LAS VEGAS – Timberwolves players were shaking their heads in disbelief.
They'd just had dinner with new owner Marc Lore at the Cosmopolitan on the Vegas strip during the NBA Summer League. Lore had come to a city known for its magic with a few "mentalist" tricks of his own. The first is a complicated ruse that involves Lore taking a phone, putting a song into YouTube, placing the phone facedown and then allegedly sending that song into the mind of someone nearby.
The target was two-way player Nathan Knight. He typed "Humble," by rapper Kendrick Lamar, into his own phone, and showed everyone except Lore.
Lore picked up the phone he had put on the table; it was playing "Humble."
"I was really sitting there for like an extra 20 or 25 minutes and I just kept asking him to show me that trick," guard Jaylen Nowell said.
Lore wasn't done. He asked the players to name any date in history and said he would tell them what day of the week it was. Nowell, who spoke in awe as he recalled the night's events, sounded as if he now has the date burned into his brain: Jan. 13, 1705. As the players checked Google, Lore didn't just say what day of the week it was — he stuck his fingers in his mouth and pulled out a thin piece of paper that said, "Tuesday."
"I think he had that one planned," forward Jaden McDaniels said.
Lore laughed off their incredulity the next day by simply saying, "It's a great icebreaker and it's fun."
But magic tricks are also symbolic for him. For his birthdays as a kid on Staten Island, he wanted a magician to perform every year, even if his mom tried to shoehorn him in another direction. He was adamant — it had to be a magician.
“I don't really think of myself as competitive, because competitive is like, wanting to beat someone else at something. I'm more incredibly driven to succeed at whatever I do. Sometimes that means beating someone else, but I was never obsessed with the idea.”
The grown-up Lore hasn't lost that wonder for the profession. He sees what he does now as an extension of that.
"It's making seemingly impossible possible," Lore said. "That's what I love to do. That's an entrepreneur. You take things people think are impossible and make it a reality."
This is how Lore views his latest venture with the Wolves and Lynx. Now that he is officially part of the ownership group with business partner Alex Rodriguez, with both set to become controlling owners in two years, Lore can start to infuse his vision into the franchise.
That vision that was molded over decades of creating successful companies and seeks to defy conventional thinking about the Wolves' place in the NBA.
"I love the idea that Minnesota is an underdog in this situation," Lore said. "I love that challenge."
Fits and startups
Lore didn't walk around Vegas with a large crew; you wouldn't know if he's a billionaire, a sharp or just a weekend traveler.
He sat for lunch at the Sugarcane inside the Venetian after playing blackjack with Wolves forward Josh Okogie following his magic set. He finished about $30,000 up in what he called not-a-bad-but-not-great night.
Math and magic went hand-in-hand when Lore was young. He said he could do math in his head and at 13 was reading about investing and derivatives, even if he never had much of an appetite for formal schooling.
"I like the idea of learning, but the forced learning is not like how I would want to learn it ..." Lore said. "You're forced to learn a certain way, but if I find one piece is super interesting, I'll go down a rabbit hole and learn about it."
After lacking motivation in the classroom, Lore went to school at Bucknell, a university near central Pennsylvania, because of a relationship he had with the track coach there. He got his grades together in time to graduate and get a job in banking.
The track skills helped him build a bridge into the athletic world, as he became a part of NFL Network broadcaster Rich Eisen's "Run Rich Run" charity campaign, in which people run the 40-yard dash to raise money for charity. In one race, Lore beat 49ers great Jerry Rice, who has become a friend and business associate of Lore's in recent years through his energy drink company G.O.A.T. Fuel, which is run by Rice's daughter, Jaqui.
"What I noticed when I met Marc was this guy is so driven," Rice said. "His energy, his dedication to training and all that. … It seemed like it was so surreal. I remember with [Hall of Fame 49ers coach] Bill Walsh, there was a chemistry with Bill Walsh, and it was the same thing with Marc.
"Marc is about teamwork, and he's going to do everything possible to put you in a position to win and be successful in life."
Rice and others who know Lore speak of his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity, traits that helped him rise from the "back office" at his first banking job to an executive vice president job by the time he was 27, making $500,000 per year.
"I decided I was going to outwork everyone there," Lore said.
Banking became boring, because Lore wasn't creating something. But he had money to start his own ventures, with one of his first companies being a sports memorabilia business he and friends sold after a few years.
Then came his first big success, Diapers.com, which Amazon eventually acquired, to Lore's chagrin, for $545 million.
"You were able to put a search term in Google and see how many times people searched for it," said Lore, who is divorced and has two daughters. "I remember putting in the word 'diapers' just randomly …and I'm like wow, this is searched 200,000 times per month but nobody is selling diapers online. Not even Amazon."
Lore then started Jet.com, an online retailer, that eventually was acquired by Walmart for $3.3 billion. Lore then joined Walmart as its online CEO to help it rival Amazon after Amazon had bought and squashed Diapers.com, though Lore said he doesn't take competition personally.
"It's funny; I don't really think of myself as competitive, because competitive is like, wanting to beat someone else at something," Lore said. "I'm more incredibly driven to succeed at whatever I do. Sometimes that means beating someone else, but I was never obsessed with the idea."
Coming to Minnesota
There were a few questions Lore likely knew were coming as he ordered a second helping of gluten-free sushi rolls: Why would someone with few ties to Minnesota want to buy the Timberwolves and Lynx; and is he really invested in the teams' long-term future in this market, and not, say, Seattle or Las Vegas?
For those wondering if he'll move the teams west, Lore said he doesn't want more than a two-hour plane commute from his home in New York. Minnesota is about that.
