Our title, of course, refers to the Timberwolves' home opener tonight at 7:00 p.m. against the Sacramento Kings, but we understand if you confused it with the popular hip-hop album by the late Easy-E. We'll hear from Ron Artest and Troy Hudson on that topic in a little bit, but the primary reason we're here is to time-stamp you through the most exciting day of the year thus far for everyone here at the Target Center.
Wolves players, coaches, executives, staffers, dancers, and Crunch have been preparing for Nov. 1st since last season ended, and there is a palpable buzz around the office. It's about that time...
We're starting EARLY, folks. The first Wolves staffers arrived at the Target Center offices to assist the channel 4, 5, 9 and Fox Sports Net crews set up their live trucks and cameras for the True Blue Donut Drop. Director of public relations Mike Cristaldi and broadcast production manager Dan Fredrickson led the early, early, early morning charge. But Cristaldi, ever the trooper, said he didn't mind at all, as he's running on excitement fumes for the season opener.
Marketing staff, game operations staff, dance team members, Crunch and others arrive in the arena skyway to hand out donuts, coffee, Wolves t-shirts and hats, pocket schedules, and more. The Donut Drop was well publicized on local radio as people drove downtown to work.
The first passer-by is rewarded with a delicious Krispy Kreme donut, complete with full glaze, chocolate frosting, and Wolves colored sprinkles. Score (Thanks to whoever put two of them on my desk before I arrived).
Alas, the fresh donuts, coffee and supplies saw first dissemination at approximately 5:48 a.m., according to advertising and event supervisor Anna Mercado, who along with director of marketing Liz Hogenson spearheaded the Donut Drop.
"I'd have to say that Crunch was the early leader in donut dispersal," said Hogenson. "He was dressed in 'tighty-whities' and a robe, but was still effective at the give away."
I arrive a few minutes later than I had hoped, but does anyone else drive up 15 to 394? Ouch. Who struggles immensely with thinking about pulling into the express lane, but is too worried about getting buzzed by a cop, ticketed, and forfeiting a year's worth of not driving in that lane? Anyone with me there?
I digress. Crunch was just on his way out, having set a new record for donuts given away in this the third Donut Drop, which this year includes no less than 2,500 delectable stomach-ache causers. Many were given away by perhaps the most consistent performer of the morning, advertising and event coordinator Andy Rhode, who may or may not have given out the (second) most donuts to Minnesotans passing through the skyway.
"He's a rookie, and was a little bit slow out of the gate," said Hogenson. "But he's still the man."
Indeed, Rhode struggled from the field early, missing on more than half of his donut give-away attempts, an unfortunate statistic that makes more sense when you remember that he was forced to compete with five Timberwolves dancers and Crunch.
"Crunch was sort of blocking my path, taking the traffic and playing good defense on me," explained Rhode. "I mean, every time he would go to refill, I'd step up my game. My offense was solid, but his defense was the dif...." (this is where Rhode stopped talking to me to dive into a crowd of potential eaters). But as far as the dancers go, from whom would you rather grab a donut? Thought so.
Putting my pen down and deciding to get into the mix, I set out to follow the example of Crunch, and flanked Rhode's position in the Skyway.
I just scored my first full-tray delivery, literally dispensing 12 donuts in a row without missing a passer by!!!! (Actually, one of them was dropped. Does that still count?) I really wanted to come out firing, and am focusing on my form and hand placement underneath the tray. I'm still developing my lines: "What's up...Donut Drop?" -- "Hi, would you like a free Krispy Kreme Donut? Good talk, see you out there." -- "Wolves home opener! (lower voice) presented by Krispy Kreme" are getting some positive feedback.
Staying a bit later than the scheduled time, we have now dispersed approximately 2,000 donuts, according to Liz. The remaining 500 or so donuts were donuted to Sharing and Caring Hands (this play on words is a stretch, huh?). Truly not a donut wasted, in this case. That's some solid to quite solid stuff, if you ask me. It's making me feel better about Studio 60 being canceled (Why aren't you people watching this show!!!!)
P.S. There are still a few tickets to tonight's game left, but not many at all. The game will definitely sell out, so if you want to be apart of all of this...call Ticketmaster soon or come on by the ticket window. Seriously, hurry up.
NBA GAMEDAY BLOG CONTINUES... Moving on from the Donut Drop, I'm going to continue to take you through a not-quite-average day for an NBA franchise. There are so many things going on gameday that even by writing all day I won't be able to touch upon everything, but this should at least give you an idea.... Let's catch up with the game events staff for starters (Chad Folkestad, Lisa Bennett, and Mike Amundson), because this crew has been impressively knocking tasks off an immense list, all for your enjoyment before, during and after the game. Chad took a moment to take me through just a few of the items they've been working on:
Yesterday, the game eventers held several meetings to the game format, finalize last minute design and graphic elements, and actually run-through the game events with tech people, video playback guys, the scoreboard show director, the soundman, interns, some of the acts, the dance team, and more.
