The Timberwolves’ 2:30 p.m. game Sunday against Memphis at Target Center is the first of six Sunday afternoon games they’ll play between now and mid-January.
Target Center old-timers might remember Sunday-afternoon games as quite commonplace once upon a time, in February and March after the NFL season ends. But they’ve been rare in recent seasons, because of NBA regulations that prohibit teams broadcasting their games during ABC’s national late-afternoon time slot.
They’re back, though, in a big way for the Wolves this season — as was a rare 5 p.m. Saturday game in Chicago a week ago — partly for this reason: Midafternoon in Minnesota is 9:30 p.m. in Barcelona and prime time, too, elsewhere in neighboring countries and cultures where the evening’s activities just start later.
The first soccer game NBA vice president of global media Matt Brabants ever attended in Madrid started at 9:30 p.m.
“I thought it was ridiculously late,” Brabants said. “We had dinner at a restaurant at 8, which was early. Everything starts later. Watching a game at 9:30 on a Sunday or midnight on a Saturday is pretty normal for Europeans, so it works to our benefit.”
The Wolves’ international-flavored roster is popular on a new schedule of 23 “NBA Sundays” games broadcast across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.
That’s why the recent Bulls-Wolves game featuring Spanish national teammates Ricky Rubio and Pau Gasol tipped off at midnight Saturday in Spain. That’s why Rubio and Marc Gasol are featured this Sunday. And that’s why Rubio as well as Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng, Damjan Rudez and maybe someday soon even Nikola Pekovic are paired with Goran Dragic, Dirk Nowitzki and perennial All-Star Chris Paul in the coming weeks.
Until these prime-time games, Europeans watched NBA games in the middle of the night or tape-delayed the next day.
“Some of my friends even text me the next day, making fun of me sometimes,” Rubio said. “I say, ‘That was yesterday.’ It’s a big difference, seven hours, but they still love basketball.”
It’s all about spreading the NBA’s message as well as brands for both individual players and teams.
“We want our games to be in Spain, we want our games to be in Serbia and Montenegro,” Wolves President Chris Wright said. “We want visibility worldwide. We want people walking in China wearing a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.”
To help do so, Wright said the team is willing to strike a “balancing act” with a game such as Sunday’s, which tips off 30 minutes before the Vikings play in Oakland. He’s hopeful gate receipts lost by those who choose to watch football will be offset by families from outstate areas who will travel to the Twin Cities and Target Center, knowing they can be home by mid-evening.
“We believe we’re a regional team,” Wright said. “Our job not only is to grow the market in the seven-county metro area. It’s also to get people from outstate Minnesota and Wisconsin, North and South Dakota to come in and support our young team.”
And exposing the Timberwolves’ brand to a European audience is a big bonus.
“NBA Sundays” games are broadcast in 113 countries and territories this season.
“We have to embrace the fact that we’re a global sport with global needs,” Wright said. “The interest in our game globally is incredible.”
NBA Short Takes
Simply singular, just like Mike
Timberwolves veterans Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince chatted with each other before Thursday’s TNT game — a 129-116 loss — against NBA leading scorer Stephen Curry and the undefeated Golden State Warriors at Target Center.
Two guys walk into an arena and KG says to Tayshaun …
“I was telling Tay today, like Michael Jordan was a whole other thing, this guy is his own thing,” Garnett said, referring to Curry’s season start after winning league MVP last season. “It’s beautiful for basketball, it’s beautiful for the sport and something we got to deal with tonight. … Remarkable. He’s playing MVP basketball, and it’s beautiful.”
Garnett falls for some puppy love
Garnett made this comparison Thursday when talking about a young team that has impressed him with how hard it plays, how hard it practices and how it is buying what he and Prince are selling about playing defense.
“It’s almost like putting a bunch of puppies in a box and shaking it up and watching puppies go at it a little bit,” he said. “But it’s fun. You like to see growth and you’re starting to see it. More importantly, you want to see what you do in practice carry over to games. So we just have to be consistent. That’s just what I’ve been telling our guys.”
Before you speed-dial PETA, it was a funny moment, said in good humor, comparing the energy of his team’s young players with playful puppies.
More praise for Steph
TNT analyst Kenny Smith agreeing with Garnett, but in his own way, on Steph Curry and his sizzling season start: “He’s Michael Jordan without the dunks. He’s the most lethal, unguardable player in the NBA right now.”
Wolves’ week ahead
Sunday: 2:30 p.m. vs. Memphis
Tuesday: 6:30 p.m. at Miami
Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Orlando
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Detroit
All games on FSN
Player to watch: Andre Drummond, Pistons
His team is on the rise because of coach/GM Stan Van Gundy’s remodel built around guard Reggie Jackson and a dominant center who is averaging nearly 19 points AND 19 rebounds a game.
“That guy is a godsend. Awesome.”
TNT analyst Brent Barry after meeting charming Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns during an NBA TV studio segment while the Wolves were in Atlanta last week.