"It's within a distance of where I live where I can come out there all the time," Lore said. "If it was anything more west of there, it becomes more challenging."
Lore sees Minnesota as a place with a lot of potential to get creative, and he has asked people around the organization how best to display his desire to be an asset to Minnesota.
"I like to make people happy. And so maybe I just naturally, and I think Alex is like this too, gravitate to situations where you see a lot of upside in increasing the collective level of happiness of a city, of a community," Lore said. "We know if we dedicate the time, build the right foundation, bring in the right people, we're going to make things happen.
"If we do, it should increase the level of happiness of this city, the town. That's kind of exciting."
As that pertains to the future of Target Center or possibly building a new arena, Lore and Rodriguez are evaluating their options. But so far, the new owners have been steadfast in their public comments to invest in the community and honor controlling owner Glen Taylor's wish to keep the team here.
"That's one of the biggest points that the three of us were 100% aligned on with Glen Taylor, myself and Marc, is that we were really excited about doing this in Minnesota … because they deserve a winner," Rodriguez said. "It was really all about, the centerpiece was this team is here in Minnesota."
The Timberwolves were an NBA expansion team bought by Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson for $32.5 million before the 1989-90 season. Taylor got the team for $94 million in 1994; the Lynx started play in 1999 when WNBA teams were owned by the NBA, and Taylor assumed ownership in 2002 of what would become a four-time championship team.
Lore and Rodriguez are paying $1.5 billion for the Wolves and Lynx.
Narrowing the focus
The Wolves have made the playoffs only nine times in 32 seasons, and Lore wants to turn some of the longstanding beliefs about the team on their head.
“I love the idea that Minnesota is an underdog in this situation. I love that challenge.”
To do that, he and Rodriguez, with help from Taylor, are employing a tactic Lore used at his other companies — developing a set of three core values. The Wolves, Lynx and business side will operate under the same three values. Lore has tasked an associate, Jessica Agarwal, to interview people within the organization, fans and business associates to formulate those values.
"People buy into that mission and values, and it inspires them and creates a higher level of passion. In turn, people want to do more. They want to give more," Lore said.
"Right now, and everyone would agree, there's not a clear set of three core values that the team is living by or a clear mission statement of why we exist as an organization."
At Jet.com, those values were fairness, transparency and trust. Lore said actions the company took pointed directly back to those three values, and said he took actions that may not have made much financial sense but were important to uphold the company's values. He made salaries publicly available so people didn't wonder if they were getting shortchanged. He didn't have noncompete or nonsolicit clauses in employees' contracts.
"He says that you should trust someone enough that they have the ability to burn you, and you'll find that they won't," said Nora Ali, a Mendota Heights native who worked with Lore at Jet.com. Lore hinted one of the Wolves and Lynx's values is likely to be player-centric.
Developing these values will help Lore and Rodriguez accomplish one of their goals for the organization: changing long-held perceptions about Minnesota's place in the NBA. For instance, take the cold.
"A lot of people are talking about what makes Minnesota special is sort of the grit," Lore said. "The fact that like, 'Yeah it's cold. But we embrace it. Not scared of it.' That carries over to other parts. … There's a pride in being from Minnesota and what things do you have pride about? We want to get to the essence of that."
That would feed into Lore's desire to make Minnesota a place big-money free agents would want to come instead of avoid. This perception is one that influences the philosophy of President Gersson Rosas, who has said because Minnesota traditionally is not a place where top free agents want to come, he has tried to make big moves on the roster via trade.
"So when players or people say, 'Hey, it's a small market, we're never going to get any of the big free agents,' — well, if they share a similar set of values maybe they will [come]," Lore said. "If you really stand for something, and they're passionate about the same values, then they're like, 'No, I've seen it. I've heard about it. I want to be a part of that.' "
Getting to know you
Rodriguez said he and Lore have looked at what the Milwaukee Bucks did in building their organization into the most recent championship winner.
"That gives you a bit of a blueprint for what can be done in Minnesota, [which is] even in a bigger market than Milwaukee," Rodriguez said. "I'm very optimistic. I know Marc is very optimistic, and I know they're ready to go all in to win." Rodriguez laughed when asked if he had ever been on the receiving end of Lore's tricks.
"Oh, yeah. I've seen a bunch of them, and a couple of them, I had a few cocktails, so I was so confused," Rodriguez said. "He's done more than tricks. He got a trick where he got scissors and cut my tie."
Rodriguez said initially he wasn't sure what to expect when he first met Lore.
"He was introduced to me as the Walmart guy, which I thought was funny," Rodriguez said. "I was not expecting Marc to show up."
Rodriguez's voice took a different tone on the word "Marc," as if to underline it in an attempt to incorporate in one syllable what Lore is about — curious, enthusiastic, energetic and eager to please.
Rice and Rodriguez have been a part of championship teams, and they see in Lore someone who has the desire and willingness to do what it takes from an ownership perspective to get there.
"It's just personality," Rice said. "People gravitate toward him. He's just driven. He's daring to be great."
Added Rodriguez: "That's where our worlds come together. We're 1+1=3. My background in sports goes back over 25 years now, and his track record in doing this for over 20 years, it's something I think comes together."
After lunch in Las Vegas, Lore hopped in a black SUV, rang Rodriguez to inquire about the group's ticket allotment for a Bruno Mars concert that night and cleared up some confusion with a 30-second conversation. Soon, Lore was entering the Thomas and Mack Center to take in the Wolves' game against the Bucks.
He wanted to show his support, show players he's accessible — and maybe show them a few tricks along the way.