A boat ride with Naz Reid and the bigger picture behind the Wolves’ new City Edition uniforms
14 mins read

A boat ride with Naz Reid and the bigger picture behind the Wolves’ new City Edition uniforms

ON THE WATERS OF LAKE MINNETONKA — There is an energy on this boat as it churns through the water toward an awaiting celebration. Mike Conley’s three young children are bounding around in life jackets, looking for fish and waving at passing boaters. Tim Connelly’s kids are right on their tails, proposing a game of hide and seek on a vessel in the 48-foot range that is owned by a longtime Timberwolves season ticket holder.

Above deck, Naz Reid quietly takes it all in, surveying the massive homes that tower atop the most expensive real estate in Minnesota — lake country’s version of the Gold Coast — and preparing to be one of the headline attractions at a party thrown to unveil the Wolves’ newest City Edition uniforms.

Just two months ago, his future in Minnesota was uncertain. Free agency was right around the corner and the Wolves already had two high-priced bigs on the roster. Now here he sat, the owner of a new home in the Twin Cities suburbs, a three-year, $42 million contract and the hearts of Wolves fans everywhere.

His biggest smile of the ride comes when team COO Ryan Tanke mentions a social media post shared by Wolves-obsessed @JakesGraphs, who quote tweeted fan Brady Leiser’s photo of a shower curtain in his bathroom with Reid’s face on it.

“Stuff like that is crazy,” Reid says, beaming. “I mean, it’s exciting to see and it’s like I’m really loved and I appreciate all the love that’s given towards me.”

There are as many anecdotes about Reid’s popularity in Minnesota as there are fish swimming in these waters, including “Jeopardy” contestant Anji Nyquist sharing on the show this summer that she named her cat Naz Reid. Anthony Edwards may be the only player who surpasses him locally in Q score. That has never been more apparent than on this Sunday journey across the lake, which began at a swanky dockside restaurant on one side of one of the most well-known of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and finished across the bay at the lakeside institution, Lord Fletcher’s. About halfway through the ride, Reid is asked if he would like to drive the boat, and he happily springs up and folds his 6-foot-9 frame into the captain’s chair, one hand coolly on the steering wheel as we head toward the waiting crowd, which included Minnesota native and special musical guest Yung Gravy. On the surface he is chill and unfazed as his braids twist in the wind and a drone flies overhead to catch the scene.

Deep down, being a featured part of a jersey unveiling means the world to him. It’s validation for all the work he has put in after being signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2019. It is the culmination of all those trips to Iowa early in his career to get minutes in the G League, of the countless hours he spent in the practice facility in the summers becoming a more well-rounded player and of the newly cemented status as a core player following his contract signing in June. He is no longer just a cute story, a guy who lost a bunch of weight and reshaped his game for the modern NBA and comes off the bench for a middling franchise. He is a locker room pillar, respected and revered by his teammates for the work he has put in and the skill he has acquired and a fan favorite for his slick handle and the passion with which he plays.

“I’m not going to say I’m not a camera guy, but I’m a guy who sits in the back for the most part,” Reid said. “So even for the camera crew to even want to get as many shots as they did on the boat and interviewing me, and then once we got to the event with all the fans, just hearing my name, it’s a special feeling.”

In his previous four seasons, Reid said he would look with envy at the players who were chosen to participate in the curtain raisings for new jerseys. There were always household names. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, Derrick Rose. He saw it as a sign of status in the organization, a benchmark to achieve on his way to making a name for himself in the league. On Sunday, he was one of those guys.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Reid said. “So it definitely was special to me and I was excited about that. And then being one of the first people to wear the uniform was a feeling like no other.”

Naz Reid and Mike Conley posing in the team’s new City Edition uniforms. (Courtesy: Minnesota Timberwolves)

The setting chosen for the event is not an accident. They are called City Editions because they are supposed to reflect the market in which the team resides. Past versions have included homages to Prince, the synergy of the Twin Cities and the North Star. The newest edition may be the strongest tie yet to what makes life worth living in Minnesota. Summers on the lake are cherished here, the three-month reward for enduring five months of ice and snow. When the lakes thaw and the boats come out, Minnesotans take the water any chance they get, basking in the sun and breathing in the fresh air.

Yes, the winters are cold, but you gotta be here in the summer. It’s a refrain heard over and over again in these parts. This jersey celebrates the highlight of the Minnesota calendar. The Lake Blue that serves as an accent color on their main uniforms is the featured color on the new City unis, and the designers give it some life and flair with a water texture across the chest on the front of the jersey that flows on to much of the back. There is a “Land of 10,000 Lakes” word mark at the bottom of the jersey and it is also embedded down the side of the jersey and shorts.

