that fit their profile.
“There are 19 Fortune 500 companies here,” Thomas said. “How do you get players to build relationships with those organizations?”
Minneapolis is also a great place for outdoorsmen into fishing, boating, relaxing nature environments and jogging. The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes include Bde Maka Ska, Harriet, Cedar, Brownie, and Lake of the Isles. Several current Wolves players said they have enjoyed boating and fishing during the summer.
McDaniels and McLaughlin really love the summertime in Minneapolis and call it their “second home.”
“As years have gone on, I really like it during the summertime,” McDaniels said. “I kind of like it when it’s cold. You really can’t do nothing. I’m in the house playing games. I’ve been to the [state] fair a couple times. I’ve been on Lake Minnetonka jet skiing. There are restaurants on the lake. I explore a little bit.”
Said McLaughlin: “When it’s not cold there is a lot to do. When it’s cold, you want to stay inside. But in the summers, it’s supernice. You got the lakes. You can go fishing on the lakes. Get on a boat and hang with your friends. They have the Mall of America. Topgolf is out there.”
“I was told it was cold there, but you never know what cold is until you experience it.”
— Stephon Marbury
There’s arguably no place in the NBA colder than Minneapolis. For newcomers to the Timberwolves, the first thing that typically comes to mind is how cold can it really be.
When asked to compare his hometown of Denver to Minneapolis’ cold, Billups said Denver wasn’t even close.
“When Stephon Marbury went there from New York, I asked him if it was similar to New York [weatherwise],” Billups said. “He said, ‘No Chaunce, there is nothing like this.’ My expectations were that and it met all my expectations. It’s unbearable.”
Minneapolis-St. Paul is the coldest on average among the Top 51 largest urban centers in the United States, based on weather data collected from 1991 to 2020 by the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. Minnesota has the most days a year of below-zero weather and the lowest average annual temperature of those cities. Minneapolis also averages below-zero degrees Fahrenheit 22 days a year on average and under 10 degrees Fahrenheit 46 days a year.
“I was told it was cold there, but you never know what cold is until you experience it,” Marbury said. “If you never experienced it before, it would be hard to understand that type of feeling … But when you feel 40 below [zero] and you realize you’re surrounded by 10,000 lakes, you have a different understanding. Wintertime, it was a big transformation.”
Wolves players past and present offered a wide range of views on the cold and the snow. As for Garnett and Towns, they embraced it and grew to love it.
“I just remember when I first got up there, it was supposed to be minus-5 and this is my first time being in no wind, just minus-5 outside,” said Garnett, a South Carolina native who played high school basketball in Chicago. “I was like, ‘holy s—.’ But coming from a kid that grew up with sun, I was super into the seasons. I was into fall. I was into winters. When it was snow, I would take my dogs out. I play in the snow. I would slide. I was a big ass kid to 27, 28.
“Man, I enjoyed the snow. I never saw the snow as a problem.”
Towns say people not giving Minneapolis a chance because of fear of cold are making a mistake. He says his girlfriend Jordyn Woods, a Los Angeles native, even loves the Minnesota winters now.
“It’s fun to be outside building snow castles and sledding and doing outdoor activities in the snow and ice. Everyone who comes here ends up loving this place so much,” Towns said. “Even my girl. She is LA born and raised. Never left. But now she finds herself running to come back here to the snow. She loves the sledding, being outside and seeing snow. Especially as a woman, she can wear different outfits and coats. For her, it’s really cool. I truly enjoy being here.”
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area receives about 60 inches of snowfall in an average year, according to Trip Savvy. That snow doesn’t typically melt until the spring, which leads to blocks of ice and even more dangerous black ice, “an invisible hazard that catches drivers off guard and causes crashes,” according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Marbury recalls watching warnings on the local news and hearing the weather forecaster say “you can die” if you are stuck outdoors on a below-zero temperature day. He says he feared death several times as his car spun out of control while driving on black ice in Minneapolis before the 1998-99 season.
“I almost died out there three or four times driving out there because you hit black ice,” Marbury said. “I was driving really slow over one of the little bridges downtown, hit some black ice, spun out, had six turns. I was in a Navigator truck, and I spun out. After the last spin and I stopped, I looked around and there were no cars coming. I looked both ways and said, ‘I’m getting the [expletive] out of here.’
“It’s freezing there. It’s mad snow every day. It’s like Groundhog Day.”
Garnett and his friends, however, found a fun way to get used to driving in black ice.
