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Timberwolves mourn passing of biggest fan

Timberwolves mourn passing of biggest fan

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Mike Stephenson couldn't talk and still managed to get himself suspended from Minnesota Timberwolves practice for saying too much.

He couldn't walk and still managed to crawl out of his wheelchair to wipe up a wet spot he noticed on the court before anyone else could get there.

He couldn't shoot and still managed to leave a lasting impact on the organization that took him in and treated him as one of the guys.

Stephenson was born with cerebral palsy and died earlier this week after the latest in a long line of bouts with pneumonia, leaving Timberwolves past and present to mourn one of the team's biggest fans, and biggest inspirations. He was 42.

``He was so good for the players and the rest of us,'' former coach and executive Flip Saunders said. ``They all make a lot of money and are kind of on a different level. But Mike helped them get a better understanding that there's other things, bigger things, that make the world go round.''

Stephenson was born in the small town of Spring Valley, about two hours south of the Minneapolis. Cerebral palsy rendered him unable to talk and sentenced him to life in a wheelchair.

``When he was born the doctors told us he was severely mentally retarded and we should just put him in a home and forget about him,'' his mother Barb Stephenson said.

Barb and Randy Stephenson didn't do that and their son grew up to earn a bachelor's degree in political science from Southwest State University before moving to the big city and latching on with the Timberwolves.

A passionate sports fan, Stephenson started showing up to Timberwolves games regularly near the turn of the century. He had an elaborate electronic board mounted on his wheelchair that would allow him to hit certain buttons, which would prompt a computerized voice to say sentences he constructed. Never bashful, he once chased down former Wolves executive Kevin McHale at a Twins game and asked for his email.

Saunders would see Stephenson scooting around Target Center and struck up a conversation. Stephenson asked to come to practice, using that gregariousness he got from his father.

``I'll talk to a wall if it will listen,'' Randy Stephenson said.

Saunders started allowing Stephenson to come and watch practice, a privilege granted to very few. It came back to bite him later when Stephenson called into local sports talk radio station KFAN to break the news that the injured Wally Szczerbiak was practicing and likely to play in an upcoming game. Saunders barred him from practice for a week.

``Loose lips sink ships,'' McHale playfully chided him once. But all was clearly forgiven because Stephenson even appeared in the team's official photo in 2002-03.

Sam Mitchell could always hear Mike coming before he saw him. The hum of Stephenson's motorized wheelchair or his howl of excitement always getting the forward's attention for some basketball talk.

``I looked at Mike as an able-bodied person,'' Mitchell said. ``He got around differently than me, communicated differently than me. But he didn't let his disability become a disability. Why should I treat him that way? People would always tell me how nice it was for us to spend time with him. I felt honored that Mike took time out to spend time with us. I felt like he was doing us a favor.''

He had a sports blog and a Twitter account and would pepper reporters with sharp, insightful questions about how players fit into the system, who was on the trade block and how much patience owner Glen Taylor would have with the coach on the job at the time.

``He studied up on things,'' Saunders said. ``He knew a lot about the game, about our players. He couldn't accept that he had a disability.''

That's how he was raised, to be as independent as possible. And his enthusiasm was infectious.

``He led a good life,'' Randy said. ``A lot of people felt sorry for them when they met him but he didn't want any sympathy. He just wanted to be friends.''

Stephenson overcame cerebral palsy, overcame almost any obstacle put in front of his wheelchair. But he couldn't overcome the pneumonia that returned regularly thanks to his insistence on eating by mouth rather than through a tube. His doctors warned him that eating that way could cause food to aspirate in his lungs and bring on pneumonia. But Mike just loved food too much, and eating was another activity that made him just like everyone else.

The bouts got more difficult as time went on, the latest coming on Dec. 14. It caused him to vomit, which is extremely dangerous for someone in his condition. By Monday doctors told them ``a decision had to be made,'' Randy said.

Rather than endure it any longer, Randy said Mike decided to enter hospice care and say goodbye.

