A year before a draft-night trade made them teammates last summer, Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns were paired by NBA 2K video game marketers for a commercial shoot filmed in the desert outside Las Vegas.
In July 2016, Towns played for the Timberwolves and Butler for the Chicago Bulls, but they were put together very briefly in a “Time to Assemble” commercial for the 2017 NBA 2K version that also included Paul George, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Andre Drummond and Mike Krzyzewski.
In their spot together, Butler answered a call from Drummond while he jogged in the desert. Towns tagged along beside Butler, holding an umbrella over Butler’s head and cooling him with water spritzed from a spray bottle.
“You got Jimmy,” Butler answered, in the third person. “Jimmy’s listening.”
“That was in the script,” Towns said, “but he got to do it whatever way he wanted to do it.”
Towns said he also improvised. Interrupted by Drummond and called together with the others to gather immediately, Towns tossed aside the umbrella, punted the spray bottle and said, “I told you we shouldn’t have come out here, man.”
It’s not exactly Robert DeNiro improvising “You talkin’ to me?” but Towns considers it acting nonetheless.
If he can co-star with the great Sasquatch in a series of Jack Link’s jerky ads, what’s a fleeting supporting role alongside an NBA All-Star for a popular video game?
“We were just acting whatever way we wanted to do it,” Towns said. “We kind of just did it our own way. Throwing the umbrella and kicking the squirt bottle, that was just me freelancing it. ... People watch commercials and they see the 30, 25, 16 seconds or whatever it might be. But they don’t realize it takes sometimes like an hour to get something right. You might did the same thing, but you do it from five different angles.”
Why they were put together for that hour’s shoot, neither to this day says he knows.
“Hey, I can’t predict the future,” Butler said. “Maybe they knew something was coming to happen.”
Something did happen last summer on draft night, when the Wolves made the five-player trade that reunited Butler and former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and brought Butler together with his man Friday in the Vegas desert while both were there to attend summer league, among other things.
“We were in the real desert, that’s not green screen or anything,” Towns said. “It was hot. It was the middle of summer. It was blazing hot.”
Towns said the heat wasn’t foremost on Butler’s mind.
“I think Jimmy seemed to be more scared of a snake coming out of the desert,” Towns said.
Sixteen months later, Butler said he didn’t remember the commercial shoot until reminded of it.
“To tell you the truth, I forgot all about that,” Butler said. “It was so long ago. I know it was quick. We said a couple words to one another.”
Butler didn’t deny a fear of snakes, though.
“A lot of people are,” Butler said. “You’re not going to tell me you’re not, either. You come face-to-face with an anaconda, you’re scared, too.”
Towns apparently remembers more of that brief, chance encounter than Butler does.
“It was a lot of fun,” Towns said. “I’m glad to be his teammate now.”
• Former league MVP and oft-injured Derrick Rose has stepped away from Cleveland to re-evaluate his future while he is sidelined by a sprained ankle and frustrated by recurring injuries.
The Timberwolves’ Tom Thibodeau coached Rose for five seasons in Chicago, including that MVP season when the Bulls won 62 regular-season games.
“I love Derrick,” Thibodeau said. “I just want him to have peace of mind, whatever it is he decides. I know what he has gone through, and … it has been tough. It’s a hard road. He’s a great person. He’s a great player. What he did in that city was amazing and special and as time goes on, people in Chicago, they already do love him … but I think they’ll him appreciate more and more.”
• Washington All-Star point guard John Wall will miss Tuesday’s game at Target Center and could miss the Wizards’ next seven games while he receives platelet-rich plasma injections to reduce inflammation in his left knee.
Without him, backup Tim Frazier starts alongside Bradley Beal in the backcourt.
• The Wolves closed out their season series with Miami on Friday at Target Center, getting their first and final look at shot-blocking Hassan Whiteside in a 109-97 loss.
Whiteside is the latest of a long list of players Heat executive Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra have reclaimed and remade. Their current roster alone includes the likes of Whiteside, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and others.
“He’s an incredible person,” Thibodeau said of Riley. “I don’t know how many times he remade the Heat, but to sustain it over such a long period of time is impressive. He built the Knicks, took them over when they were rock bottom and made them great. And, of course, what he did with the Lakers … I really have a lot of respect for the way they do things.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 2:30 p.m. vs. Phoenix
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Washington
Wednesday: 7 p.m. at N.O.
Friday: 7 p.m. at Oklahoma City
All games on FSN; Friday also on NBATV
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Oklahoma City still struggles to break through the .500 mark while the reigning league MVP and newly acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all seek to find exactly where they fit.
“I never counted, but I know it was a lot.”
Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns on Thanksgiving meals he helped serve after he donated $10,000 to the House of Charity Food Centre.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves