Santa Cruz's Kaiser Permanente Arena is a steppingstone for some, a lifeline for others and part of a dream for all who play in the home of the Warriors' G League affiliate. It's a place for hope, not always a place for stars.
Yet there was Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, a three-time NBA All-Star and the 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year, sitting front row at the Santa Cruz Warriors' Nov. 11 home game against the Salt Lake City Stars.
Towns wasn’t there to support Minnesota’s G League squad -- they play in Iowa. He wasn't there to watch a former Timberwolves teammate, either. Instead, Towns ventured to Santa Cruz to see an opponent one night before playing the Warriors 78 miles away in San Francisco.
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That opponent, though, is one whose roots run deep, like Towns, forming a brotherhood that beats any kind of NBA animosity as Dominican Republic national teammates at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Towns stuck out in a crowd of 2,300 fans that night in Santa Cruz, showing Lester Quinones he’d travel any road to be an older brother for the Warriors' two-way contract player.
"Love is real. I'll meet anybody anywhere, no matter how far," Towns told NBC Sports Bay Area on Nov. 12 after the Timberwolves' 116-110 win over the Warriors at Chase Center. "It doesn't matter how many tribulations, how long or how tough the road was to get there, I was going to show up -- I told him that.
"I think of Lester like a brother, so anything he needs, he can always call."
Golden State Warriors
Quinones and Towns texted the day before the Warriors-Timberwolves game for the first time this season, with Towns checking in to see what Quinones' day looked like. He let Towns know he had a G League game while the rest of his Warriors teammates played the Cleveland Cavaliers in San Francisco, so he wouldn’t be able to meet up.
Not on Towns' watch. Any prior plans he had were erased right then and there. Quinones tried to convince him otherwise, making it clear that Towns didn't need to hop in a car for an almost-2-hour drive to Santa Cruz.
Once Quinones saw Towns in the arena, though, his presence and commitment admittedly meant "a lot."
"Him actually coming, it just feels great to just look over and see somebody there supporting, his caliber of player, an All-Star, just a franchise superstar type of player," Quinones told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Playing with him was amazing. And I feel like the bond we have off the court is way stronger than any basketball we played together or anything we did over there for the World Cup."
The Dominican Republic's Basketball Federation actually is responsible for setting up the Towns-Quinones connection. Quinones was recognized as a standout prospect, first playing for the Dominican Republic's younger national team in 11th grade, and the powers that be wanted to make sure Towns, who's 5 years older, watched out for him.
Already making waves in the NBA, Towns first got the ball rolling with an Instagram direct message to Quinones, not knowing he had opened the door to a friendship that forever extends past the hardwood. Nothing really came from Towns' DM at first, but their relationship quickly grew. The two consistently texted about basketball and life alike throughout Quinones' three years playing college basketball at the University of Memphis.
This summer, when they wore the same colors as teammates, is when their alliance truly was created, as they became nearly inseparable.
Before speaking on Quinones' growing skill set, Towns first wanted to heap praise on the person he is.
"First of all, before we talk about the talent, he's an amazing kid," Towns said. "He brings so much life to the locker room, and I think that's an intangible you can't teach. Somebody's born with it."
Towns, 28, and Quinones, 23, were the only players with previous NBA experience on the Dominican Republic's roster. Quinones immediately began picking Towns' brain, and they weren't seen without each other soon thereafter.
Towns brought his Timberwolves trainer/physical therapist, Jesse Geffon, to the World Cup -- a decision Quinones said made a big difference for him. They went to 5:30 a.m. workouts together, took care of their bodies simultaneously in the cold tub and hot tub, shot together before and after practice, challenged each other in 1-on-1s, and pushed one another in every way possible for one month while on the same squad.
Perspective is everything. Towns' NBA experience isn't the same as Quinones' Warriors teammates, as he's still chasing his first championship, wishing to soon have the same team success Golden State has enjoyed over the last decade. Opening Quinones to his world, and vice versa, only made both more complete, they believe, as people first and basketball players second.
And though Quinones has played just nine minutes for the Warriors in the team's first 20 games this season, and 27 total in the NBA, Towns knows there isn't a better place for his friend to develop into the complete player he desires to be.
"I see the world's going to open up for him a lot, and I think he's with the right organization that makes players like him super useful," Towns said. "I think he's in a great situation with some great leaders. Adding Chris Paul only gave him more experience with somebody to learn from.
"I'm really excited to see what his career blossoms into with so much help, so much experience and wisdom, not only from the Warriors, but from everyone in the Dominican Republic, including myself."
Recently, outside the Warriors' Chase Center locker room, Quinones was asked how he'd best describe his relationship with Towns. There was a long pause, then Quinones smiled and uttered one word: "Unbreakable."