SALT LAKE CITY – The Timberwolves weren’t in the Twin Cities, but this cruel winter still had the team in its grasp.
The Wolves didn’t arrive in Salt Lake City until Thursday morning ahead of their game against the Jazz, thanks in part to a severe snowstorm, the so-called “Bomb Cyclone” that brought high winds and heavy snow to the Denver area as the Wolvers were trying to leave Wednesday morning.
After arriving for their charter flight a little after 10 a.m., the Wolves ended up getting stranded at the airport for around 10 hours — and still never took off because winds were too high. They also couldn’t go back to their hotel immediately because roads were closed. They made it back to a hotel around 9 p.m. Wednesday and took off Thursday morning.
That meant they had time to kill, and a lot of it. Multiple Wolves said it was the worst travel day of their lives.
“I think everyone was a little irritated through the afternoon and early evening,” guard Tyus Jones said.
Players and staff had the option to stay on the plane or move to the nearby building at Signature Flight Support but couldn’t move back and forth between the two. Andrew Wiggins said he opted to stay on the plane with some of his teammates and made it through about nine of the 10 hours before moving.
“After a while I went crazy,” Wiggins said. “After a while I was like, ‘I got to get off the plane.’ ”
Jones said he took two naps, played some Uno and listened to music to pass the time on the plane. Inside the building center Karl-Anthony Towns hooked up his X-Box so the team could play video games and watch shows like “Game of Thrones.” Interim coach Ryan Saunders said he watched film of Utah but also joined some players in watching a movie, “American Gangster,” which has a run time of nearly three hours.
“You try to lead by example in a way,” Saunders said. “You try not to show all your emotions. There can be frustration on a day like that. You try to still be positive, still be engaging with how you talk with guys and also try to use it as an opportunity for guys to be together.”
Towns ordered pizza and an Uber drive braved the conditions for several hours to deliver their pizza. Jones said it was among the best pizza he’s had in his life, given the circumstances.
“It came at the perfect time,” Jones said. “I’m thinking guys would’ve eaten anything at that point.”
The Wolves typically depart for the next cities on road trips immediately after they play a game. But Tuesday’s game vs. Denver was a later start than usual, 8:30 p.m., and they had planned to sleep overnight in Denver before leaving the next day for Utah. When they saw the forecast of heavy snow and high winds, Saunders said they looked into changing plans and leaving after the game. But Saunders said there were many “moving parts” that prevented that, including the allotted time the plane’s crew could work and the availability of aircraft.
It all ended up in a perfect storm for the Wolves, leaving them stranded in Denver.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t take off for our safety,” Jones said. “So that’s the most important thing.”
Return to ‘decency’
Saunders said he addressed with the Wolves how to handle unruly fans in light of an incident in Utah on Monday in which the Jazz banned a fan for offensive comments directed toward Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Jazz owner Gail Miller made a statement before the game addressing the incident, reminding fans to hold themselves to the “highest standard of decency.”
“We always want to keep our composure with things and there’s always some, in any situation, there’s people that ruin it for other good people,” Saunders said. “I wanted to make it clear too that we support our players and that with them we’re always with them.”