“I think those are some of the best jerseys we’ve had recently,” Reid said. “They’re definitely my favorite.”

“What’s more quintessentially Minnesota than lakes and lake life?” said Mike Grahl, Wolves’ chief marketing officer. “We want to celebrate and bring that out and give something to the fans to celebrate in terms of the vibe that lake life brings to Minnesota.”

(Courtesy: Minnesota Timberwolves)

For many of the passengers on the boat that docked at Lord Fletcher’s to loud cheers from several hundred fans and team employees gathered, the uniforms signify a welcoming of sorts to their new home. Connelly moved here from Denver last summer and barely had time to experience much of the best the area had to offer while getting his family settled and diving head first into the job leading the Timberwolves front office. He made the polarizing Rudy Gobert trade last July then went through a season that was filled with injuries, trades and, ultimately, the first team to make back-to-back playoff appearances since 2004. This summer has been far less eventful, allowing his family time to start setting down roots.

Conley came over in a trade from Utah in February and had little time to acclimate before plunging into a break-neck push for the playoffs. He lived out of a hotel for much of the season while his wife and children remained back in Utah. Once the season ended with the playoff loss to Denver, the Conleys were able to catch their breath, reunite and start to shift their lives to Minnesota. The timing was good in a way, giving the Conleys an opportunity to see a version of Minnesota that wasn’t frigid. They have recently picked out a house as well and are getting their children situated and ready for school.

“Definitely much more comfortable,” Conley said. “Every trip we’ve taken back to Minnesota this summer, we’ve brought our whole family so the kids can get acclimated to the community and meet friends, and things like that, so it’s been a lot easier for us.”

Reid has been in Minnesota the longest of any of them. He is tied with Jordan McLaughlin for the second-longest tenured Wolves player behind Karl-Anthony Towns and will enter this season with high expectations after his contract signing and finishing last season on the bench with a broken wrist. As he took the stage at Lord Fletcher’s and swapped jerseys with Yung Gravy, he was mobbed by fans. It was nothing like 19,000 people at Target Center, but the intimacy left a lasting impact.

“It was just like crazy because, even though it was a small crowd, it was like a big ball of energy just coming from everyone, just the excitement, the readiness for everybody, from everybody to watch us play,” Reid said. “Even for me, just the next step for me to grow, everybody’s ready to see whatever that is. So it’s like this crazy feeling.”

Reid has always gone into the summer trying to improve his all-around game, but this year he is particularly focused on defense and rebounding, two areas that he needs to be effective in if this three-big roster construction is going to work. Reid averaged a career-high 4.9 rebounds in 18 minutes per game last season, but that’s going to have to be considerably higher to help a team that was one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. He will also need to be able to guard centers and power forwards if he is going to be able to share the floor with Towns or Rudy Gobert. He knows that the money brings greater responsibility. He is no longer a bargain bin player making relative peanuts that come with an undrafted rookie contract.

“Bigger role, bigger expectations,” Reid said. “So I’m definitely going to show I’ve improved, in every facet of the game, maturity, basketball or whatever the case may be. Higher pay comes higher responsibility. This is what comes with it. So I’m ready for it.”

Reid has been working out everywhere this offseason, including Minnesota with Jaden McDaniels, Josh Minott, Wendell Moore and Nate Knight, Los Angeles with Towns and Chet Holmgren and in Las Vegas as part of the Team USA Select group that practiced against Edwards and the rest of the Americans who are competing in the FIBA World Cup.

He may not be in the starting lineup this season, but Reid represents a lot of the potential for how far the Wolves can go. When he comes off the bench, his combination of penetration from the perimeter, shooting and dunking make him a tough matchup for any big in the league, but especially for second unit defenders. To this day, bring up the Nuggets series with anyone on the Wolves and they grit their teeth and mutter about Reid and Jaden McDaniels being out with injuries. Would that have swung the series? Maybe not, given at how impressive Denver was in steamrolling to the championship. But the Wolves believe it would have been different, and that illustrates how important Reid is to their identity.

“At least one of us,” Reid said of he and McDaniels watching the series from the bench. “I think it really, really, really would have been different.”

At Lord Fletcher, Reid gave a few remarks to the gathered crowd, none that carried more significance for him or the fans than six words that encapsulated the entire day, from the jerseys to the boat ride to the party to the training camp that looms less than two months away.

“I feel,” he said, “like Minnesota is home.”

That feeling of belonging has been a long time coming for Reid, and he is savoring the moment. It has been four years of scratching and clawing his way to where he sat on Sunday afternoon, with water rippling beneath the boat he was piloting and flowing through the jersey he debuted. For the first time in his professional career, Naz Reid had his hands on the steering wheel.

(Top photo of Naz Reid driving a boat on Lake Minnetonka: Courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves)

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