Timberwolves Honor Armed Forces During Military Night

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Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Dante Cunningham grew up in a world where Air Force One had its own hangar within view. Spending much of his childhood on Andrews Air Force base in Maryland—where his mother and father, Ronald Cunningham and Searcy Blankenship, were both Chief Master Sergeants—seeing, boarding and even taking photos in the President’s plane were all things Cunningham got to experience at a young age.

In elementary school, that’s what the military life meant to him: The cool planes were all part of having high-ranking Air Force officials as parents. But as Cunningham grew older, the disciplines and principles instilled in him through that military upbringing—coupled with the sacrifices families like his make every day for our country—gave him a deep appreciation for his parents’ and all members of the U.S. Armed Forces’ services.

As the Timberwolves host the Indiana Pacers tonight, the organization will be honoring those troops as part of Military Night at Target Center. The Timberwolves donated 4,000 tickets to members of the Armed Forces and their families for tonight’s game. In addition, they will hold a pre-game military swear-in, there will be a Military Color Guard and moment of silence honoring each branch of the military, a pre-game video message and the players thanking the troops.

The evening is part of Operation: Heroes Month, presented by the Roger and Nancy McCabe Foundation and POPP Communications. Operation: Heroes Month serves to honor and recognize Minnesota troops and their families. The FastBreak Foundation works to ensure that those servicemen and women from Minnesota who dutifully serve their country at home and abroad have the opportunity to be recognized by the Timberwolves and their fans.

It’s a night that is extra special for players like Cunningham, who have grown up to be NBA players and can use that platform to help honor members of the military.

It’s not the only way he is giving back to the Armed Forces. Cunningham is looking to start a foundation which in part would give back to military families affected by parents who are deployed overseas.

“I want to give back to the kids and families that are affected by their fathers and mothers going away and kind of anything I can do to help them out,” Cunningham said. “My first camp was at Andrews Air Force Base’s arena. I just like the aspect of it, and it’s something I want to pick up and continue to do.”

In a way, it allows Cunningham to repay some of the valuable lessons and skills he learned from his childhood growing up with his parents, who each spent about 30 years in the Air Force. Although Cunningham said his parents never brought home the strict regiments of the military, they did instill many of the principles they developed through their service. Cunningham saw firsthand the importance of respecting leaders, something he said that’s helped him as he’s moved through college basketball and into the NBA.

“Just the drive and wanting to do it, the respect and the leadership capabilities that the military instills in their people,” Cunningham said. “It definitely translated. I was always a leader in some aspect of a team, always vocal and talking and learning to give out orders and take order.”

He said coaches throughout his career took note of his ability to lead and also take orders.

“I’d say the best thing about the military was the respect that translated,” he said. “The punctuation and honor and all the things that the military instills in the people. Those were all things that naturally came into me.”

Tonight allows members of the Timberwolves organization, those with or without military connections alike, the opportunity to say thank you to all the men and women who serve. Greg Stiemsma, who spent part of his career playing basketball around the world, said seeing other parts of the globe made him realize how fortunate we are to have our Armed Forces protecting the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

“It’s hard to express the amount of respect and appreciation we have for those guys,” Stiemsma said. “Anything we can do, whether it’s big or small, to show our appreciation, we should do those things.”

Lou Amundson agreed.

“They do so much for us,” Amundson said. “They sacrifice so much, so I don’t think we can really do enough to repay those men and women.”


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