Mark Madsen: The People’s Player

Every team has a player fans really relate to. A player who makes them feel like they have a buddy or a close friend on the team. Not to take anything away from the other players on the Timberwolves' roster, but forward Mark Madsen fills that role for the Wolves.

The impression Madsen gives is a stark contrast to the one given by Kevin Garnett. KG is a megastar who represents an intimidating, dominating force. His intensity can be seen in his eyes when he stares down an opponent. Then there's Madsen, who kind of reminds you of a stand-up comedian, a fun-loving individual who always has a smile on his face.

The truth is, Madsen is a fierce competitor. If you've seen him play, you know that he is a vital piece to the Wolves' puzzle who does the intangible things needed to win games. But you just can't help wanting to go up to him and strike up a conversation as if he were your best friend.

So where does his personality come from? What makes him such a fun guy? The most likely answers are his family and his religion. Madsen is the fifth of 10 children, and growing up in a large family in the Mormon religion, he was rooted in strong family values, which he extends to everyone he meets.

Through his religion, Madsen had the unique opportunity to go to Spain on a two-year mission at the age of 19. While there, he was involved in a variety of community service activities, including volunteering at homeless shelters, working at blood drives, teaching English classes and helping out individual families — all while sharing his religious beliefs.

"It was such a fantastic experience," Madsen said. "Basketball is a great game, and I've been lucky. I've been on some great teams, gone to the Final Four, won two championships with the Lakers... Those things are the pinnacle, but they are the basketball pinnacle. It's not the pinnacle of life."

Madsen says his mission experience has been the greatest highlight in his life to this point. "Serving others and thinking about others and sharing my thoughts with others, that by far is so much more special than the game," Madsen said.

Madsen has had the nickname "Mad Dog" since the fifth grade, and it is fitting because of the unquenchable energy he has on the court. When he's not in the game, you can usually spot him up on his feet on the sideline, waving a towel, cheering on his teammates.

During his first two NBA seasons, Madsen won back-to-back championships with the Lakers in 2001 and 2002. He knows what a championship team feels like and how it interacts with each other. Madsen says he has that same feeling with the Timberwolves.

"I can't tell you how happy I am this year," Madsen said with his customary smile. "I was very fortunate to play on a great team in L.A. From Phil Jackson to Shaq and Kobe... It was such a highlight to be there, but now here in Minnesota, there is a synergy between all of us in this locker room. It's fun. And when you're having fun out there and winning, you know something good is going to happen.

"This team has the same type of energy that we had [on the championship teams] in L.A. You can't compare apples to oranges, and we haven't gotten to the playoffs yet, but it's a similar feel with this group. Every team is different and special in its own way, but this is a special group of guys."

The Timberwolves have a family-like atmosphere that surrounds the team. Helping to build that feeling of family is the camaraderie that the players share. An activity that has helped to build that this season is the game of chess. "We have a mini chess tournament going on in our locker room," Madsen said. "Guys are challenging each other, and there is trash talking going on over chess."

Madsen has entered himself into the Timberwolves' chess fray. He recently bought six books about chess at Amazon.com, and Wolves head coach Flip Saunders gave him another book titled "Chess for Dummies."

According to Madsen, Gary Trent is the best chess player on the team, with Latrell Sprewell a close second. "He's still learning, but he's getting better," Sprewell said of Madsen's chess skills. "He still can't beat me, but I think he'll get someone soon."

"He has no strategy," said Trent. "He knows the basic moves but he's got no game plan. He'll get there, though. I just don't see him beating me."

Playing chess in the locker room has helped Madsen and his teammates get to know each other and feel comfortable. The reception he's received from Minnesotans has also helped him feel welcome.

Anyone who lives in Minnesota knows that this winter has been one of the coldest and snowiest in recent years. Madsen grew up in California, attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and spent the last two seasons playing in Los Angeles for the Lakers. So you might think he would have some unflattering things to say about the harsh Minnesota winters — but not so. "I love it here," Madsen exclaimed. "I've only been here six months, but they have been great months. I'm really enjoying the Midwest and the Twin Cities area."

One of the best elements Madsen has found in Minnesota is the people. "When I moved out here I didn't know anyone," he said. "But people have just embraced me." Madsen likes Minnesota so much that he recently bought a house here. He lives in a family neighborhood in Eden Prairie, and he said he often has neighbors stopping by to give him things like fresh homemade bread and cookies.