That's a lot of stuff, says Captain Obvious. If you think about it, you can relate this scramble of frenetic activity to the women in "Flavor of Love" going nuts in Flavor Flav's house (minus the violence, inappropriate language and backstabbing). Would anyone else enjoy watching the women from "Flavor of Love" be assigned to game events tasks? How do you think "New York," "Delicious" and "Bootz" would coordinate the scoreboard? What if whoever did it best got to hear Flav say, "Girl you know what time it is...come get yo clock!" Terrific.
Back to reality -- the primary attraction on Wednesday is of course NBA basketball, but all of the other events that fans may or may not notice during the game take a tremendous amount of work to set up. I could tell you what tonight's acts are going to be, but only if you sign a secrecy agreement. Ron Artest will be enforcing. I won't be giving you this information like Maverick did (about the Mig) to Charlie even after making a facetious death threat: "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
OK, a quick run through of today's game ops crazy schedule:
5:30 a.m. -- Assist with the Donut Drop.
10:00 a.m. -- Adjustments to format/PA Book/Staff list;
11:00 a.m. -- Continued work on music for the game, as Chad (with input from Ricky Davis) puts together some mixes of current tunes. Cool stuff, you'll hear them tonight.
12:00 p.m. -- Interns arrive and begin setting up the skyway and other gamenight initiatives.
1:00 p.m. -- Tech run-throughs to finalize intros, features, pyrotechnics placement and detonation, and other miscellaneous technical issues/cues.
4:00 p.m. -- Final production meeting with full game night staff (most of them) and corporate services/fan relations/community relations/groups sales.
5:00 p.m. -- Run-throughs with Beat Squad and any additional needs for gamenight.
SHOWTIME. I'm tired. Did we already do all of this?
My personal favorite part of every gameday comes around this time, when media is afforded access to the opposing team first, and the Wolves shortly thereafter. Stay tuned for a synopsis of conversations I had with Ron Artest, Kings head coach Eric Musselman, Troy Hudson and Vin Baker. Actually, because I was talking to Artest, I only got to Musselman at the end, so it wasn't so much a conversation as it was my listening to him answer other reporters' questions. You never want to roll into an interview late, only to ask a question that has already been answered.
Alas, here are some highlights.
Kings forward Ron Artest
Star Trib reporter Steve Aschburner got the first line of questions off to Artest, and was asking him about Troy Hudson's rap career. Artest was complimentary of Hudson's work, and said he was surprised that Hudson's been doing it as long as he has been. Huddy and Artest have spoken about their shared passion, according to Artest, who then shared that he's been getting some pretty good feedback about his new track, which came out yesterday.
I asked Ron if he was planning on getting on the stage with Hudson at some point.
"Oh yeah, we got to. We got to. We got to." (he did say it three times)
Next, I was curious to see what other NBA players Ron thought were tight rappers. Apparently, everyone is good.
"There are a lot of guys that are good," he said. "Steven Jackson's pretty good, Troy is good, Shaq is good, Baron Davis is pretty good, Elton Brand is pretty good."
Right. I then thought it prudent to ask him a few basketball questions. He told me he's excited for the game tonight, and that he's looking forward to getting a victory. Typical stuff. He also talked about Garnett being an emotional player that he enjoyed watching play, but also a guy that he liked playing against because he provides a unique challenge.
Kings head coach Eric Musselman
Musselman had been talking to the press before I got over there, as I was with Artest, and he was talking about his father, Bill, who coached the Wolves from 1989-1990.
"The biggest thing is spending time with your dad, being able to work with him, sit in staff meetings, and playing pickup basketball. The life in the NBA is so difficult with not having time at home, so when you get to work side-by-side, there is a lot of time made up."
Musselman talked about the Wolves briefly before having to get off the court to make way for KG and company.
"(The Timberwolves) have some emotional players in Garnett and (Mike) James, so we understand with their home opener, their crowd, and the emotional play of their two leaders, that we have to come out with some excitement as well."
Timberwolves guard Troy Hudson
I wanted to speak to Troy about Artest's comments regarding his music. Hudson said he liked Artest's work as well, and went into quite a bit of detail about how both his and Artest's growing up in low-income housing has to have a direct impact on the music they write, or they just aren't being truthful.
"As an artist, it has to come from the heart, or it's not going to be good music," said Hudson. "You can ask any artist in the game today, whether it's jazz, hip-hop, R&B or gospel. Whatever comes from my heart or my brain, I have to jot it down and deliver it that way."
It was very interesting to talk to Hudson about this topic, and he has a ton to say. (Note to self: write this story soon). In the meantime, I wanted to get a "Top 3 NBA Rappers" list from Huddy, but we started talking about how he bought Shaq's album when it came out in 1994 when Hudson was a senior in high school.
If you want to hear some of Hudson's beats, go on Myspace, where he has three samples: Thudthatnuttyboy.
Wolves Forward Vin Baker
Vin is always great to talk to, and will give you as much time as you need.
