Mike Rylander was the Minnesota Timberwolves' In-Arena Game Host/Announcer for the past four seasons. He is also a co-host on Weekends With Mike & Natalie on 107.1 FM and is currently starring in the rock musical "Sexy Librarian" , which is playing at the Minneapolis Theater Garage until May 21st. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MikeRylander.
While Mike is leaving the Timberwolves after this season to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, he has been such a large part of the team for the past several seasons that I wanted to catch up with him about his time working for the team. He was kind enough to speak with me and we had a terrific discussion about basketball, acting and all those Wally Szczerbiak comparisons.
Tim Allen: So, how did you get started working as the In-Arena Host for the Timberwolves? How does one go about getting a job like that?
Mike Rylander: I was doing Improv at the Brave New Workshop starting in about 2001. In 2005, the Timberwolves came through [to BNW] and had a casting call for the Blue Crew. I got hooked up with that. The idea of an in-arena host was pretty new at that time, but some teams were starting to experiment with the idea, and Chad Folkstad, who currently helps coordinate the in-arena entertainment, thought the idea of a host was a good one. They held auditions and I got selected. Originally, it was just going to be one host, but they liked Natalie [Kane] so much, they hired her, too. I was just at the right place at the right time with the right audition.
Allen: Did you know Natalie before you were hired to work together?
Rylander: We didn't know each other at all, but we've become very good friends, which is one of the cool parts of the job.
Allen: Are you a basketball fan?
Rylander: Definitely. I played in high school [in North Dakota]. I was like a Craig Smith-type player. I was All-State in football but kind of an 8th man in basketball. I set good screens. I boxed out. I was not a huge NBA fan until 2004 and the Western Conference Finals. Before that, my friends and I did like to play NBA Live on XBox with the Wolves. My friends would play as Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell, but I wasn't a fan of Sam Cassell, so I always played as Mark Madsen.
Allen: How can you stay positive out there on the court when the Wolves are losing?
Rylander: We're not basketball analysts. When things are tough, the last thing you need from us is criticism. I think it would be weird if we were out there criticizing the team. We always try to find positive thins to talk about. Stats are laid out for us before and during the game so we know how to reference things like Darko's blocked shots or Kevin Love's rebounding. We highlight the good things.
Allen: What's the toughest part of the job?
Rylander: Getting and keeping fans into the game during losses. When you win, it's easy and we don't have to do much at all. I think we do kind of play off each other and that we can have an impact on the players, but we can't play for them. . We plan a lot of stuff for the games, but if the game is going badly, some of that stuff we can't do. Like Crunch bits or skits about the other team that we might not be able to do depending on how the team is doing.
Sometimes it is hard to stay positive, but that's where the acting comes in.
Allen: What are your plans for the future?
Rylander: I'm moving to Los Angeles on September 1st. One of the cool things about the Wolves' gig is that the NBA and T-Mobile flew us to other arenas to do some shows out there. I was there for the Houston and Portland playoff series, for instance, a couple of years ago.. Through that, I was able to meet the head of In-Arena Entertainment for the Los Angeles Clippers and I may be able to do some hosting for the Clippers. I love working in the NBA. I'll always be a Timberwolves' fan, though.
Allen: The Lakers don't currently use an in-arena host, but if they offered you the job, would you take it?
Rylander: That'd be a pretty nice gig, but I hate the Lakers so much, I don't think I could do it. A lot of that is a Kobe thing. I can't stand him. Sometimes, basketball is the complete opposite of pimpin'. I hate the player, and not the game. I look at Kobe vs. Jordan, for instance. Jordan still had a smile on his face and he respected the game. It seems like a lot of great players these days don't respect the opponent and the game. I love watching guys like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose because they want to win without the arrogance.
Allen: I follow you on Twitter and a lot of your tweets are political in nature. Do you think that you'll ever pull an Al Franken or an Arnold Schwarzenegger and go from acting to politicals?
Rylander: I'd love to get involved in politics, but I highly doubt that a major political party would ever endorse a candidate that speaks the truth and doesn't spew bullshit.
Allen: I know you were in a theater production of A Few Good Men a while back [as Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick]. Do you prefer the stage or the screen?
Rylander: I want to do film and television. I love acting and telling stores. There is not much money in theatre either. Right now, the Wolves, commercials and other acting jobs let me basically do theatre for free. Acting feeds my artistic spirit. Fame does not drive me. I get uncomfortable being recognized in public.
Allen: Speaking of that, how do you react when people call you, "Wally"?
Rylander: I've made my peace with it. When I auditioned, I was told that I almost didn't get the job because of that. Before I worked for the team, when the Wolves' were in the Western Conference FInals, that's when the comparisons started. At first, girls liked that. Wally isn't exactly a bad looking guy, so that was definitely a good thing. Then I started doing the games and the comparisons really started. I heard it probably 20-30 times a game and maybe 10 times a day outside of a game. And that's been for the past five years.
It bothers me depending on how it happens. Heckling bothers me. When drunk guys scream, "Wally!" at me before a bit or something. I remember Wally Szczerbiak was on an interview with Dan Barreiro and they asked him about it on KFAN. I've actually met Wally's wife and we're Twitter friends.
One time, a guy came up to me asking for an autograph. When I signed it, "Mike Rylander," he looked down and was like, "Who is Mike?" He got mad at me and ripped up the autograph.
The weird thing is that some NBA players will say it, too. Peja Stojakovic was the first player to say anything to me about it. LeBron James even called me Wally once. I was doing preparation when I heard someone yelling, "Wally", behind me. I turned around, LeBron was looking at me and I just rolled my eyes.
Maybe someday, if this acting thing goes well, people will come up to Wally Szczerbiak and tell him he looks like me.
Allen: How much is your interaction with the team?
Rylander: Its kind of an unspoken rule that I always let them approach me. I try to stay out of their business. Kevin Love is the nicest, most down to earth player I've met. He's just a real guy. He came up to me after my Super Bowl commercial and complimented me.
Martell Webster is great, too. As hosts, we each get 2 free tickets. I was down at will call before a game this year getting my tickets and Martell was down there, too. He said, "I hear you're leaving us. Good luck. You do a great job."
My first year with the team was the last year that KG was on the team. That year, we didn't do as many bits as we do now. It was a close game once and I went out to do my first 4th quarter prompt. I really gave it my all. The team ended up coming back and winning. After the game, I was over by the lockers and as the players ran through, Garnett got in my face and started saying, "I see you out there, dog. I see you!" That was a pretty cool moment.
It's kind of sad about Garnett, though. I felt KG was really disrespectful after he left the team. You know, KG works really hard. He plays with a passion. But he could've been classier in his exit.
Allen: What about those post game interviews? Do you think the players mind?
Rylander: I don't think so. A guy like Michael Beasley is a very nice guy and kind of a weirdo. I am a weirdo, too, so I understand. One time I asked him what were the keys to game and he said, "We scored more points than they did." It was brilliant. I think with sports, its so easy to overanalzye. We get into the nitty-gritty with stats, but its basics are brilliant. Then I asked him what they needed to do to keep the momentum going and he said, "we need to keep scoring more points than they do."
I loved it.
Thanks to Mike Rylander for the wonderful interview.