“When I first got to Minnesota, I couldn’t really drive in snow,” Garnett said. “The car I had had low profile tires and rims. I was sliding everywhere. It was suggested to go to a parking lot at night when no one was in the parking lot and learn how to drive in the parking lot, sliding, going at fast speeds, learning how to pump the brake, learning how to stop, and how to respond to snow. So, me and my boys went to a parking lot.”
One way for Wolves players living downtown to stay out of the cold is the Minneapolis Skyway System, which stretches over 9.5 miles. It is an interlinked collection of enclosed pedestrian footbridges that connect various buildings in 80 full city blocks of downtown Minneapolis, allowing locals to walk in climate-controlled comfort year-round.
“The thing that blew my mind is that they had skyways that you could go through all throughout the city, so you didn’t have to go outside because it was that cold,” Marbury said. “You can do that throughout the city because the buildings are connected and not go outside. That is a different type of cold.”
Mitchell was concerned about the Minneapolis winters when he joined the Timberwolves in 1989. Sporting a cool high-top haircut and no hat at the time, he said he was “sick as a dog daily” during his first winter. The Columbus, Georgia, native, however, received wise words of wisdom from a friend in France that helped him get ready for the cold mentally.
“He told me to cut my hair and wear a hat,” Mitchell said. “And change your attitude. You have to understand that it’s going to be cold. My second year, I cut my hair low and started wearing a hat, changed my attitude and I was fine. Being in Minneapolis changed my attitude on cold weather.”
“Unless they’re picking up a body, you don’t see cops patrolling the streets. After George Floyd, Black folks got in their feelings and the cops got into their feelings. And since, no one has been able to build that bridge or have some real conversation about what’s important to have and what community policing looks like.”
— Larry McKenzie
THE FLOYD NIGHTMARE
While mourning the death of his mother, Jacqueline, to COVID-19, Towns and then-Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie attended a news conference with former NBA player Stephen Jackson demanding justice for Floyd on May 29, 2020. It doesn’t appear that there has been much improvement in Minneapolis since.
“It was disturbing and uncomfortable. It is upsetting,” Towns said. “This is a place that I love and had [heard] ‘Minnesota nice’ from everybody. To see something like that dividing our community, it’s an ugly thing. I was going through a lot. You can’t be a man of change when it’s convenient. You have to be man of change when it’s really hard.”
After the murder of Floyd, there were 93 slayings in Minneapolis in 2021. Minneapolis went from being viewed as a liberal city with economic opportunity for all to the face of police brutality after Floyd’s death and the center of the defund the police movement, which meant taking funds from police departments to spend on other priorities such as employment programs, mental health services and social services to increase public safety. CNN reported last year that Minneapolis Police Department leaders said their police force dropped from 900 in early 2020 to 560 in August 2021 due to low morale after Floyd’s killing.
White politicians promised to address the state’s deepest racial disparities but have done little. The Washington Post reported in May that “many Black Minneapolis residents say little has changed since Floyd’s killing.” The Post also reported that a typical Black family in Minneapolis earns less than half as much as the typical white family in any given year, and homeownership among Black people is one-third the rate of white families.
Akway says it can be a challenge for the rare Black business owners in Minneapolis, too. He said he opened his first barbershop in a shopping center of predominantly white-owned businesses in the Minneapolis suburb of Lake Park. He said he was pushed out due to racism after neighboring businesses grew weary of him bringing in lots of Black customers.
After several noise complaints that Akway said were unfair, he paid a costly fine and fees to relocate his business because he feared an eviction notice.
“We’re running a business there, we can’t control how many people we drive in,” Akway said. “And then eventually they kept giving me warnings. As a businessman, I can’t afford to have eviction on my record. So, I had to think quickly. I still have two years left on my lease. I’m on my last warning here. And technically they didn’t kick me out, but I chose to pay that fine to leave before I get an eviction note to where now I can’t even go anywhere.
“To terminate the lease, it was like $7,000, and I had to pay another $4,000 to clean up the whole space and then pay another $60,000 to build up a whole new shop. I basically just had to move this stuff. But I found a location down the street and had to build it up.”
Legendary Minnesota boys high school basketball coach Larry McKenzie retired this year after 42 years. The first African American coach selected to the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame is also the first coach to lead two state high schools to multiple titles.
Outside the gym, McKenzie also has witnessed a lot of struggles of African Americans during 40 years in Minneapolis, including what he believes is the lack of police presence in predominantly Black parts of town after Floyd was murdered.
“Since George Floyd, we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about the need to look at diversity, inclusion and equity,” said McKenzie, who lives in predominantly Black North Minneapolis. “Have I seen it in action? No. People talk about Minnesota and about how progressive and liberal it is. But it’s the fourth-worst state in the country for African Americans if you look at ownership, employment and all those kinds of things. Time, Forbes, and the NAACP have all done research to come to this conclusion. I have been able to navigate through all the land mines, but Minnesota is challenging.
