John Dunn didn’t think he was going to cry Thursday night.
But then his kid brother was taken with the fifth pick in the NBA draft. Then Kris Dunn got up, walked across the stage at the Barclays Center in New York, cameras flashing.
“I cried for like 10 minutes,” John Dunn said. “It’s just crazy. It’s crazy to see how far we’ve come. To see how far he’s come.”
Friday at their downtown Minneapolis practice facility, the Timberwolves introduced Kris Dunn — the star Providence guard — to the Twin Cities. In the front two rows to the right of the stage was family, a group that included John Dunn and his family and their father, John Seldon.
All smiles this time, no tears. Wolves General Manager Scott Layden praised Kris Dunn as the rare two-way player coming out of college. Tom Thibodeau, coach and president of basketball operations, praised Dunn’s toughness.
Dunn? He talked longingly about playing with teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, simply responding “Alley-oops,” when asked what he liked most about the idea.
He promised to trade the glitzy Gucci shoes he wore Thursday night for sneakers and a blue collar.
But then, seriously: “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” Dunn said. “My brother knows how hard I worked for this. I worked 22 years for this. The fact I can make my brother proud, after he sacrificed so much for me when we were little, he understands.”
Dunn’s story is well-known. John and Kris’s mother, Pia, took the boys away from Connecticut to Virginia when John was 5 years old and Kris was 1; Seldon came home to find them gone, without a trace.
When Kris was 9 and John 13, his mom was jailed and the two brothers found themselves alone, in a small Alexandria, Va., apartment.
For months they didn’t tell anybody, afraid they would be separated. They sold their sneakers and some of their clothes. Kris played 1-on-1 basketball against older kids for $20 a game, making the bet with no money in his own pocket.
Sometimes he lost.
“Sometimes I ran away, got away,” Dunn said. “Sometimes I got caught and had to fight.”
Tracking phone records, Seldon got a lead on where the boys were. One night, he drove from Connecticut down to Virginia and brought the boys home. John Dunn knew his dad, but Kris had no recollection, so the transition was hard. Seldon remembers wondering what he was getting himself into on the drive north.
“I was just trying to show them everything was OK,” he said. “I just wanted my kids. It worked out. It was great.”
Eventually. The transition was difficult, but it worked; Seldon had played college football, so sports brought them together. John Dunn was able to stop being a father and become a kid again. He and his kid brother were home.
“You have to build that relationship and trust,” Kris Dunn said. “My dad was great at that. Didn’t put too much pressure on me. He loves sports, I love sports. He saw I was good at football, basketball, and he did everything in his power to help me become the best player I could be.”
His point: After hustling pickup games just trying to make it through a day, the prospect of jumping from college to the NBA is more thrilling than intimidating.
“I came from a tough background, so you had to be tough,” he said. “Tough, gritty, don’t bend down or nobody.”
And that is the way he plays. There will be time to discuss how — or if — he will play with Ricky Rubio. Or whether his jump shot needs to improve. But right now, the Wolves have a 22-year-old mature beyond his years, tough enough not to flinch, athletic enough to defend.
He has already shown a few times he is confident enough to follow his gut. Like when he finally told his dad he was quitting football to play basketball full-time. “He didn’t talk to me for a whole two weeks,” Kris Dunn said. “I kid you not.”
Or when, against the advice of some family members, he decided to go back to Providence for his junior season, which ultimately got him higher in the draft and got him a college degree.
“He trusts himself, that’s the big thing,” John Dunn said.
But confidence like that is usually found in people with close, tight families. Kris Dunn has that, even fond memories of his mom, who died in 2013.
Because his older brother was always there for him, protecting him, Dunn said one of the first things he will do after signing a contract is buy him a house.
“Family,” he said, “means everything.”