Wolves, NBA Cares Part Of Winnipeg Rec Center Opening Ceremony & Kids' Clinic

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The NBA Canada Series is, of course, a way to showcase some of the league’s teams and atmosphere in cities across Canada that do not have NBA franchises. But the two-day event in Winnipeg showcasing the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons is much more than that.

Throughout the 30 hours leading up to tonight’s 7 p.m. tipoff at MTS Centre, the Wolves have been active in the community connecting with young fans and, through NBA Cares and other partnerships, have worked to leave an imprint on the Winnipeg community long after the game has ended.

It began immediately after the Wolves landed in Winnipeg on Tuesday. Guard Alexey Shved and forward Chris Johnson joined Timberwolves Basketball Academy manager Steve Brown, NBA Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and Harlem Globetrotter Chris “Handles” Franklin in dedicating a new basketball court and leading a kids camp at the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre.

The renovation was part of the Manitoba Lotteries Community Project, which helped provide a new court with regulation lines for tournaments, glass back boards and a year-round facility to help area youth learn the game.

After the dedication, the Wolves put together a show equipped with the Timberwolves Dancers, Crunch the mascot and the Slam Squad dunking for approximately 130 kids and chaperones.

Brown and the Timberwolves then led a youth camp focusing on shooting, dribbling and short games and competitions before wrapping up the event.

Brown said the Wolves have a good rapport with basketball in Manitoba, and he said the Timberwolves Basketball Academy looks forward to coming back in the future.

Not to mention the kids got a chance to get instructions from two members of the Wolves as well as an NBA legend, which Brown said is a treat for anyone learning the game.

“How many times do you have a chance to play with Clyde Drexler? And Alexey Shved and Chris Johnson?” Brown said. “They were fantastic. These guys don’t have a chance to see these guys on a regular basis.”

The court renovation itself was a joint effort between NBA Cares and Manitoba Lotteries, worked together to make it happen. Manitoba Lotteries Director of Community Relations and Partnerships Diana Soroka said the organization looks to provide funding and sponsorship opportunities for community initiatives on a regular basis, and when the NBA approached them about the project it felt like a perfect fit.

Having the Timberwolves be part of the ceremony only added to the event, Soroka said.

“The Timberwolves and NBA have been awesome,” Soroka said. “The kids are so excited, just to see the smiles on their faces and the excitement of having NBA players here, especially the Timberwolves. Minneapolis is not that far from Winnipeg. We have people who travel back and forth all the time. Lots of basketball fans here, so to have the Timberwolves come and spend time with the kids here is a special opportunity.”

For Drexler, who grew up playing basketball in a Houston-area community center, the project hit close to home.

He said he played daily at his own community center, and not only did it provide a safe environment for him as child but it also provided a facility that would help him develop his craft and, eventually, would help him become a Hall of Famer, NBA champion and member of the famed Dream Team in 1992.

He said the MERC in Winnipeg reminded him of those moments from his youth.

“It’s a safe place to go and play and learn and just be with your peers and just be a kid, and I used it daily,” Drexler said. “It’s really important to your upbringing when you look back at it. At the time you didn’t think much of it, but it’s an important part of your upbringing because you had that time to develop a love of something you probably would not have had if you didn’t have the facility to do so.”

On Tuesday, the Wolves, Manitoba Lotteries and NBA Cares were all part of the kickoff event of the refurbished gymnasium. Those who were part of the ceremony and clinic immediately saw the impact of the project.

“When you get in between the black lines and you see the smile on somebody’s face and see how much fun they’re having, and they come up and say thank you, that was great,” Brown said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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