For the first time this season, there were a few spectators in the crowd for a Timberwolves home game Sunday night.
The organization welcomed back friends and family members of players and staff to Target Center for Minnesota’s contest against Phoenix as part of the first phase of getting fans back into the arena.
The move was made in accordance with Gov. Tim Walz’s current threshold of 250 people allowed at indoor events.
Timberwolves point guard Jordan McLaughlin said the return of spectators — friends and family members, specifically — brings a “sense of normalcy” to the arena.
“You see your friends and family there, those who support you in your close circle, to see them there, knowing they have your back and are able to support you in this time. It’s great to see that,” McLaughlin said. “It always sits a certain way in your heart. So to be able to see our friends and family come to our games, it’ll be good for us.”
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch served as an assistant coach for Toronto — which is playing in Tampa, Fla., this season — prior to being hired by Minnesota last week. During his time with the Raptors, he said “having family in the arena was the most important thing.”
Following this weekend’s all-star break, the Wolves will open up their limited capacity to front-line workers.
The plan is that, if and when local restrictions are lightened, Minnesota will then eventually welcome back season-ticket members and partners, as well as a limited number of general fans over time.
The team said it has been in communication with both Gov. Walz’s office as well as the Minnesota Department of Health as it has developed guidelines and protocols to ensure fan safety.
The Timberwolves are far from the first NBA team to bring a limited capacity of fans back to the arena. Unfortunately, Finch said, it’s to a point where having fans in the arena feels “weird.”
“It’s become a little bit numbing to be in these arenas with the fake crowd, and there will be times when the game starts and you’ll think to yourself, this feels pretty shallow,” Finch said. “Then the game starts, the competition starts, and you lose yourself in that. Some arenas you’ll see a smattering of fans, and it just still doesn’t feel 100 percent natural either way.”
Jarrett Culver’s return Saturday from a month-long absence due to an ankle injury wasn’t necessarily pretty, as was to be expected.
The second-year wing finished with three points and five rebounds on 1-for-6 shooting in 14 minutes.
“It was good to see him,” Finch said. “It was a little rough for him. I thought he was pressing a little offensively, but he competed hard, so we were happy about that.”
Culver noted it was an “everyday” process to return to action. He said doing so was a “blessing.”
“From barely being able to walk to starting to get into the pool … to getting back on the court and doing workouts and stuff like that,” Culver said. “So it was a long process, I felt like. But it was a healthy one. And we took our time with it to make sure I was fully recovered before I came back.”
Of course, by the time Culver did return to action, he did so with a new head coach.
“It’s just life. Adversity comes. Changes come. You have to adjust,” Culver said. “I’m just adjusting to the new coach, building relationships with the new coach, and our coach getting adjusted to him. Having injuries is never fun. But it’s a part of life … adversity. So I had to fight to come back. Had a lot of things, a lot of people in my corner, supporting me the whole way.”