“Unless they’re picking up a body, you don’t see cops patrolling the streets. After George Floyd, Black folks got in their feelings and the cops got into their feelings. And since, no one has been able to build that bridge or have some real conversation about what’s important to have and what community policing looks like. Everyone is in their feelings. They’re not talking.”
Thomas grew up four blocks away from where Floyd was killed and understands what Black people in Minneapolis are fighting against.
“Black households in Minneapolis have less than $37,000 medium income,” Thomas said. “When you look at total business ownership, 1% is people of color. Dollars are driving the upper mobility. If I don’t understand how to own a home, if I don’t understand the implications with the dollars that come in and if the dollars are limited, the question is can I even feed my family healthy food.
“If you’re lacking from a health perspective and on top of that live in a traumatized neighborhood, all these dominos start to take effect. It just comes to being able to amplify that there needs to be change made.”
South Minneapolis is where Floyd was murdered in front of Cup Foods store. While Austin says there are new owners, most of the patrons on this Oct. 25 afternoon are African American. Thomas believes that Black people are still frequenting the store because there is no other convenience store for miles. There is, however, a Black-owned convenience store being opened soon close to Cup Foods.
Thomas misses the days of “community” and the neighborhood cookouts, and painfully recalls the influence of gangs in South Minneapolis. Now, Thomas described his old neighborhood as “desperate but hopeful.”
“There is a lot of strength and power that happened from that day that continues to move itself forward,” Thomas said. “Any great fire gets extinguished over time. It’s less about the outcome. It’s asking why the outcome is what it is. It goes back to the root if these systems are designed to depress, how do we move forward in a way where we at least understand the problem. Oftentimes, when you think about community and how networks come together, we’re only as good as our teammates.”
Austin was a ball girl during her youth for the Timberwolves and grew up near the memorial. Today, the locals pay her respect due to her deep involvement as lead caretaker in preserving the memorial.
She calls the murder of Floyd a “lynching.” She has held tours for numerous celebrities who want to see the memorial, including the Wolves, but says the city isn’t doing much to preserve it.
Like Thomas, Austin is praying for a better day in the neighborhood.
“Start to engage your neighborhood and you realize people just really want the best for themselves and their family,” Austin said. “People want to be able to raise their kids. They want their kids to have a better life than they had. And I think that’s the work that we’re trying to imagine. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Austin was also asked if Garnett remembered her when he visited the memorial, but mostly tried to respect him as he processed it all.
“Everyone saw him and all, but I saw him as a Black man who needs to be in this space,” Austin said. “And that’s because of the work that I did as a ball kid. I got over the star stress stuff in my view. So, when people come, my priority is to say, ‘How can I help you cope? How can I help you process?’ This lynching stuff is heavy, and it weighs on us.”
On Oct. 6, 2020, Austin hosted a tour of Timberwolves players, coaches and other staff members, who walked down a street with a long list of names of those slain by police brutality before approaching the memorial. The Wolves took in all the signs and other tributes. Austin said the players were really intrigued by a green room that housed plants visitors left behind that can survive in the extreme of winter.
Painted on the area where Floyd took his last breath is the quote from his daughter Gigi, “Daddy Changed the World.”
“The players were really quiet, but they were probably really cold because they came in hoodies and there was snow on the ground,” Austin said. “But I’m glad that they came.”
On April 20, 2021, before the Chauvin trial verdict was revealed, the Wolves players were hoping for the best and bracing for the worst while on the road in Sacramento, California. It was about five hours before tipoff against the Sacramento Kings. A stressed Towns prayed that this wouldn’t be the second Rodney King situation, when four white California police officers were acquitted in 1992 of the severe beating of King. Riots, destroyed businesses and deaths in South Central Los Angeles followed those acquittals.
Tru Pettigrew, chief diversity and inclusion officer of the Timberwolves, said players expressed fear in text messages and conversations about the Chauvin verdict ruling in favor of the former police officer. Pettigrew told the players that a projected quick jury decision meant a guilty verdict was likely.
“It was nerve-wracking at first because they were telling us that if things go wrong, they could start riots,” McDaniels said. “So, I didn’t know how I would get around the city with chaos.”
Said Pettigrew: “I was just getting their thoughts and their feelings, and then to some degree helping to get them the process, how they’re going to navigate what happens regardless of however the verdict came up.”