``I hesitated,'' Randy said. ``But Mike just kept shaking his head yes. He knew what was going to happen.''

A funeral was scheduled for Saturday in Elkton and he will be laid to rest in Dexter, where his parents live. The Timberwolves planned to honor him during their game on Wednesday against McHale's Houston Rockets.

One thing is for sure, the kid his parents were told to leave behind won't be forgotten anytime soon.

``Mike was a true fan,'' Mitchell said. ``He loved the players and he loved the Timberwolves. Through the good times and bad times, he was always right there in the tunnel.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Report: Wizards players Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II test positive for coronavirus

Report: Wizards players Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II test positive for coronavirus

The Washington Wizards have their first reported cases of coronavirus, as center Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II have tested positive, according to the Washington Post.

The timing of the tests prevented Bryant and Payton II from traveling with the Wizards to Orlando, FL as they entered the NBA's restart bubble at Disney World. The team, however, is hopeful they can join them before long.

Head coach Scott Brooks first dropped a hint on Thursday night when addressing the media on a video conference call from Orlando.

"A couple of guys did not make the trip. Hopefully they will be joining us soon. But with the CBA medical [restrictions] I can't get into who did not participate," Brooks said.

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That suggested coronavirus was the likely reason. If it were another injury, he could specify just as they did with Bradley Beal days earlier when they explained why he wasn't going to play in the restart. A basketball injury also wouldn't prevent them from traveling.

Coronavirus generally stays in the system for 10 to 14 days. It is unclear when Bryant and Payton II contracted the virus, or when they tested positive. The Wizards' first exhibition game is July 22. They play their first regular season game on July 31.

Bryant and Payton II are the first cases involving the Wizards made public. It is not known whether any others have tested positive previously, as team officials have deferred to league statements on related matters.

There have been dozens of positive tests throughout the league in recent months, including some that shut down practice facilities.

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One analyst explains why Redskins' financial value won't decrease with name change

One analyst explains why Redskins' financial value won't decrease with name change

As it stands now, the Washington Redskins are one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. According to Forbes, the team is worth a whopping $2.2 million -- the 14th most-valuable franchise in all of sports, and the fifth most valuable team in the NFL.

With the team currently conducting an internal review of the moniker, it's worth wondering if a new name would hurt the value of the team. According to Randy Vataha -- the president of Game Plan LLC., which helps the service of helping people buy and sell sports franchises -- it shouldn't.

"I don't think it will really hurt the team's value ultimately," Vataha said to NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay.

Vataha explained that each franchise's actual name has little to do with its value.

"We're big believers and have a lot of data that indicates that yes, branding is important, yes, names are important in a lot of ways, but what's really important is the size and the demographics of the market," Vataha said.

The analyst gave the example of New York sports franchises, such as the Knicks and Rangers, and how they are consistently two of the most valuable teams in all of sports. Why? Because they play in New York City.

"The New York teams are all the top teams in every league," Vataha said. "The NFL is a little different because of how they share revenue, but the New York teams are always at the top, not because of the names of the teams. It's because of the marketplace.

"You'll have a lot of people, you'll have a lot of social media, you'll have a lot of political commentary back and forth," Vataha continued. "But at the end of the day, the core value is decided by the size of the market and the demographics of the market."

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This past week, a report surfaced from the Washington Post that the Redskins three minority owners were looking to sell their stake in the team, citing that they were "not happy being a partner" with Redskins majority owner Dan Snyder. The three minority owners -- Fred Smith, Dwight Schar and Robert Rothman -- make up approximately 40 percent of the team's ownership group.

Vataha said he understands both sides of the argument surrounding the team. Additionally, he said that the safest financial decision for the team would be to keep the name, despite all the public backlash they've received over the past couple of weeks.

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However, immediately after, Vataha emphasized once more that he doesn't envision the name change truly making a big difference value-wise.

"I understand the arguments on both sides pretty well," Vataha said. "But I think from the financial standpoint, the safest thing is never change it. But, on the other hand, I don't think it'll be a big hit to value any way at all."

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