Tom Hanneman, a popular studio host for FSN and a longtime sports broadcaster in the Twin Cities, died Thursday night.

He was 68.

"We're deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and colleague Tom Hanneman," FSN said in a statement. "He meant the world to so many in Minnesota and across the nation. Out of respect for his family, we're going to take all of the time necessary to reflect and properly honor this great man."

Hanneman, who was born in La Crosse, Wis., and attended the University of Minnesota, began his career at WCCO-TV as a dispatcher. Hanneman wrote a letter to WCCO anchor Dave Moore when he was still in college, and Moore brought him in, helped get his foot in the door, and helped launch his career.

After 16 years as a producer, reporter and anchorat WCCO, he became a TV and radio host and reporter on Minnesota Timberwolves broadcasts. He eventually came to be the Wolves' television play-by-play voice.

"Dave gave him the opportunity, mentored him, brought Tom up to where he was sports anchor at WCCO," said Jim Petersen, who worked as an analyst on Wolves broadcasts alongside Hanneman. "Tom always remembered that, and always wanted to pay it forward. That was part of his DNA, his mindset. You talk to anyone, from the beginning of the Timberwolves to his time at FSN. Anyone he came in contact with he helped in some way.''

Similar tributes poured on in social media from just about anyone who interacted with Hanneman over the course of several decades.

In 2012, after nine seasons of doing Wolves play-by-play on TV, Hanneman became the face of Fox Sports North, serving as the host for the Timberwolves, Wild, Twins, and Gophers hockey pre- and postgame shows.

During his career, he also worked four seasons as the studio host of NBA Radio, covering NBA All-Star Weekend, the NBA Game of the Week, and expanded NBA playoff and draft coverage.

Hanneman, who had sextuple bypass surgery in July of 2019, was awarded the Upper Midwest Emmy Chapter Silver Circle in November 2020. He won five regional Emmy awards for his broadcasting.

He was widely known throughout the Twin Cities media — and among players he interacted with on the job — as a genuinely nice person.

Kevin Harlan, also a former Wolves broadcaster who worked with Hanneman and went on to national prominence, said he talked with Hanneman around Thanksgiving after a death in Hanneman's family. They had agreed to talk just before Christmas — so the news hit Harlan particularly hard.

"I remember those early radio games from the West Coast, when we were getting our brains beat in. We'd get to laughing so many times we had to hit the mute button," Harlan said. "We all should have been fired. But that's not to overshadow how talented he was. He could put together a great broadcast for radio or TV. He had a wonderful voice. "

Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor released a statement that read, in part: "Since the inception of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tom has been a broadcast fixture and voice of our franchise throughout the years. First on radio, then moving to television, his more than five decades of broadcast experience impacted generations of basketball fans. Tom's grace, spirit and sense of humor was felt by all who came in contact with him."

Longtime Wolves executive Jeff Munneke had just gotten off a Zoom call where he traded stories with a bunch of people who knew Hanneman through the years when he was reached by phone Friday.

"We're going to miss seeing him on game nights, event days," Munneke said. "He was just a great pro. He made every day better. When you'd see him, you'd say, 'OK, everything is good today.'"

A few years ago Pooh Richardson — a member of the Wolves' original team in 1989-90 — came back to Minneapolis. He and Hanneman retreated to a film room and watched some tape of the inaugural season and other early years. Then they talked, for the better part of an hour.

"We talked about that first year," Richardson said. "We talked about the whole experience, the Timberwolves experience. I'm sad to hear this, very sad. He never changed. He never aged. He had that same mild manner. I wish there were more guys who were there in the beginning around the organization now. We just lost one of them. He stuck with it. He was good. He was loyal to the state of Minnesota and loyal to the Wolves."

Petersen said one of Hanneman's gifts was his sense of humor, which came in handy during meetings to discuss talking points for the Timberwolves during particularly difficult stretches.

"If there was some tension, he would crack a joke or two, crack the ice, and get the ideas flowing," Petersen said. "He made life better. ... He's just the kindest, classiest person I've ever met. There is nobody I can compare him to, in terms of his willingness to be selfless. I was texting with him just a few days ago. I wish I could talk to my friend again. It's just so sad."