Fearing civil unrest if Chauvin received a not-guilty verdict, the Wolves planned to move the players’ loved ones back in Minneapolis out of town. The Timberwolves also had a contingency plan to play their next home game against the Utah Jazz on April 6, 2021, in Salt Lake City. But when it was revealed that Chauvin was convicted on all charges, Towns and the Timberwolves rejoiced and relaxed their minds and turned their attention to the evening’s game. The Wolves went on to defeat the Kings 134-120. In June 2021, Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of Floyd.
“Just to win the game was an amazing feeling, but we knew that the game was bigger than us,” Towns previously told Andscape. “That game was for our community, for George Floyd’s family, for everyone grieving. The country was grieving. Just because there was justice served doesn’t mean the grieving had stopped. There was so much more grieving to be done over the loss of a life.”
In April, a 72-page state inquiry revealed that Minneapolis police took part in racial discrimination for at least the past decade. Minnesota’s civil rights enforcement agency studied how police officers used force, stopped, searched, and arrested Black people in Minneapolis compared to whites. The analysis that found wide disparities in the treatment of different races could force the Minneapolis Police Department to change its practices and policies. African Americans represented 54% of all traffic stops between 2017 and 2020 despite being 19% of the population, the inquiry found. Black people also were the victims of 63% of police use-of-force incidents from 2010 to 2020.
The report added that Minneapolis police officers “consistently use racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language and are rarely held accountable, created fake social media accounts to monitor Black people “unrelated to criminal activity, without a public safety objective.” Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey called the report’s findings “repugnant, at times horrific.”
Garnett is pained by what is happening to African Americans due to police brutality and violence and has been thinking of ways he could help North and South parts of Minneapolis, which are predominantly Black.
“The Twin Cities [have] been beat up and no one’s came back to actually help,” Garnett said. “I feel like since George Floyd, a lot more black people have been killed unequivocally and unlawfully or just in a weird way and you haven’t heard much of it. And Minneapolis the city has changed, changed to the point where I don’t even know if it’s safe. People that live there every day go through some realities that I think the world [doesn’t] even know exists. And I’m not saying that it was squeaky-clean when we were playing. But the police had a certain type of respect for you.
“The city needs a real repair. Not a Band-Aid. Not a renovation. It needs a whole repair. People in South Minneapolis and North Minneapolis and some of these communities are really, really struggling as you would through any neighborhood these days. The world is upside down or it appears to be. Very challenging times.”
Most of the Timberwolves either live in downtown Minneapolis or upscale suburban neighborhood homes. Mitchell said when he played for the Wolves he got “preferential treatment” from the police officers because he was an NBA player and they worked for the team at game. Looking back, he said he was shocked that Floyd was murdered by a cop Minneapolis.
“You always hear certain things and know certain things, but when you’re a professional athlete in a city you just don’t get the same treatment that everyone else gets,” Mitchell said. “It’s sad that you get this way, but you don’t notice it as much as you should. I didn’t realize until George Floyd that there was a problem …
“When this happened with George Floyd where you see what the one officer did to him and the other officers let happen, when I think about it now, it’s just sickening. How do you murder some that is begging for their life?”
Marbury said he was racially profiled by Minneapolis police on several occasions during his time in Minneapolis but being a Wolves star always got him a pass.
“I got stopped just because he had a nice car. I was like, ‘Why did you pull me over?’ They would recognize me and say, ‘Oh, Stephon, you can go.’ ‘What was the reason? You got three cars going by with tinted windows, but you pulled me over?’ I didn’t like being racially profiled,” Marbury said. “Even when you have your windows down and you pulled over. It happened a lot of times. More times than it should. You’re driving around in a $150,000 car and you get pulled over for what. You can see I’m not doing anything; I got my seat belt on and you’re pulling me over?”
Hudson and Trent both live in Minneapolis still with their families that include young sons. Hudson said it was “tough” talking about Floyd’s death with his young son. Trent has a son that plays for the Toronto Raptors in Gary Trent, Jr. Coffey’s son, Amir, is a forward for the Los Angeles Clippers.
What they each found comfort in is that many of the protestors fighting in Floyd’s name against police brutality in Minneapolis were white. While Hudson acknowledged that Floyd’s death left a “stain on Minneapolis,” neither he nor Trent Sr., plan on moving since police brutality can happen anywhere in the United States.
“I didn’t consider leaving because it’s a nationwide issue,” Hudson said. “The police-on-Black crime and just socially in the sense of discrimination and prejudice, that’s just a nationwide thing. So, you can’t really run from it. I don’t care where you go, you can’t run from it. But for me personally, it did change me.”
There are brown wooden fists that stand more than 12 feet tall on all four street entrances to the memorial. Most of the murals or paintings at the memorial have been created by African Americans or African American artists were included in the creations. McDaniel first came upon the memorial by accident and is glad he did.
