Hundreds of fans filed into the arena, paying good money to see some of their favorite hometown NBA players hoop it up, just as they have so many times before.
Only this time the arena was a high school gymnasium and the event was the Michael Beasley All-Star Classic, the closest thing basketball junkies can get to seeing the pros in action during this dreary lockout.
Beasley rounded up some of his friends and brought them to a suburban Minneapolis high school on Friday night, helping raise money for charity and cast the players in a better light as they fight the league's owners in what is becoming a more bitter labor dispute by the day.
While NBA commissioner David Stern takes to the radio waves to try to cast the owners as the good guys in this struggle, players across the country are taking to the court, organizing their own games as a way to connect with fans who don't understand why millionaires and billionaires can't seem to work this thing out.
"I think that players are doing a really good job of getting out in front of fans and continuing to show that we really just want to play basketball," Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver said. "Whether or not we have to put it together ourselves, play pickup games, do charity events or paid events, whatever it is, we just want to play basketball. I think that a lot of fans understand that and people respect that."
Beasley organized the event, getting fellow Timberwolves Tolliver, Wes Johnson, Anthony Randolph, Wayne Ellington and Lazar Hayward to join him. Golden State's Dorell Wright appeared as well, along with Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who served as a celebrity coach.
Organizers estimated the crowd at 1,200, but it seemed a little lighter than that. Still, they got their money's worth in entertainment even though several of the bigger name stars like Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, John Wall and Derrick Williams canceled earlier in the week due to scheduling conflicts.
"Obviously with the lockout, you're kind of just craving basketball," said 49-year-old Randy Borgeson of Maple Grove, a Timberwolves season ticket holder. "The best thing is you go to Target Center and you're usually far enough away that you can't get an appreciation for how big and fast these guys are."
The players came out for warmups wearing maroon t-shirts that read "Basketball Never Stops." Beasley's team defeated Wright's team 179-170 at Osseo High School in a game that featured halfcourt alley-oops, killer crossovers and very little defense.
All net proceeds went to several area charities, including St. Jude Children's Hospital and Peterson's All Day Foundation.
"This is a way to give back," Johnson said. "We love basketball. This is a way for us to come out and see the fans because it's all about them anyway."
Many of the players had their hopes up earlier in the week, when the owners and players union went through hours and hours of mediation in New York City to try to reach a deal and prevent more games from being canceled. But talks broke off Thursday night, with both sides at a stalemate over how to split up more than $4 billion in annual revenue.
The first two weeks of the regular season already have been canceled, with the possibility of many more games being wiped out any day now as the acrimony between the owners and the union increases.
"Given the last two days, I know it hasn't been the prettiest," Beasley said. "But I feel good. I feel like losing the NBA season is kind of far-fetched."
Tolliver, the Timberwolves' union representative, echoed claims made by the union's executive director Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher on Thursday night that the owners issued an ultimatum on a 50-50 split of revenues, telling the players to take it or leave it.
"They're trying to bully us and I can't respect that," Tolliver said.
Wright has gone to four or five of these charity games across the country and he said it was important to remain connected to a fan base that is growing increasingly impatient with the labor struggle, including some who think the players are greedy for not settling for the owners' demands.
"This is always good to come out and do something for the fans and let them know that without them we're not who we are," Wright said. "Those are the people that buy our jerseys, buy our posters and they support us on a daily basis. You always want to do something like this to give back."
Beasley said he has spent most of the lockout with his family, and he had 11-month old son Michael III with him on Friday night. He declined to comment on being ticketed this summer for possession of marijuana and said he is working hard to reform his image and show the team, and the fans, that he is ready to take on a leadership role.
"I'm going to do my part to keep our Minnesota Timberwolves fans afloat," Beasley said. "Hopefully we don't have to do too much more. Hopefully we can end this thing pretty soon. As long as it goes on, I'm going to try to do my part."
Follow Jon Krawczynski: twitter.com/APkrawczynski.
Fired IRS Commissioner: I Promoted Sarah Ingram To Head Obamacare: "We Provided Horrible Customer Service" | Greg Hengler