The Bubble Bursts: Recapping The Timberwolves In-Market Program From The Inside

by Shahbaz Khan

For the first time since March, the Minnesota Timberwolves were able to take the court together as part of their participation in the NBA’s In-Market Programs. A chance for each franchise that did not participate in the NBA’s season resumption to return to the court, each team engaged in voluntary group workouts at the team’s facilities while residing in a campus-like environment to ensure the highest level of safety.

For the Timberwolves, that meant residing at the Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis for the duration of the In-Market Program.

Upon arrival at the hotel, on display outside the team’s entryway was the team’s logo, and in large font, one word: “US.”

Entering the premises, a framed and well-lit photo of every player on the Wolves’ roster lined the hotel walkway. On the floor of every elevator and on every keycard, a Timberwolves logo. Inside each hotel room, Timberwolves branded water bottles, gifted merchandise and Timberwolves-branded face coverings. Even outside the team’s meal room, a wall decal read “US” in bold letters, with the name of every Timberwolves season ticket member lining the wall’s remaining space.

“We really wanted to lock-in on that message – anything we talk about, any of the successes we strive for, it starts with us,” said President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas.

“For us to be the change we want to see in this team, in this world, in society: it starts with us, and that’s what it means and that’s what it stands for,” said Head Coach Ryan Saunders. “If you want to see change for the better, it starts with the individual, then the collective ‘us.’”

The message resonated with players and coaching staff alike, with each Timberwolves huddle ending with the group proudly shouting “US” in synchronization.

Behind the planning and execution of the astonishingly vast Wolves-centric bubble environment was Timberwolves Head Equipment Manager Peter Warden and the team’s Basketball Operations staff, who had just three weeks to put the 15-day In-Market Program together.

Balancing the quick turnaround with an attention to detail that showcased the organization’s family-first culture was a challenge, but one that Warden and team excelled in. In just a few weeks, the hotel transformed into a space complete with wide-ranging game rooms, meal rooms, suites, and meeting rooms.

“We knew it needed a personal touch so that staff and players were comfortable to be away from home for two-and-a-half weeks,” said Warden.

The “Us” mentality was on full display in the Bubble’s creation, with Warden commending a team-wide effort for the personalized feel to the premises.

“Starting off, you’ve got to acknowledge there was a lot of people involved to do everything in small detail – from our Creative team providing graphics to Rachel [Saunders], our Manager of Team Services, coming up with great ideas,” shared Warden.

Inside the Bubble, that careful thought was evident, with staff enjoying personalized snack packs, receiving framed photographs of family members, and taking part in an innovative yet intentional attention to safety.

Each morning, all residents within the In-Market Bubble were required to provide a saliva sample as part of the team’s COVID-19 testing. The test, known as SalivaDirect, is a cheaper and more efficient coronavirus test without the pains associated with expensive nasal and mouth swabs. Timberwolves Vice President of Basketball Performance and Technology Robby Sikka played an integral role in arranging a partnership between the NBA, the NBA Players Association, and Yale University, who developed the coronavirus test, to promote its widespread use, something that was done for the Timberwolves within the In-Market Program, and the NBA at-large.

Weeks of planning culminated in the 15-day Program ending on Tuesday, but not before the team chose to visit the George Floyd memorial in South Minneapolis. The somber moment of reflection was followed by an event at the Sanneh Foundation promoting voting registration in the Twin Cities.

Throughout their time in the Bubble, in addition to team cohesion on and off the court, the group focused on an array of social justice topics. From a conversation surrounding the Breonna Taylor verdict, to voting registration, and finally, a visit to the Floyd memorial: the Wolves are focused on being active citizens to bring positive change in their community.

“Coming out of the Bubble, expect a group that’s going to get better each day, on and off court,” said Coach Saunders. “We’re going to continue navigating through hard times, together, and grow together so that it leads to better times.”

This article is presented by Star Tribune

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