“I’ve drove past it a couple of times,” McDaniels said. “It’s crazy seeing everything. But it’s good to see that they have the big fists and the painted murals everywhere to see where they actually care.
“At first, I didn’t know it was there. I was going to a restaurant. It was shocking to see all of that.”
McLaughlin has visited the memorial a few times, and likes how it has been maintained. More than 5,000 artifacts from the memorial, including decaying flowers, protest signs and memorabilia, have been stored and registered in a refrigerated room at a nearby community center.
“I’ve been there a couple of times,” McLaughlin said. “It was a tragedy that happened, and I was here when it happened. But the way the community takes care of that area is special. We couldn’t believe it happened. For it to be right down the street, it could have been anybody.”
Edwards, the third-year star guard, has no plans to visit the emotional memorial.
“No, I’m OK. I don’t want to go near that place,” said Edwards, a 21-year-old African American. “I don’t know what is going on there. I don’t know if some of the same stuff is going on. I’d rather stay at the crib and go to the gym.”
McKenzie sat in the stands to watch the Timberwolves beat the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 26. In retirement, McKenzie is enjoying being around his two grandchildren in Minneapolis and going to Wolves games. But he and his wife, Pamela, plan to move in the coming years after growing weary of how impoverished African Americans are treated in Minneapolis.
The Miami native also has family in South Carolina and says that he and his wife speak daily about moving “down South.”
“It’s very serious,” McKenzie said. “I will be out of here in a year and a half. It’s time. I’ve done 42 years. Minnesota has been good to me, but I’m an outlier and I know that.”
“Garnett was bigger than anything else here. When the state raised the taxes to pay you, what they telling you?”
— Gary Trent Sr.
THE LEGEND OF ‘KG’
The Timberwolves were booed during and after they were down by as many as 20 points to the young and rebuilding Spurs before losing at home 115-106 on Oct. 24. The next morning, Akway cited Garnett as the reason fans were so upset.
“Garnett always gave everything when he played for the Timberwolves. He left everything on the floor. He set a standard of always giving 100% that T-Wolves fans are accustomed to. So, when fans here don’t get the level of effort that KG gave, they will boo you,” Akway said.
“Minneapolis is a blue-collar-type town. They have a lot of nice things, but that cold, hard weather makes [Minnesota] a blue-collar state. And they liked the fact that Garnett was a blue-collar-type player,” he said.
Garnett is still the face of Timberwolves basketball years after he unlaced his Adidas. He is the Timberwolves’ all-time leader in points with 19,201, as well as games played, blocks, triple-doubles, minutes played, rebounds, field goals made and steals. The fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft won the franchise’s only NBA MVP award in 2004.
“Garnett was bigger than anything else here. When the state raised the taxes to pay you, what they telling you?” Trent Sr. joked.
The 15-time NBA All-Star, however, won his only NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2008, a season after departing from Minneapolis. And while his No. 5 jersey is retired in Boston, he has no interest in his No. 21 jersey being retired in Minneapolis at the moment.
“I’m not even thinking about nothing like that,” Garnett said. “We are miles away from that.”
Garnett arrived in Minneapolis as a 19-year-old high school graduate and was a fun-loving kid off of the court. But on the court, the lanky, 6-foot-11 teenager had the seriousness and work ethic of a veteran from the first time he put on a practice jersey.
“There was an excitement. We saw highlights of him playing in high school,” Mitchell said. “But to see how tall and long he was, it was like he got out the car and he just unfolded. After the first practice, [teammate] Doug West and I were drinking some Gatorade and we looked at each other at the same time and said, ‘Wow. We’re going to tell our kids one day we played with a Hall of Famer.’ The first day we knew that.
“He worked just as hard as everyone else as an [19-year-old]. He won every running race. He was first in line every drill. He played hard on both sides of the floor on every possession. And he took pride in the little things like making good screens, cutting a guy off to take a charge, making the extra pass, talking on defense. He was doing things that rookies don’t do until his third year. He was  off the floor, but on the floor like he conducted himself like he was 25.”
The Timberwolves’ general manager upon Garnett’s arrival was former Celtics star Kevin McHale. McHale, a white man, brilliantly connected Garnett with important African American community leaders, businessmen and NAACP members from Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul. Garnett said that his connection with those Black people upon arrival helped to ease his transition to Minnesota and to feel connected and informed quickly. Garnett also became close friends with music producer Jimmy Jam and married his sister-in-law.
