A Night To Remember | Prince's Relationship With The Timberwolves Is Bigger Than Basketball
What makes basketball so amazing is that sometimes what makes it great has nothing to do with basketball.
On Friday night at Target Center, the Timberwolves debuted their Prince-inspired City Edition uniforms in front of a sold-out crowd. These are jerseys that have gotten plenty of attention, and rightfully so. Nike and the Timberwolves created a historic jersey honoring Prince that will probably be in a museum one day.
Normally, I cover the game and write about what happened (the Wolves won 112-96) on the court.
But this night was different. I wanted to experience what the fans experienced. I knew the night was going to be special. We’ve been hearing about it since we unveiled the uniforms.
But I guess I didn’t know how significant and emotional the night would be for so many people.
Walking the concourse pregame, there was no lack of City Edition gear, from t-shirts to jerseys to hats. But there were plenty who didn’t have team gear. These were people who were at the game because of Prince more than the Timberwolves. That’s OK, and also kind of awesome if you think about it. There were Prince shirts, ranging from his face to lyrics. Even Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau wore a purple dress shirt for the night.
Aaron Janson wore a purple Prince hat to the game. His bond with Prince started when he was five years old. He would listen to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” with his sister. It was a huge first memory of his relationship with his sister that he’ll always have.
“It goes all the way back to my first memories of life,” Janson said. “I can’t really explain it better than that.”
Jellybean Johnson, who had known Prince since he was 13, played the National Anthem on his electric guitar.
Intro videos are normally something that make you stand up and cheer. Not something that gives you the chills in all the right ways. The video played on Friday night was a combination of the two.
All the chills. pic.twitter.com/ISMDwGQUSk
— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) November 17, 2018
I sat next to my roommate who I randomly ran into right before the intro video played. His parents, who I had never met, were sitting next to him. My roommate’s dad said quietly, “Rock and roll is alive. And it lives in Minneapolis” as the video played on the scoreboard.
It was an emotional moment and I imagine there were thousands throughout the arena who felt the same way.
The players were introduced, and the game was about to start.
But let’s talk about the players for a little bit.
Karl-Anthony Towns was born in New Jersey and wasn’t a twinkle in his parents’ eyes when Prince’s hits were at their peak.
But Towns participated in the team’s uniform release video, playing the part of Prince on the motorcycle. Even for someone who isn’t from Minnesota and wasn’t alive when Prince became an international superstar, he realizes what Prince means to this city and, what goes hand in hand with this, what this city meant to Prince.
Janson is protective over his relationship with Prince, and for all the right reasons.
“I think that the fact that our ambassador to the world, the person who put First Avenue on the map, the person who put Minneapolis on the map in a lot of ways internationally,” Janson said. “I don’t think everyone should get to claim him just because. I think they should have to sort of earn it in a way. They should have to earn it by being a better person to everyone, not just people who look like them. I think Prince was good at sending that message.”
For Derrick Rose, getting the chance to wear a jersey honoring Prince was something he never imagined happening.
“It’s just a blessing man, everything is coming full circle. For me to be a part of this franchise when we have a Prince themed jersey? That’s something that you dream about as a kid,” Rose said. “I’m a huge fan, my family is too, my older friends are too, and I had the blessing of seeing him in concert before he passed in Chicago, so it’s all coming full circle. I’m honored to be here.”
The game started. All of the video screens had the Prince Purple tint to it. Even Kevin Garnett came in rocking a custom Prince No. 99 jersey. Fitting the best player to ever wear a Wolves jersey was there in attendance when the team honored one of the best musicians the world has ever seen.
The music throughout the game was all Prince’s. Fans were able to text and pick what they thought the next song from Prince’s never-ending arsenal would be.
The game went on and while the Wolves were playing well on the court, it was fun to look around and see the people who weren’t there for basketball. If that’s not a perfect example of how someone’s art can build a bridge, I’m not sure what is.
Morris Day performed at halftime. Day and Prince formed their first band in high school and stayed close with one another throughout Prince’s life.
Day brought absolutely all the energy and when he shook Garnett’s hand when waltzing onto the court, there’s a population of Minnesotans who got a serving of all the emotions.
I just saw Morris Day fist bump Kevin Garnett on Prince Night and I’m pretty sure I died and went to Minneapolis Heaven.
— Terry Horstman (@terryhorstman) November 17, 2018
After getting to midcourt, Day asked those in attendance who loved Prince to make some noise.
(Narrator’s voice: Everyone made noise.)
The Wolves would continue their momentum on the court while the energy continued in the crowd and concourse.
I walked around for a little longer, soaking what will be an unforgettable night for 18,978 fans, and it had nothing to do with basketball.
That’s pretty special, and that’s the power Prince had, and still has.
“Bottom line, you’re not going to find a more articulate musical genius who could play so many different instruments so well and do everything musically as Prince,” Janson said.
One fan, who asked to be anonymous, was wearing a Prince shirt along with her friend.
What would you tell someone from outside of Minnesota to sum up the state’s relationship with Prince?
“Prince is Minnesota.”
Recognize the is, not was.
That summed up Friday night perfectly.