CONLEY’S CORNER: Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley is a small-market Mike

CONLEY'S CORNER: Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley is a small-market Mike

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Mike Conley plays during an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Editor’s Note: Mike Conley is one of the best sources of information in the NBA.

Entering his 17th NBA season, the 36-year-old Timberwolves guard has seen it all, and has the knowledge and desire to explain what has happened and what is to come with the media, and by extension, the fans. This scope of insight and analysis extends from the Xs and Os on the field to team dynamics and development.

Conley is as good at explaining why two teammates are fighting in the middle of a timeout as he is at explaining what a team needs to do to decipher a switch-heavy defense.

So it’s better to sit down with him twice a month to address various topics from the Timberwolves to the league as a whole to Mike Conley, rather than Conley himself.

This is the fifth installment of Conley’s Corner.

Mike Small Markets

Mike Conley laughs at the idea that he might be the only NBA player who could be traded to Minnesota and marvels at the variety of things that can be done around the Twin Cities.

But that’s the reality when you spend the first 15 and a half years of your career in Memphis and Utah.

Frankly, the Twin Cities is a mid-tier market, easily eclipsing the size of Salt Lake City and Memphis in terms of population and therefore activities available. Late-night restaurant options are so few and far between in Utah that Conley said most Jazz players will stick around and simply eat in the team’s players’ lounge area.

Minnesota is the first place Conley played and he also has other professional sports franchises.

“It was great. We’ve had the most fun we’ve had in a while, really considering trying to do more things outside of the house, going to sporting events, because that’s where they are.” “A lot of times, I only have college sporting events to go to.” To it or things like that, but they have other professional teams, and they have Vikings, Twins, and Wild games. My kids are interested in a lot of these sports too, so it’s fun to take them and cheer on the teams.

“It’s a completely different kind of approach that I have after the game. After the game, I might want to find a place to eat that might be open or have a lot of options. It’s very nice to have that, when you haven’t necessarily been exposed to the cityscape.” Largest and widest range of things.

It contains the voice of someone from Sleepy Eye who visits the Twin Cities.

“I don’t know that there’s a lot of guys that have gone the route that I’ve taken as far as small market teams and I’ve never been able to be in a big city or one of those big cities,” Conley said. “So, yeah, it’s probably a unique (perspective).”

Big markets — like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston — are often described as the places you want to be, especially as a professional athlete. This is where you will receive the most attention and have the greatest opportunity to experience all the luxuries that come with being a professional athlete.

The attention piece is important. If a Lakers player has a strong defensive display on a random night, it will be featured on ESPN the next day. Meanwhile, small-market league stars are only occasionally mentioned in the national conversation.

For example, while Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is universally recognized as one of the NBA’s elite players, he’s probably talked about as much as Lakers backup guard Austin Reeves.

This is important in terms of recognition. Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards has the charisma and firepower that typically helps catapult a player into the national spotlight. It is certainly far from unknown.

But he didn’t even finish in the top 10 among Western Conference guards in fan voting for last year’s All-Star Game, with the likes of Reeves and Russell Westbrook receiving far more votes. Edwards finally made it to the All-Star game a season ago via injury replacement.

Conley faced similar rejection. He’s been one of the NBA’s elite generals for over a decade, and he only has one star appearance to show for it.

“I probably would have made it a few more times if I had played somewhere else,” Conley admitted. “Because those things, unfortunately, are very important when it comes to this part of our game.”

He noted that where he played had a negative impact on the amount of attention he received. The same is probably also true of the lack of credit he received.

New York, for example, would serve as a megaphone amplifying his often quiet superiority.

“You people don’t watch a lot of your games. Being in Memphis and Utah, we’re so far away. When you get to the smaller markets, people don’t know who you are and how you play,” Conley said. “When I was younger, I definitely felt a little discouraged when You look at players who are doing well on other teams, and you’re doing as good as them, but you’re nowhere near being seen in the same light. “.

But Conley only used the insults as motivation.