"The NFL has 16 games in its regular season, and some people might think that since we have 82, they all don't count," said Baker. "But I'm telling you, this game counts. They want to come in here and get us, and it's going to be a dogfight. It's an important game for us to both to win our fans back and get them believing that we can get be a playoff team."
Vin and I spoke for a while longer about the game tonight, the coming road trip, and about his general feelings of this team going into his 14th NBA season. I was interested to know how he honestly felt the Wolves looked after seeing so many training camps in his career, from Milwaukee, to Seattle, to Boston and New York, Houston and even the L.A. Clippers.
He definitely, definitely loves this team. Baker said he has only played with one other player (Gary Payton) that inspired him and his team the same way that Kevin Garnett does. That's a lot of NBA All Stars who didn't make the cut for Baker's ultimate praise. Here's some of what he told me:
"I've always said I never walked on the court with another player beside Gary Payton and said, 'We are going to win tonight.' Now I have that feeling with KG. Not just because of his amazing ability, but because he has the whole team actually thinking the game through and visualizing it. By his will power, he forces everyone to focus. You look at the younger guys on this team, or at the oldest guy like me, and no one wants to let KG down. It's not about him being Kevin Garnett, it's about him refusing to let us lose."
Lunch break. Food is on the boss today...free food at work makes you feel somewhere between how you'd expect to feel after hitting a walk-off homer for the Twins, and, if you're like me, getting a date with Jessica Alba. I was really struggling trying to decide if I should walk to Pancheros, Chipotle, Subway or Potbelly today. It's a daily battle for me, trumped today by vice president of communications Ted Johnson's generosity, as the communications staff assembled in the Wolves' family meeting area to grub on pizza, salad, rice krispie treats and brownies. Did I mention the plethora of junk food around the office today? A good dude in ticketing came around with some fabulous cookies prepared by his girlfriend...donuts were everywhere...Mike and Ike boxes were all over...Halloween remnants lurked...I can't handle this. Someone call my dentist.
I just got a phone call from assistant coach/scout Bob Thornton, who is in his second season with the Wolves. The eight-year NBA veteran scouted the Kings for tonight's game, so I called him yesterday to ask him a few pregame questions. Here are a few things he told me about Sacramento just now as I type:
"They're going to be a running team first and foremost. Offensively, you're going to see a lot of one-on-one isolation action on the elbows and post ups."
Mike Bibby, the Kings All-Star point guard, is out for tonight's game, so I asked Thornton if that meant Ron Artest would be involved in a lot of those isolations. He confirmed that's what he expects, as well as seeing iso sets for underrated guard Kevin Martin (a fantasy sleeper).
Thornton went on: "They're a high turnover team searching for an identity; we want to attack them inside to keep the tempo up. Another guy you have to be aware of is Brad Miller -- you have to know where Brad is on the perimeter. He's scoring more on spot up jumpers, pick and pops."
Miller doesn't play much interior defense for a center, but the good news is, he can save 15% on his car insurance by switching to Geico (that too-often repeated joke was at its best when the Bengals' Chad Johnson used it to describe cornerback Al Harris once Johnson burned him. I'm not sure why I just repeated it).
Everyone is buzzing impressively about the office, as we're getting closer and closer to game time. My main man, interactive services manager Scott "Spear" Spiridigliozzi (the yang to my work yin) just took our camera to get a photo of the still-empty arena. He will subsequently upload it onto the NBA's content website. Meanwhile, he's working feverishly to make www.timberwolves.com look great, in addition to taking other tasks hostage (like Chuck Norris would if he had to), one at a time, until forcing them to comply to his demands. A new Norris' joke I just saw: "Chuck Norris does not use spell check. If he happens to misspell a word, Oxford will simply change the actual spelling of it." True.
The last staff member we're going to check in with to give you guys a good idea of what's going on is vice president of fan relations Jeff Munneke, perhaps the nicest and most popular guy in the building. "Munn" has been with the Wolves for ALL of their home games throughout the years, and is braced for his 18th season opener.
"The big thing in the end of it all is that we do our best to make the fans happy," said Munneke when I stopped by his office. "We're putting on 60 weddings between Wolves and Lynx games, and we want people to have the best experience possible."
Right now, Munneke and his staff are working to make sure all of their promotions are in place, that the introductions are correct, and checking on details such as someone remembering where and when to meet the ball kids later today. The point, as he said, is simply to show fans a great time.
"I love coming to work everyday, and it's just a lot of fun to see how excited everyone is for the opener tonight," he concluded.
Continuing a slew of media appearances throughout the day by Wolves players, coaches and personnel staffers, Kevin McHale is joining Chad Hartman on KFAN 1130. Assistant coach Rex Kalamian will be on BOB 106 at 4:45 p.m., while Mad Dog Mark Madsen is set for KS95 at 5:30 p.m. All interviews are coordinated, facilitated and monitored by the PR department.
I've been spending this time editing this blog, and knocking off a few other things as we get closer and closer to game time. Come on back to the site tomorrow to read about what happens from now through the game. I'll try and make sure you don't miss a beat.