Column: The Magic At Taste Of The Timberwolves
Professional sports have changed so dramatically over the decades. It’s not anyone’s fault, but just like anything else with heightened popularity bigger contracts at stake it’s inevitable that player-fan interaction will change as the years go by. The way Mikan and Russell lived during their careers was far different than what NBA players do today.
So it’s refreshing to have events like Thursday’s Taste of the Timberwolves where fans can see the players in a more normal setting. Too often fans only get to know their favorite NBA players for three hours on game night between tipoff and the final horn. They don’t get a feel for their personalities like they would in a 1-on-1 setting, talking about anything related to or not related to basketball.
On Thursday night, the Wolves opened up Target Center for the team’s 19th Taste, the signature annual event for the FastBreak Foundation presented by the Roger & Nancy McCabe Foundation. For the patrons who attended, it allowed them to truly sneak past the realities of professional sports and get to interact face-to-face with their favorite stars. It’s really a unique opportunity to roll up to a player or coach and chat with them like you’d do with a neighbor or colleague at a regular function.
“The majority of the time when the fans see the players, they actually see the competitor,” Wolves general manager Milt Newton said. “Maybe, sometimes the player doesn’t smile because of the heat of the battle. But, for the ability for them to come and be in this environment and see the players as normal people, dressed up in a nice suit or whatever you have, having a conversation—and a lot of times the conversation might not be about basketball—it may be about culinary taste or what have you—so you definitely get to see a different side of the players. Not only see it, but experience it.”
Taste of the Timberwolves first and foremost is a gala that helps the FastBreak Foundation raise the money necessary to help kids and families in need throughout the year, so that part of the experience alone is worth being in attendance. And it also allows for fans to bid on exclusive prize packages, which also helps raise money for the Foundation.
But when you can take a picture with Ricky Rubio or Kevin Martin, or have a conversation with Corey Brewer or Terry Porter, it makes the experience that much more memorable.
Plus, the fans who are there bring so much energy to the arena. You have younger fans running around trying to get as many autographs as possible. Then, you have older fans who are providing words of wisdom. One fan came up to Newton and myself when we were talking and asked what makes a person successful. His answer was finding your passion and finding what you’re good at, then blending the two together. I thought that was insightful. Little conversations like that happen every year at Taste—it’s all about being in the right place at the right time.
It’s definitely been an evolving event. Back in the heyday of the Kevin Garnett era, it was a more informal outing equipped with a casino game theme and buffet-style food. Today, it’s dimly lit with fine dining from some of the Twin Cities’ top restaurants with patrons dressed in cocktail attire.
“Tonight we’re having fun with the bids and food, but ultimately it’s about giving back and it’s about making a stronger Minnesota,” Spire Federal Credit Union CEO Dan Stoltz said. “Honestly, it’s what it’s all about. But, it’s also coupled with a fun night as well with food and the players.”
For me, every aspect of Taste makes it a wonderful event. The fundraising goes to a great cause. The experience meeting the players makes for lifelong memories. The gala atmosphere sets up the perfect ambiance for the evening. And the food is fantastic.
I feel very fortunate to say Thursday was my third Taste of the Timberwolves. And I’m happy to say that both the experiences the fans had and the money raised throughout the night will continue to have lasting impacts long after this particular night has come and gone. The FastBreak Foundation is so dedicated to its cause year-round, you’ll see the fruits of Taste popping up throughout the Twin Cities over the next 12 months.
And for fans who got to mingle with the players, you’ll likely see those pictures and hear those stories for years to come, too.