“It’s kept me busy trying every night to prove to whoever I’m playing against, that city, the big markets, who I am and what I can do when I get those opportunities,” Conley said. “It was definitely a little frustrating. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think it made me who I am today. I wouldn’t trade that.”

There are a lot of things he loved about spending his career in small markets. It may not have always been good for his career, but he feels it was better for his character.

“I don’t care much about the limelight and all the nice things. I just go to work and do what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I think the best thing about it, for me, is that it put me in touch with who I am. Because of how my personality relates to things, I’m more (compatible with) the atmosphere and mentality of workers, which is what I do. It kept me away from a lot of distractions.”

The benefits became more profound as Conley got older and his family grew.

“You just want your family to be happy. A place where your kids are happy and thriving is where you are happy,” Conley said. “Ultimately, that could be anywhere — small town, big city. But I’m not saying I should play in a big market because it’s on my wish list. “It is what it is, and I am happy where I am.”

The rise of social media and the Internet as a whole has shrunk the map. Teams and players are more accessible than ever, no matter where you are. Conley noted that this has helped the league and fostered the growth of small market franchises.

“Where (now) you can keep guys a little longer in those smaller markets, instead of everyone rushing to find the first ticket to L.A. or New York or something like that,” he said.

That’s not to say Conley never wanted a taste of the big market experience. Growing up, he envisioned himself playing for the Bulls, Knicks, or Celtics.

“It was all those big-name teams. You didn’t really think about the rest of the league. I’m kind of a product of that environment,” he said. “You just know what’s being pushed in front of you. A lot of Lakers, Celtics and Bulls players pushed me, so that’s all we knew growing up. I can imagine that a lot of kids these days have the same thing, but to a slightly lesser degree.

The idea of ​​whether the grass is really greener still persists. Does bigger mean better? Conley has wondered “more than a few times throughout my career” what it would be like to live in New York City or Los Angeles. Even at 36 years old, the idea remains. There is always a chance, however slim, that this possibility could become a reality in the final years of his career, even if only for one season.

“It’s going to be more of a personal, individual thing. A lot of my decisions are driven by my family, so it would be quite selfish of me to do that,” he added. “But if it definitely makes sense for me and my kids and my wife, and everyone is happy, then I’ll definitely do it, in a heartbeat.” , taking that stab and maybe taking the subway to work one day. Just do something out of the ordinary, because I’ve never had any kind of experience with big city life.

At the same time, he knows that others haven’t been able to experience the small market life, and all it offers the player. Conley enjoys the most intimate connection between players and fans in smaller markets.

For example, it didn’t take long for the Twin Cities to wrap its arms around the veteran point guard and comfortably embrace him as their own. In the blink of an eye, Conley went from new acquisition to “Minnesota Mike.”

He pointed out that this is a special matter. Maybe it doesn’t happen in New York or Los Angeles.

“It’s a unique feeling, for sure. I haven’t played in big markets, but you might not feel that much if you’re one of multiple teams in a city — or multiple NBA teams in a city, for that matter,” Conley said. “You get a personal feeling.” In terms of the love you get from the fans, and the importance of every match to the fans. They live and die alongside your team, supporting you until the end. So, it’s kind of the intimacy that we have when we have those opportunities in smaller markets.

This is what’s happening in Minneapolis right now. Yes, the Twin Cities are full of sports teams, but they lack winners. The Timberwolves are filling a void in a big way right now, and the level of excitement is palpable. Conley likens the current level of support for the Timberwolves to what he experienced in Memphis when the Grizzlies started winning at a high level.

“You could feel the energy every game, every opportunity we had. You could tell the fans were cheering you on,” Conley said. “When you walked in the streets, the fans were cheering you on, from start to finish, and there were constant chants.” . It’s like a whole different kind of feeling and appreciation that you have for those moments, because you’re doing something special, and you can see how special it is for people and impacts them in such a powerful way.

“It’s great to feel that way, honestly.”

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