The social media feeds of the Timberwolves filled up with video after video Saturday night of such players as Andrew Wiggins and Taj Gibson stepping up to a golf tee and taking some ... unorthodox golf swings. Sometimes they missed the ball completely.
But the team outing at Topgolf in Oklahoma City was worth more than a few laughs to the Wolves. After their 114-112 win over the Thunder on Sunday night, multiple players said the previous night had been an important one for team bonding.
“You got to be able to communicate, talk about what we need to do better but just kick back,” Gibson said. “It was everybody just understanding, putting in their two pieces to the puzzle and trying to relate to one another. I felt it was great.”
It wasn’t as if the Wolves were a fractured team before this. But the season has been a turbulent one. It began with all the weight of Jimmy Butler’s trade request, and when Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and Dario Saric joined the team, the Wolves were in the thick of the season.
One staffer said Karl-Anthony Towns was the driving force behind organizing Saturday night’s outing. The time for these kinds of events is minimal, but they’re essential, Covington said, adding that the 76ers, his previous team, held regular events like the one at Topgolf.
For the unfamiliar, Topgolf features a sort of glorified driving range with computerized scoring and the social aspects of a bowling alley. More applicable is that it brought the Wolves together away from a basketball court.
“It’s building team chemistry. It’s very important for teams that want to be successful. You need stuff like that,” Covington said. “You need outlets, that way you can have fun. It doesn’t have to be all about basketball. Taking your mind away from basketball instead of having to be by yourself all the time.”
Rookie Josh Okogie, who drew laughs for whiffing on one of his drive attempts, said the night out came at a pivotal time, with the Wolves in a precarious position toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
“It’s very important, especially in a time like this where our season can go one of two ways,” Okogie said. “It’s good just to go back to the drawing board and form some chemistry with the guys, just get to know one another, keep learning about each other because it’s a long season. Times like that draws everybody closer, and it does translate on the court.”
That’s why it was no coincidence to Okogie that the Wolves survived a raucous atmosphere in Oklahoma City and pulled off a late victory thanks in part to 30 points from Wiggins, who also hit the winning layup with 14.3 seconds remaining.
“We felt like we had each others’ back,” Okogie said. “I’m not saying we haven’t felt that way all season, but we had that sense of urgency and we all knew everybody has to be on board. We all fought for each other, and it showed.”
Now the Wolves need that bond to stay strong, especially with four of their next five games coming away from home. Perhaps there will be more time to bond.
“We needed it,” Wiggins said. “Basketball can take a toll on you.”