Mike Conley Is An Important Avuncular Figure To Minnesota's Young Players

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

I celebrated the life of my grandfather last weekend. Pa Langason was born in Cameroon and fathered nine children, most of whom have children of their own now. The branches of his family have spread from western Africa to Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, California, Canada, and beyond. Hundreds of people were there to celebrate with us over the weekend. We cried and laughed, bowed our heads in prayer and danced.

I got a chance to see my entire extended family, many of whom I haven’t seen in nearly two decades. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who had been touched in some way by my grandpa. They felt called to not only know him, but consider themselves his family. I had aunties and uncles there who were not my blood relatives, but have ingrained themselves as members of the family. It struck me how powerful my grandfather’s sense of family was.

During Timberwolves media day, my ears perked when I heard rookie guard Jaylen Clark talk about Mike Conley.

“I call him uncle Mike,” Clark said about Conley.

He just is so efficient making through things. And he don’t show no emotion. I haven’t seen him miss much. Like, I can’t honestly say I’ve seen him miss like three shots in a row. But I imagine if he did, he wouldn’t (have bad) body language. That’s not him. He’s very like, it’s so weird. He’s always so even keeled. I’ve never seen somebody that doesn’t get high when it’s high and low when it’s low.

An uncle can be a lot of things. He can be a nightmare. He can be a guiding light. And he can be a barrel of fun. I find that the platonic ideal of an uncle, uninhibited by the complications of bloodlines and family dynamics is a beautiful thing. Being dubbed “uncle” is truly one of the highest forms of respect. Being an uncle isn’t just about being related by blood. An uncle has the opportunity to build the bonds of family without the conditionality of genetic familial relationship.

My grandfather was an English teacher. Dozens of his students showed up for his funeral. For 40 to 50 years, these people have considered themselves a part of his family. My grandfather was responsible for discipline in the school. One of the methods of discipline he would use was assigning students to help him in the garden. Though sowing seeds in the garden may not feel like a consequence, he used the opportunity to also sow seeds into young people in hopes that they would one day blossom.

I can only imagine that Conley sees the end of his playing days approaching. Not to say that he is over the hill by any means; he’s got a lot of game left. But time stands still for no one. Although he may only be with the team for a few more years, it’s clear that his presence is already one that sows seeds. His teammates, whether they see him as “uncle” or “vet” or simply just Mike will learn from his demeanor, his professionalism, and his approach to the game. The fanbase has already staked their claim to Minnesota Mike as one of their own. In many ways, Mike Conley is an uncle to us all.

Finding positive male role models can be difficult. So often men in our society are bound by the patriarchal shackles in which we have been socialized. Often, we don’t know how to love or how to be loved. We’re taught to be tough rather than gentle. To be strong in ways that actually make us weak. Conley brings a gentler more positive approach to leading a team.

“He brings such a calming influence,” Tim Connelly said. It’s not only the players on the court who feel Conley’s energy. The entire organization seems to recognize his aura. “He’s so positive,” Connelly continued. “I think professional sports and life right now is not really defined by positivity. He’s seen everything and anything that could happen on an NBA court. So the combination of positivity and calming influence coupled with the fact he’s a really good basketball player … all those things make him a real special addition, and we’re lucky to have him.”

Conley’s influence extends beyond the positivity he brings. His professionalism is emblematic of his long career during which he’s put together a resume filled with success. Conley’s experience and demeanor are invaluable to a team that struggled with composure and maturity last season. There were many nights that the team didn’t show up and lost to a team with inferior talent. Tim Connelly has put out a mandate that this year — that has to change.

“We can’t take nights off,” Connelly said. “There were way too many nights last year where he just didn’t show up. But then against the elite teams we showed what we’re capable of. A win’s a win.”

Uncle Mike will be leading the way for the Wolves as a pillar of positivity, maturity and professionalism. Though he hasn’t specifically acknowledged his role as “uncle,” he seems to know that it’s his responsibility to shepherd the team.

“Each individual player is so talented at what they do,” said Conley. “It’s about trying to get that out of them all together at the same time. For me, it was trying to be that bridge the best I can.

Take moments where I’m like, ‘Ant, just give me the ball the next couple plays, I’m going to try to get Rudy the ball, try to get KAT the ball in a different way. I promise I’ll get it back to you.’ Same with a guy like KAT, we get him the ball a few times in post-ups, and l’ll try to get the ball over to Ant, get him rolling. Even Jaden, other guys. [It’s] just about trying to develop that trust, that confidence with each other. Hopefully, I continue to be that guy they can lean on.

Conley is a proven winner and brings an expectation of winning to every team he plays on. Even last year’s middling Utah Jazz looked like surprise players in the Western Conference arms race with Conley at the helm. With the Minnesota Timberwolves this year Minnesota Mike will have the opportunity to lift the team from scrappy play-in champions to legitimate contenders. His play on the court and his role as an uncle off of it will be pivotal to the Wolves’ success.

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