They gathered across four skyways and down city blocks in a line that stretched all the way back to Macy’s department store and made at least one U-turn before it delivered some of the 15,200 fans to Target Center on Wednesday night.
They did so to see the Timberwolves, and only their newest and youngest members at that.
In an intrasquad scrimmage.
In July, no less.
So forgive Karl-Anthony Towns — the first No. 1 overall draft pick made by the Wolves in their franchise’s history — if he felt like he’s never left Lexington, Ky. That’s where a fan once telephoned Tubby Smith on a radio call-in show and assured the Kentucky coach he hadn’t yet given up faith in the team, even if it was just 24-3.
“You know what, that’s the first thought that came to my mind,” Towns said after he addressed the huge crowd that stood and cheered his every word. “It’s amazing to think how passionate our fans are and how blessed I’ve been to go from one great fan base to another fan base.”
Towns gave fans what they came to see: their first real glimpse at him and fellow first-round pick Tyus Jones, Apple Valley’s own. New teammates Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Adreian Payne were also there for a scrimmage that lasted three quarters, in which Towns scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Nikola Pekovic and Shabazz Muhammad watched from the sidelines, too. Fans cheered nearly Towns’ every move, which included a little lefthanded hook shot, an outside jump shot and veteran’s savvy beyond his rookie status when he bent down courtside and appeared to kiss coach Flip Saunders’ wife, Debbie, coming off the floor the first time.
“Smart man,” said Wolves assistant coach Ryan Saunders, son of Flip and Debbie and coach of the summer-league team.
Afterward, reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins smiled at the memory of it all.
“You can see what he did out there: He’s ready,” Wiggins said about Towns. “He was shooting the threes, posting up, blocking shots. He’s going to be a big piece for the team.”
Towns and Wiggins became friends when they played on the same international team at the 2013 Nike Hoops summit and now they are teammates on a roster filled with youth and promise.
“We’ve got a nice, young core,” Wiggins said. “The next couple years, we’re going to be a serious team.”
That’s why 15,200 fans — 600 more fans than the Wolves averaged per game last season — came out on a beautiful summer’s night and waited in long lines that stretched across downtown.
They did so for a free scrimmage that gave them reason to stand and cheer Towns’ moves and LaVine’s attempted dunks, whether successful or not. It also gave the Wolves reason to sell season-ticket packages and jerseys bearing Towns’ No. 32 and Jones’ No. 1.
LaVine scored 25 points while playing for Towns’ team and Jones had nine points and eight assists while playing for both teams and playing at home as a pro for the first time.
“I had a number of games on this court through my high school career,” Jones said before his summer team leaves Thursday for Las Vegas play, “but obviously it’s with a different uniform now and at a much higher level. It’s a little different, but I’m somewhat comfortable.”
The team’s coaching staff and some players took to the street in their walk from the new practice facility next door to Target Center because the skyway was too jammed with fans.
“That’s unbelievable,” Ryan Saunders said. “I haven’t seen anything like that in Minneapolis with the Timberwolves in a long while here.”