Attending the annual shopping spree event that the Minnesota Timberwolves host each holiday season is always a weird experience for me — now that I’m on the “adult side.”
Driving out to the event on Tuesday night, my adult brain started kicking in. I found myself thinking about how the Wolves play four games in the next six days, and how I’m definitely not done with my own holiday shopping. Is this worth my time? Yeah, that definitely crossed my mind. I’d be willing to bet that thought was also pondered by the other local media members in attendance, the Timberwolves staffers who put on the event and the full roster of Timberwolves players who made the drive out to a Target in the burbs.
But the answer to that question — Is it worth the time? — is obviously yes. These events matter; they carry a weight. Since I’ve been covering the NBA, I can’t tell you how many people have recounted to me, in painstaking detail, a story about how they ran into Player X at Chipotle or Coach Y at Starbucks. When you’re a professional athlete, the contact you make with other humans sticks different. If that coach at the coffee shop was paying more attention to their phone than to the father and son in line next to them that asks for an autograph, that dad remembers that. And if the player can’t work up the energy to crack a smile for the selfie at Chipotle, well, then that kid lowers the pedestal he once put that player on. But the inverse impact can also be had. If the coach engages with the son by asking who the kid’s favorite player is, the dad is going to remember that, too. And if the player offers to buy the kid asking for a selfie a burrito, then that player is probably going to become the kid’s idol. That’s just how it works. Yeah, it sticks different than the interactions you or I have in our day-to-day lives.
But this type of event is even more that that. It carries an extra weight. These kids on Tuesday night at Target weren’t asking for an autograph or hoping for a selfie — though those things definitely happened. Without asking, they received the opportunity to purchase gifts they wouldn’t otherwise have had the means for. That fresh copy of NBA 2k20 wasn’t showing up under the tree without this event. And they wouldn’t have been able to buy Mom that comfy blanket without this night, either. I know that because I was once one of those kids.
Technically, the Timberwolves event I attended on the “kid side” wasn’t for the holidays; it was a back-to-school shopping spree event in the fall of 2002. I grew up locally in a suburb of Minneapolis, less than a mile away from the Target we were at on Tuesday night. Back then, my family was feeling a financial pinch of my dad losing his job after 9-11, which became a vice grip when he was diagnosed with cancer later that same year. For those reasons, my brothers and I “qualified” for the event, if you know what I mean.
That event, that money, it mattered to us. The one hundred dollars I got to spend that day meant I wasn’t going to have to play that basketball season with busted shoes. I was just falling in love with hoops back then, and a summer of working on my game had my DADA Supreme’s splitting at the seams. Because of the Timberwolves and their shopping spree, I got to pick out a fresh pair of Nikes, and I got to do it with a real professional basketball player. That made a big difference for me.
Having busted basketball shoes is definitively a first world problem, as they say. But I grew up in the first world. And in that world, one of the hardest parts of your family slipping down the economic class slope is having to wear raggedy stuff. Particularly as a child, the impact of something like that can hurt. It can be embarrassing. Kids can be brutally ignorant; I would have been made fun of at basketball tryouts for wearing those DADAs with the heels falling off. And that would have hurt me.
Instead, I had new Nikes and also some new And-1 shorts that I bought with the rest of my hundred. I rocked that gear at tryouts. I wouldn’t have had that little but meaningful boost without outside support. I’m thankful for the people on the adult side of the Timberwolves operation that gave me their time that day. (I think the player I was paired with was Reggie Slater. Throwback!)
Back in my hometown on this Tuesday night 17 years later, 15 kids from Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities had a similar experience. I don’t know what exactly any of them are going through. But I do know, for a fact, that the $500 shopping spree they were given, and the $500 gas card their parents received, is going to make a difference in their life — even if it doesn’t fix the bigger problems that are happening around them that are out of their control.