MINNEAPOLIS — Karl Towns sat in his courtside seat about an hour before the start of Game 3 of the Timberwolves’ first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. His friend Tee Morant paced around, wearing reflective sunglasses, a black bucket hat, a white Polo Ralph Lauren shirt, white pants and a black jacket.
Recently, a viral tweet compared singer Usher’s appearance to Morant’s.
“Right now we’re talking about how many people will know him when he’s in the building,” Towns said. “And I said he couldn’t call himself Usher because it was wrong!”
“He approaches people and says, ‘Do you know who I am?’ They don’t know who you are in Minnesota!
The cities knew that was not true. Both had appeared together on NBA TV and on the local Timberwolves show during Game 2. But when it comes to Morant, Towns never lets facts stand in the way of a good roast.
Their sons are the two biggest stars of the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs: Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, 22, and Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, 26, sometimes referred to as KAT.
Each team has won two games in the best-of-seven series, which continues with Game 5 on Tuesday in Memphis. Their fathers watched with pride and inadvertently achieved underage celebrity status through television appearances highlighting their friendly rivalry from the seats of the court. They made bets on games and rolled their eyes at each other’s boasts.
“Win or lose, we are family,” Karl said. “That will never change. It’s my family here. It’s not about basketball, it’s about a loving family. We just have a good relationship. What people see is that we’re just authentic, we’re just ourselves. And you know what, we’re proud of our kids, but we also value our relationship.
They met three years ago when Ja was a rookie. Karl invited Tee to join a group for NBA dads, and they connected at an event in Orlando, Florida. Karl was on his way to pick up a meal for his wife, Jackie. Tee joined him and began “following him”, as Tee put it. Their friendship blossomed from there.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I like this guy,'” Tee said. “He’s funny.” Unable to let a compliment lie, he added, “He’s not funnier than me.”
Karl rolled his eyes.
“I’m funny five days,” Karl said. “He must take the weekend.”
Bad language is an important part of their friendship, based primarily on their sons’ basketball careers. But there is a more significant element. Through basketball, they got to know each other’s families. They’re not vacationing together or visiting each other, but they’re still very attached to their bond.
“I have real love for him because he takes the time to think about me,” Tee said. “That’s the type of relationship that we’ve built, in terms of knowing that he has love for me, I have love for him. I have love for the great Kat.
“I have love for Ja,” Karl said.
They have been friends through difficult times. When Jackie Cruz-Towns, Karl’s wife and Karl-Anthony’s mother, died of Covid-19 in April 2020, Tee called a few days later to tell Karl he was praying for the family, aware of don’t want to weigh it down any further.
“I understood enough to give him space,” Tee said.
Karl regularly sends Tee Bible passages, and Tee appreciates the gesture, though he doesn’t always read every word.
“I want him to know that God is always on our side,” Karl said. “It’s a blessing to be on this Earth to see our children do this.”
They resist the idea that they have become celebrities, claiming that their sons are the real ones. They say they are just two fathers who are infinitely proud of their children.
“I just stayed there long enough for my son to conquer his dream,” Tee said. “Just like he did.”
“Like me,” Karl said.
On Thursday morning, Ja was asked if he had seen the interviews with his father and Karl-Anthony’s. He had a serious expression.
“Were they arguing?” Ja asked.
He was told they were.
“Like a serious argument?” Ja asked.
He was told no, and his posture relaxed. In truth, their back-and-forth ribbing never gets too serious.
“It’s not a fight; it’s never a fight,” Tee said. “Because it’s all about competition here. But once the clock is down, you have to get back to your life. Real life is my guy. Just because KAT was 30-something the first game and they beat us, then Ja almost had a triple-double game 2 and we beat them.
“And then once we beat them by 20 or something, he’s still going to love me. He’s going to cry a little bit.
Karl rolled his eyes again.
“He slid that in smoothly, didn’t he?” Karl said. “But you know what? It’s good. Because once you beat them, they don’t have to go far because the hotel is hanging on the place. You just walk through the hotel through the tunnel.
They said they placed a friendly bet on the series and whoever loses will have to wear the jersey of the other’s son. There are also smaller bets.
“After we beat them the first time, he was supposed to take me to dinner,” Karl said. “You know what I saw? The back of his car leaving me.
Tee burst out laughing.
He laughed again when Karl said the Timberwolves would win the series in six games.
“No disrespect, but there’s no way to win a game and play Prince,” Tee said, stepping into dangerous territory by invoking the name of the musician, who died in 2016, one of Minnesota’s most beloved figures.
“Do you hear that? Karl asked. “Prince is a legend. He’s out of control right now. He’s out of control, you hear that? I’m about to revoke his ticket.
Karl started asking everyone who passed by if they wanted to swap seats with Tee.
“I don’t even want to sit next to him,” Karl said.
A woman dropped the joke, reminding Karl that he asked for Tee to sit next to him.
Ja warmed up on the court about 45 minutes before the start of Game 3. He smiled and looked at his dad between two 3-pointers, teasing him how dapper he looked.
“Do you know who my son is? Tee yelled at Ja. “I have to put this on.”
Tee spent much of the game’s wild swings on his feet, either out of excitement or frustration. He yelled at the referees when things were going badly for the Grizzlies. He joked with Grizzlies players when things were going well for Memphis.
After the Grizzlies’ bizarre and thrilling victory, in which Memphis recovered from multiple 25-point deficits, Tee turned to Karl and gave Karl an affectionate shake of his jacket. He told Karl they wouldn’t be back in Minnesota after Games 3 and 4, implying the Grizzlies would win the series in five games.
Ja – as Tee might do with Karl – mocked Karl-Anthony on Twitter after Memphis won Game 3.
But Tee was wrong: The Grizzlies will need at least six games to win the series, as the Timberwolves won Game 4 on Saturday. Subsequently, Karl-Anthony found his father on the sidelines to give him a hug. Then he approached Tee smiling.
“He wasn’t getting the ball the game before, he said,” Tee recalled. “He took control and showed what he is capable of.”
The dads laugh together after every game, no matter who wins.
Karl told Tee he would see him in Memphis for Game 5 and reminded Tee to get him seats. They will be seated at the edge of the pitch, right next to each other.
At the end of this series, will they both still be supporters of the winning team?
“Afterwards, I’m pretty sure he’s going to support Ja,” Tee said.
Karl said: “I sure hope he calls me again as we go through the playoffs.”