All Access: Wolves Visit Winnipeg For NBA Canada Series

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Basketball is becoming more and more international each year, and the reception the NBA has received across the globe during its offseason and preseason initiatives have been a testament to that.

The NBA Canada Series was no different. The Timberwolves and Pistons competed in Winnipeg on Wednesday in the second of two exhibition games played in non-NBA Canadian markets—the Raptors and Knicks played in Montreal on Oct. 19—and the buzz around professional basketball in the community was palpable from the moment the Timberwolves left the airport.

From Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday night’s game, the Wolves’ organization participated in community appearances as well as kids and coaches clinics, and the fans responded with big crowds across the city. About 350-400 kids were estimated to have participated in clinics during the two days, the NBA Cares program unveiled a newly renovated youth basketball court for the Magnus Eliason Recreation Center and 12,163 people came to watch the Wolves and Pistons play at the MTS Centre.

“We are an international brand,” Wolves President Chris Wright said. “It just so happens that Winnipeg is part of our region, so the more we can get north of the border and encourage this region to grow in terms of basketball, and in particular the Timberwolves’ brand, the better.”

International play is nothing new for many of the coaches and players on the Wolves and Pistons’ roster—both franchises have personnel who have experienced the growth of basketball around the world during their careers.

It was fitting, perhaps, that NBA Hall of Famer and Dream Team member Clyde Drexler was on hand throughout the week participating in NBA Cares events. The Dream Team, which won the Gold Medal in Barcelona 20 years ago, is widely considered to be a driving force in helping expand the game around the world.

Yes, Winnipeg is only 450 miles north of the Twin Cities and is only about 70 miles from the U.S. line. But the NBA Canada Series serves as an extension of the NBA’s preseason initiative to reach new markets outside the country—the league also was involved in Basketball Without Borders in Europe, a preseason game in China and select trips by dancers and Slam Squad members to different continents during the offseason.

“For us who have been lucky enough to be around the world, Canada and outside the U.S., it’s amazing how much energy there is around the game right now,” Wolves player development coach David Adelman said. “You look at our team. Our team is a perfect example of how it has changed and how many international players we have. It’s changed the game for the better.”

The Wolves have been in the thick of this international mix. They played in the NBA Canada Series, hosted Maccabi Bazan Haifa from Israel, the Timberwolves Dancers have taken trips to Spain and Japan and the team has five players who hail from countries outside the United States.

Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said the growth of the game is phenomenal, something that has evolved over the last two decades. “The amazing thing is you take into perspective and you go back say 20 years ago, and you look at the amount of people the NBA had internationally compared to what they have now,” Frank said. “It’s grown so exponentially. I mean nobody could have predicted this.”

In Winnipeg, fans showed up early and took in as many festivities as they could during the time the NBA was in town. They listened in on coaches clinics and chalk talks, took photos with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and a select group got participate in a meet-and-greet with players after the game in the Exchange Restaurant at MTS Centre.

The experience got fans like Josh Kozak wishing the NBA could be around more frequently.

“This is awesome,” he said. “I really wish they could come here more often. I wish we could have our own team. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. It would be nice, though.”

Wolves guard JJ Barea said it’s always a fun experience to play in a market that doesn’t normally get a chance to see professional basketball, and it makes him want to help show the fans a good game and a fun atmosphere. Guard Brandon Roy, who was a fan favorite in Winnipeg, said he always felt a lot of support from fans in Canada while facing Toronto earlier in his career and is appreciative of the fan support he receives north of the border.

For veteran Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, who has 11 years of experience in the league, improving and expanding the game is an important part of being an NBA ambassador.

“We know David Stern is trying to expand this thing, and obviously my experiences playing overseas in China, going to China and playing, I’m pretty sure those fans are appreciative of us coming over there and playing games,” Prince said. “So to continue to expand this thing and going to different places to play exhibition games is something very special. I’m pretty sure I can speak for the guys on my team as well—they enjoy being able to play in front of some fans that haven’t been able to see us play live before.”

Not only do the fans get a taste of the NBA experience, but the players get a chance to see the fan support in areas of the globe that don’t see professional basketball on a regular basis.

“It’s been a cool experience for the guys,” Adelman said. “They get a lot out of coming to places like this. It’s cool to experience it, cool to witness the energy, especially when the game starts.”

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