On Sunday night, Karl-Anthony Towns sat at the postgame podium — the collar on his black jacket riding high on his shoulders with a colorful diamond necklace glittering — and dissected how he views the new Minneapolis ordinance that will soon require fans at Target Center to provide either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours of game time.
"The city of Minneapolis is doing what they feel is right for the people," Towns said. "The legislation of the government here is supposed to do what's right for the people and they feel that people having the vaccine will make everyone healthier and give everyone a better chance to get through this pandemic with less casualties and problems."
The Wolves' 119-99 victory over the Warriors on Sunday was one of the last pro games in the city before its vaccine ordinance takes effect for bars and restaurants on Wednesday and for ticketed events on Jan. 26.
It was also the first game the Wolves have played at home since the city introduced a new mask mandate on Jan. 6. And multiple tours of the concourses provided an incredible adherence to the return of that rule.
It was like everyone made a shared decision: shed parkas, keep masks.
While several other events in the city have been canceled since the start of 2022, the announced crowd of 17,136 was an eclectic mix of races and ages. And during an isolating winter, Target Center felt like a place to be seen, even if eyebrows dominated the facial queues.
In what team officials have to hope portends ease of acceptance to the ordinance, the mask mandate did little to dampen the atmosphere.
“With everything I have been through and everything my friends and people I love have been through, I am always going to be an advocate for the vaccine. It saved many lives in my family. And the lives I did lose, we all wish we could have got them the vaccine.”
Three-inch heels and teased hair mixed with crisp hoodies and every assortment of Jordans you can imagine. A teenage fan wearing a Steph Curry jersey and Nike Air Max 270s was overheard, if somewhat muffled behind a blue mask, asking a friend if they should stop at another concession stand.
"After everything we just ate?" his friend responded.
Wolves cheerleaders and the slam squad danced and flew through the air with their usual revelry, though their smiles were hidden. The only lingering question over adherence was what Crunch had going on behind that furry snout.
Most of those who weren't masked were properly distanced.
Bally Sports North's Marney Gellner broadcast from a plexiglass castle, looking like the isolated overseer of the game on the 100 level.
Sounds of Blackness let their harmonies explode at midcourt during a halftime celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jamecia Bennett provided an electric solo performance of the national anthem that had Anthony Edwards slapping his hands in praise.
As for the Wolves themselves? The second players went to the bench, masks went on. And even though D'Angelo Russell occasionally pulled his down to holler out defensive adjustments from the exercise bike on the sidelines, the team was expert in its mask wearing.
There is an argument to be made that since the pandemic landed nearly two years ago, professional athletes have served as the canaries in the coal mine of our society. Only essential workers returned to their jobs faster. Governments made allowances for sports leagues to continue playing while other businesses shuttered. Testing policies, health and safety protocols and vaccine mandates hit pro teams as quickly as possible.
In Minnesota, one of the most shocking deaths in the pandemic came when Towns' mother, Jacqueline, died on April 13, 2020, one month after President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency.
Towns, 26, said that while he applauds the decision by Minneapolis to enforce a vaccine ordinance, he still views the pandemic through a lens of personal accountability.
"With everything I have been through and everything my friends and people I love have been through, I am always going to be an advocate for the vaccine," he said. "It saved many lives in my family. And the lives I did lose, we all wish we could have got them the vaccine."
But even in that grief he tries to see the joy of freedom for those who disagree.
"Everyone is so oblivious to things because it hasn't happened to them, it doesn't affect them, hasn't touched their family, their lives," Towns said. "I know a lot of people who, same way, no vaccine, really against it.
"I'm never going to disrespect anyone to have their own choice. That is the beauty of being in this country. That is the beauty of being in America. You get to live the American dream. You get to have a choice."