Fan of the Pack | Rich Melzer

Contributed by Lindsey Young

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When it comes to basketball, Rich Melzer knows his stuff—and he is nothing less than confident in this young Minnesota squad and the positive direction it’s headed.

“I’m an optimist, and I’m certain we’ll have a winning record next season,” Melzer said.

Melzer is not only a homegrown Minnesotan and life-long Wolves fan, but he is a former professional player himself. The forward spent 10 years as a recognized scorer and competitor in the NBA, Europe, and Oceania. During his career, Melzer won championships in 2005, 2006 and 2010 with the NBA D-League and CBA and was part of the San Antonio Spurs 2007 championship team.

For Melzer, it all started in his hometown of South Minneapolis; and although he played basketball from the age of 10, he actually succeeded more in baseball and football—until high school.

“I just played [basketball] because my friends did,” he said. “My teammates in middle school were standouts from the area who grew quickly in the sport; it look me a little longer to do so, and hoops didn’t really become my favorite sport until high school.”

His game was recognized especially as a junior and senior, and Melzer went on to play college ball for UW-River Falls. In 2004 he led the Falcons to their first conference championship in 54 years, and he graduated as a two-time All American.

Following college, Melzer played two seasons with the NBA Development League (Sioux Fall Skyforce and Albuquerque Thunderbirds) as well as some time with the New Zealand Breakers. In 2006, the forward received his opportunity to play in the NBA when he inked a contract with the Spurs.

“It happens so fast,” Melzer said. “You become so wrapped up in it that there’s not a ton of time to reflect or pat yourself on the back while you’re there … [signing with the Spurs] was gratifying and a personal accomplishment of mine—especially considering where I come from and the road I took to get there. It was a dream come true and worth every bit of work and sacrifice to get there. My time in the NBA was short-lived, but the experiences and things I learned there will be with me for the rest of my life.”

San Antonio waived Melzer partially through the season, and the forward’s next adventure took him overseas to continue playing the sport he loved.

“Seeing the world and doing what you love for a career—there’s not much more a person could be thankful for,” Melzer said. “It wasn’t always easy—language barriers and being away from home—but the adversity you go through figuring things out and looking at it in hindsight makes it all worthwhile.”

After retiring in 2013, Melzer moved back to Minneapolis — or as he calls it, “the best city in the world.” Being back in the Twin Cities full time gives Melzer the opportunity to invest in the community he cares about and continue supporting his hometown team.

The forward has played for several rosters all over the world, but he’s been a Timberwolves fan since Day One… literally. When the Wolves became an expansion team in 1989, Melzer became an instant fan of Pooh Richardson and the gang. He recalled his first collected memorabilia:

“My mom had her own cleaning business, and she used to clean Doug West’s house […] he would give her pairs of shoes for me. I think they were like size 15, so you can imagine this nine-year-old kid trying to wear these shoes to school to show his friends.”

Melzer remembers what it was like to be a sports-loving kid growing up with various challenges, and his passion now revolves around working with Twin Cities youth.

In addition to coaching and running the basketball program at Lifetime Fitness, Melzer recently started a new project: Twins Tickets 4 Kids. The campaign will work with teachers and schools in the community to coordinate trips to Twins games throughout the season for kids who are doing exceptionally well in school, are making behavioral or academic improvements, or are going through tough situations at home.

2015 also marks the fifth year of Melzer’s own charity, The Balance Foundation. The program works to positively reinforce youth through positive thinking, philanthropy and personal mentoring. Although The Balance Foundation is based in Minnesota, the idea first came to Melzer while playing in Germany, and it has been an ongoing process ever since.

“One day overseas I realized I was being groomed and conditioned for something else the entire time I’ve been playing basketball and traveling the world,” Melzer said.

The Balance Foundation has worked with the Timberwolves over the past couple of seasons through the charitable ticket donations program, and Melzer feels incredibly grateful to the Wolves organization for providing opportunities for kids to attend games each season.

For Melzer—and those he works with—attending games at the Target Center is so much more than winning and losing. The atmosphere surrounding this team is exciting and positive, and despite unforeseen injuries and obstacles, Melzer enjoyed the season and can’t wait until next year. When asked what he most enjoyed about the 2014-2015 run, the basketball mind didn’t hesitate.

“Flip,” he emphasized. “What else could you ask for from a coach? I like Flip because he began like I did, in the CBA. He won in the CBA and came to the NBA—had his ups and downs, but he learned his craft and became a champion. I don’t believe the Wolves’ record is indicative of the quality guidance he’s given this group […] This is one of those seasons that, despite the win-loss record, we had a productive year. Thanks, in part, to him.”

Melzer expressed excitement about the future of a young squad with so much talent—of course, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, but his favorite player is Shabazz Muhammad, who flies a little more beneath the radar. 

“He makes the game look really easy,” Melzer explained. “Everyone keys in on Wiggins and LaVine, and then Muhammad gets in the game and drops the quickest 20 points you’ve ever seen off the bench.”

And for next year? Melzer is expecting just as much and more from these guys. With everyone healthy, he fully plans on the post season.

“With all the rookies and young talent we have right now, it’s a treat as a basketball mind and fan that we’re able to watch them improve with every game. I’ve always been—and will always be—a Wolves fan at heart.”