Timberwolves represent at 2019 Little Shell Celebration in New Town

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Performers take the stage in Antelope Society Little Shell Arbor. The Little Shell Celebration brought hundreds of spectators to Four Bears Park in New Town.

NEW TOWN — Friday night marked something of a homecoming for John Thomas. Hundreds of spectators gathered at Antelope Society Little Shell Arbor to hear the Minneapolis native’s message.

Although he once played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the performance was a bit different than a basketball game. Thomas spoke to the arena’s crowd at the 2019 Little Shell Celebration at Four Bears Park in New Town.

“We have a firm understanding that we impact a lot of people and a lot of different fans,” Thomas said. “For us, basketball really is the gateway to start connecting with not only the Native American community, but this community in general.”

The annual powwow brought traditional Native American tribes together in a night of worship and celebration. Drummers and dancers performed in front of the audience.

Thomas serves as the Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx Vice President of Community engagement. He was a first-round draft pick of the New York Knicks in 1997, played 44 games for the Timberwolves in the 2004-05 season and finished his professional career overseas.

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Minnesota Timberwolves John Thomas and Lynx Vice President of Community Engagement and Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop pose for a photo with children. Thomas and Bates-Diop participated in Friday night's powwow as guests of honor.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher brought another Big Ten basketball alumnus with him. Current Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State) also participated in the evening’s festivities as a guest of honor.

“It feels great,” Bates-Diop said. “It’s a part of a tradition. I haven’t been out here ever in my life. To experience this for the first time is amazing.”

The team continues to build its North Dakota fanbase, and it attempts to grow the game through youth players.

Timberwolves and Lynx Basketball Academy participants will see Bates-Diop and his teammates in action this season. Over 30 campers will attend future Timberwolves and Lynx games at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Timberwolves wanted to honor the young campers’ commitments to basketball.

“On the front end, what started off as a basketball camp has turned into a continued growth and relationship,” Thomas said. “It’s been fruitful on both sides. We’re just excited about it.”

According to Four Bears Activities Director Kevin Finley, casino executives are discussing a future NBA preseason game at the on-site events center in New Town. An opponent and date have not been finalized, but the executives are currently in negotiations.

When he addressed the crowd, Thomas acknowledged North Dakota’s athletic talent.

“The joy for me is really in giving,” he said. “Giving to our youth, giving to our current players and our former players. For me, it’s an opportunity to build together. It certainly is an honor.”

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.