“There was a bunch of these community and regional leaders, like seven, eight of them,” Garnett said. “And then they would just give me the breakdown the city: ‘Hey, look, if you go west, this way over here. If you go north, this way … ‘ And I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ And [McHale] thought that that would be great for me, just so someone that looks like me, acts like me, talking to me, understanding transition [who] could kind of be there for me if I needed it.
“I don’t know if that was even Kevin McHale’s idea, but he executed that and made sure that that was there day one for me to be not only comfortable, but to be comfortable within my community and be comfortable with this new situation. I thought it was great.”
Minnesota also added another young star in Georgia Tech combo-guard Marbury during Garnett’s second season. The expectation was that the Wolves were going to have a one-two punch with Garnett and Marbury that could grow together for years and potentially bring a title to Minneapolis. Garnett and Marbury were compared to the Utah Jazz duo of guard John Stockton and forward Karl Malone.
The Timberwolves made their first postseason appearance in franchise history with Garnett and Marbury in 1997. Minnesota was swept in three games in a best-of-five first-round series against the Houston Rockets. That was the first year of a seven-year playoff run for Minnesota.
“It was epic for the franchise, for the city. They were an expansion team and were in existence for eight years,” Marbury said. “You know what that is going to be like after almost a decade. They were screaming we were Stockton and Malone. But it was a different version. Then, they wanted to try to make us Batman and Robin. I was like, ‘this isn’t a Batman and Robin kind of thing here.’ ”
Not only were Garnett and Marbury great on the court together, but they were friends, too.
“I don’t think people understood how close Steph and I was,” Garnett said. “We were very close. Our crews were close. Our families were close. If I wasn’t over his house, he was over mine. If my boys weren’t at home, they was over at his house. And then, he had a change of heart. But he had this thing in the back of his head that he wanted it to be a certain way.”
The Garnett-Marbury duo lasted a little more than two seasons before Marbury asked for a trade. In free agency before the start of the lockout shortened 1998-99 NBA season, Wolves free agent forward Tom Gugliotta stunned Wolves owner Glen Taylor by taking $27 million less to sign a six-year, $60 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. Stating unhappiness with being in Minneapolis, Marbury said that he told Taylor out of respect in advance that he preferred to be traded and he was not going to re-sign as a free agent in the summer of 1999.
Marbury said he had a “really good experience playing basketball” for the Wolves, he learned how to play the NBA game from Saunders and loved the fans. Marbury, however, also told Andscape he wanted a traded from Minnesota for several reasons that didn’t include basketball. He didn’t like the predominantly white social aspect that wasn’t as diverse as his home of Brooklyn, New York, or in predominantly Black Atlanta, where he attended Georgia Tech. He was frightened by the frigid weathers and driving on ice. He added that he was bored and lonely off the court with his hobby of going to movies and the Mall of America.
“I went from a melting pot in New York to Atlanta where it was predominantly Black, to Minnesota where it was predominantly white,” Marbury said. “At that time in 1996, it was like, 5% Black people there. It wasn’t diverse. It didn’t have that feeling I just came from going to school in Atlanta. But I loved playing basketball there. The fans were great. The Target Center used to be rocking. Playing there was a great experience throughout the beginning of my career. I was challenged.
“If you have an opportunity to play somewhere else when you have a choice and you’ve had experiences … nobody really cares about my experiences, why I wanted to leave and why I didn’t want to play there. It was just about, ‘You and KG.’ I was like, ‘Look, I love basketball. But I don’t love basketball more than my life.’ I’m sorry. I’m not built like that. It’s not that serious to me. I wanted to play basketball to take care of my mom and my family. But, yeah, I wanted to win.”
On March 12, 1999, Marbury was traded to the New Jersey Nets in a nine-player deal involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks. Veteran point guard Terrell Brandon was acquired by Minnesota in the trade. A day later, Marbury signed a six-year, $70.9 million contract with the Nets.
“It was solely I didn’t want to spend seven years of my life in Minnesota. People were like, ‘Oh, you jealous of Kevin Garnett because of the money he made.’ You guys don’t make no sense. The rule is the rule. I got the max contract. This has nothing to do with money. I didn’t want to spend seven years of my life there, period,” Marbury said.
Garnett, however, believed his former teammate yearned to be the face of an NBA franchise rather than continue being a superduo with him. Garnett also believed that had Marbury stayed in Minnesota, the Wolves could have won a title.
“Steph is going to forever have to live in that,” Garnett said. “He [expletive] up all our championship dreams. But I get it. If I’m being honest, every kid wants to be able to have his own team or be able to say he had his own team.
“I always say I can’t ever be mad at someone’s decision for what they want for themselves. It’s just so unfortunate that we didn’t align with the same vision and the same goal. So, yeah, I don’t even talk about that s— because it ain’t really nothing to talk about. It was out of my control. Nothing I could do about it.”
The pinnacle of Garnett’s time in Minnesota was taking the franchise to the Western Conference finals in 2004. The Timberwolves entered the finals with the conference’s best regular-season record at 58-24. Minnesota also had a talented roster with Garnett, Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. But the Wolves also faced a Los Angeles Lakers franchise with two young superstars in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Three years later, a 30-year-old Garnett and the suddenly rebuilding Wolves had a 32-50 record with no postseason. Garnett also believed that Taylor wasn’t willing to spend the needed money at the time to surround Garnett with championship-caliber talent.
Garnett was loyal to his beloved “ ’Sota” as he called it, but in his heart, he knew it was time for change. On July 31, 2007, Garnett was traded to the Celtics for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two 2009 first-round picks (Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn were selected later). In Boston, Garnett joined fellow NBA All-Stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and won his first championship in his first season.
Looking back 15 years later, Garnett said leaving “ ’Sota” was “one of the hardest days of my life.”
“I didn’t really want to leave ’Sota, if I’m being honest,” Garnett said. “I wanted management to be on the same line of quality and expertise versus excuses and all the other things. But, yeah, I didn’t necessarily want to leave ’Sota. When I see Dame [Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard] play, he reminds me a lot of myself being in this situation where your heart is loyal and you love what it loves, but it’s another line of things that you want to accomplish and the realness of you not being able to accomplish those things in a setting to where you want to accomplish those things sometimes is a very difficult thing to deal with.
“And, yeah, it was very difficult leaving. It was really difficult to leave all my friends and all the people that I had invested [in] in Minnesota. It was hard. It was hard leaving all those people. It was hard leaving that fan base. But then it got to a point where I think that I had to leave. It was evident that Glen and them didn’t want to win. It was evident that they wanted to go in another direction.”
The Celtics won an NBA title in 2008, lost Garnett for most of the 2008-09 season to knee injury and lost in the NBA Finals in 2010. But Garnett’s six seasons in Boston branded him as a legend. The passion and hard work that fans loved from Garnett in Minnesota translated to Celtics fans upon arrival in Boston.
“I went in there with a chip on my shoulder anyways right away,” Garnett said. “When I got to Boston, to feel appreciated from not only the fans, but the front office and the coaches. … They did attach themselves to the hard work and the mentality of what I was on.”
On Nov. 14, 2014, Garnett, then playing for the Brooklyn Nets, told Yahoo! Sports that he was interested in becoming part of ownership for an NBA franchise and that he wanted to buy the Timberwolves. In May 2014, Taylor told the Associated Press he was looking to add a minority partner who would hold an option to buy him out. Taylor also wanted to keep the team in Minnesota. The Timberwolves president and coach at the time was Saunders, Garnett’s old coach.
Saunders died at age 60 of cancer on Oct. 25, 2015. He tallied more than 1,000 victories over a 35-year coaching career that included stops with the Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards. Saunders first became an NBA head coach in 1996 with the Timberwolves and eventually led the team to eight straight playoff appearances.
Garnett said he appreciated the time he spent with his good friend before he died.
“Losing Flip was huge to all of us,” Garnett said. “To Kevin McHale, to anybody that he coached, anybody that he interacted with, he affected them. Had to be. I don’t care who’s ever in Minnesota, if you weren’t affected by the Flip Saunders’ passing, then he wasn’t your friend and you wasn’t in the bubble. You weren’t in that circle of trust with him. But, yeah, everybody that I know that interacted with Flip felt that. I think we all was caught off guard on the severity of it.”
Said Marbury: “He was one of the pillars of the organization. He put guys in position to be successful.”
Mitchell became the Wolves’ interim head coach after Saunders died. The Timberwolves had a young roster that included Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Tyus Jones. While Wiggins and LaVine are no longer there, all three have become All-Stars. Mitchell believes Saunders would have kept that team together if he were still alive.
“It still doesn’t sound right that Flip is not here,” Mitchell said. “Flip had plans. That is why he brought us all back. He had a vision on how he wanted the organization to look. The path. That is why he brought me back, KG, Sidney Lowe [as an assistant coach] and others.
“Flip was starting to put everything in place, but he wasn’t able to finish it. When Flip passed away, I just think the organization got a little rudderless.”
Garnett was under the impression that Taylor was going to make him a part of the new ownership. Mitchell said that perhaps if Saunders were still alive, Garnett’s expectations of being a part of Wolves ownership would have taken place. Taylor, however, agreed to sell the Timberwolves and Lynx to former baseball star Alex Rodriguez and billionaire online retailer Marc Lore for $1.5 billion in July 2021. Garnett wasn’t a part of that ownership group, and doesn’t expect to be added once it is finalized.
When asked about his relationship with Taylor, Garnett told Andscape: “We don’t share some of the same qualities and thoughts when it comes to winning. We’re just different. Glen has a view. I have a view. And they don’t mesh. They don’t come together.”
Some of Garnett’s old teammates didn’t sound optimistic about Garnett and Taylor finding a common bond anytime soon.
“Kevin was disrespected on a whole lot of levels, and he felt more than anything there was a big level of disrespect, but the misleading and the betrayal [about part-ownership] is what really broke things off for him,” Trent Sr. said.
Garnett still aspires to be a part of an NBA ownership team one day, but it won’t be in Minneapolis. He is keeping tabs on possible NBA expansion. At some point, the Timberwolves would like to retire Garnett’s No. 21 jersey.
“I know there’s a lot that has gone on there with ‘Ticket’ [Garnett] that is not enabling a [jersey retirement] right now,” Billups said. “I also know what that organization means to him. He feels like it raised him. He came there as a young kid and left as an accomplished man.
“At some point, it will happen. It will be well deserved when it happens.”
Without revealing much, Towns says he has a plan to get “the most legendary” member of the Wolves reconnected with the franchise.
“I’m working on that. I can’t give up all my secrets,” Towns said. “I’m working on it. Kevin Garnett. KG. He deserves to have his moment here. He deserves to be recognized for what he did here. Everyone in this state knows him. He is the most legendary basketball player the Timberwolves have ever had.
“We’ve have had legends come here. So, he’s on a pedestal. He’s on a place where not many people who have played in Minnesota sports can come close to saying. He is in that kind of rare company. I just want to see him be appreciated. I know he has a different mindset about things. As a little brother, it is cool to see a big brother get his flowers.”
Perhaps these words give Towns and the Wolves hope.
“I hope that my legacy in Minnesota will always be a positive one because I’m positive and ’Sota is in my heart. And when it’s in your heart, it’s different,” Garnett said.
Time will tell how life for African Americans in Minneapolis grows for better or worse in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder. In terms of basketball, the future does seem bright for the Timberwolves.
Towns will likely get his No. 32 jersey retired from the Timberwolves when his playing days are over. Adding Gobert, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was a huge pickup for Minnesota last offseason. The Wolves also have some young talent to keep an eye on in McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell. Russell is also a hot-scoring starter who will be a free agent next offseason. But the Wolves player to keep an eye on for the future is Edwards.
Edwards and Towns both entered Thursday averaging 21.3 points, but Edwards said he is “not playing at his highest level right now.” Gobert and Towns both told Andscape they expect Edwards to be one of the NBA’s elite stars of the future. Edwards, the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NBA draft, is also the most electrifying athlete to play for the Wolves since 1994 NBA Slam Dunk champion J.R. Rider. Edwards also got rave reviews for playing trash-talking NBA prospect Kermit Wilts in the Netflix movie Hustle this year. The 21-year-old, however, also apologized for an offseason social media video in which he made anti-gay comments by saying “that’s not who I am.”
When asked about dealing with the highs and lows of the offseason, Edwards said: “I’m just staying focused on the task and goal, and that’s basketball. I block everything else out. Do my job.”
Rodriguez recently attended the Timberwolves’ two home games against the Spurs on Oct. 24 and Oct. 26. Following a win over the Spurs on Oct. 26, the 14-time MLB All-Star had a lengthy conversation with Taylor just down the hall from the Wolves locker room. Lore has spoken about building a new arena in Minneapolis.
The Wolves also have a talented trio in Towns, Edwards, and Gobert with young talent around them.
“Those guys have a clear vision of what they want our franchise and organization to be,” Towns said of Rodriguez and Lore. “They see us winning. I want to win. It’s pretty much clear vision of what we want it to be.
“I believe we can win because of the guys that we have in this locker room. Only being great is acceptable. They have bought into that message and believe in that message. That is the reason why we have a chance. We have championship-level talent and minds.”
Garnett played the final two seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Timberwolves from 2014 to 2016. He also mentored Towns, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft and the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year. Now a three-time NBA All-Star, Towns is still receiving words of wisdom from Garnett via text message.
While Towns is the face of today’s Wolves, he learned a lot from Garnett and believes he is still the face of the franchise’s history.
“He taught me how hard it is to be a legend here,” Towns said. “He taught me how to get to a status that is legendary in Minnesota sports. He showed me how appreciative the fans are of those that give their all. He just showed me how this can be home.”