MEMORY POLICE – Marquise Watts’ lifelong friends from around Milwaukee, through Atonement Lutheran School and Wisconsin Lutheran High School, insist they always knew that the child they call “Quise” thought differently. Whether it is on the elementary school kickball court, running court on the basketball court or in forensic, math and business clubs, the hindsight of age does not offer any other kind of perspective or reveal long hidden clues to future success.
Watts was uniquely wired to connect with others – from all walks of life – even as a child, and it has put him at the heart of the sport of basketball as an adult.
“That’s how God created me,” he said.
“I can understand their experience and be like what is it that makes their things easier or better? That’s the way I have been able to look at things.”
Which has brought the 43-year-old Milwaukee native north to Minnesota as chief experience officer (CXO) for the Timberwolves in the NBA and Lynx in the WNBA, a newly created director position.
“You only get to come in once and do something new or different,” he said. “Also for me to know that there are only 30 NBA teams and you go C-suite (leaders at leadership level) and what that means and then you can make an impact in the community and with players. And with the organization thought I that the timing could not be better. ”
He will work with the basketball and business side of the organizations to elevate the player experience and establish the teams as talent destinations.
“I want when people think of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx that they say it’s a destination to play,” he said. “Because the organization treats, understands and works with the players and all their people. It’s the family, it’s the community, there’s room for everyone, and if you’re part of it, you feel it.”
Which for those who know him best, was what he created as far back as elementary school.
“He was no different from our 30-person or smaller class,” said former classmate and longtime friend Trevor Trimble. “It was not a separation, it was a common love. I call it a common love. So I saw it early. And when you reflect back (his success) does not surprise me, because when you can learn to love people who come from all different walks of life, who have all different gifts and abilities, it’s scary what your networking power can be just out of human love and respect. And I saw it early. I saw it continue into high school. “
And when he first came to the Wisconsin Lutheran, Watts did not limit himself to the basketball court. He got involved in different clubs and with different people. He enjoyed the Math Track team and was chairman of the business team.
“He went in time with his own drum,” said Justin Walz, who was a high school basketball teammate and now teaches at their alma mater. “It was just wild how talented he was not only basketball-wise, but he had a goal in mind and he did the things in high school that would put him to be that. To be a high school student and have that kind of plan? It was crazy. “
That plan continued beyond the Wisconsin Lutheran, which meant Watts avoided walk-on opportunities at major universities to play at Division II University of Minnesota, Morris.
After his athletic and academic career there, Watts stayed in the state afterwards to work at the US Bank – and he scratched the basketball itch by training at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minn. He then tried to join an established AAU program, but his Milwaukee background hurt him.
“They threw me out a little bit and I said, OK, look at this,” he said with a small smile.
Watts filled a void in the local AAU circuit by diving into elementary school and growing from there with his own program called Net Gain.
“I learned through the first AAU team we had together that Marquise had a lot of benefits, a lot of potential,” said Scott Stefan, a businessman from Minneapolis who helped Watts get Net Gain started and whose sons played for Watts. “I could see he had a really good vision. He’s a kind of visionary guy. Everything he’s done, he’s had a different level, a different level of vision. So I loved the fact that he wanted to be humanitarian. , he would help other children. “
Net Gain became one of the powerhouse programs in the state, and he was suddenly on the radar of college coaches and apparel companies. Assistant coaching jobs were offered, but then a friend from Milwaukee spoke up.
Watts credits then-Marquette University head coach Buzz Williams for pointing out that Watts had more to offer than roaming the sidelines.
“He just has a presence with him,” Williams said. “You can almost immediately, in my opinion, see that he has the ability to help in a myriad of ways. It does not mean that coaches can not, it just means that I thought he could more than that.”
Did he ever.
The connections Watts made with Net Gain eventually led to a job at Under Armor, where he helped shape its basketball identity from preparation to professional. This led to leadership positions at adidas and then at the Klutch Sports agency.
“I’ve always learned from my parents that you can be more than one thing,” Watts said.
“I’ve always been attracted to or my brain looks at things outside the box – or whatever it might be. What’s next? For in life nothing becomes the same. So if you are not constantly trying to get ahead of it or be better and then look at it and say ‘I think I can add value here’ – and sometimes it’s not in an ego way like oh I can make everything better. No, it’s like my skills and what I’m passionate about, I can lean in here because I think it can get better. Or let me present it in a way that nobody has thought of it that way. “
Anyone involved in billion-dollar trademarks or the negotiation of seven-digit revenue streams off the field for players will be “well-known” in these circles. Watt is no different. His contact list would make everyone’s eyes roll. But he’s not only known – Watts has also proven to be everyone’s “guy”, even though he’s one who’s had pretty much operated behind the scenes.
“I think he has a gift for putting himself in the person he’s talking to,” Williams said. “And I think he’s an elite level listener. A lot of people do not consider it a skill, but I think it’s one of the best skills anyone can have, and he’s just as good as anyone, I’ve ever known it, but while listening, he has the ability to empathize with that person and their position.
“He’s doing the same thing today as he did back then. He’s just doing it with another group. And it’s because of his ability to be empathetic, it’s his ability to listen and then it’s his ability to connect relationships. ”
But now, as an executive with NBA and WNBA franchises and under a new Timberwolves ownership group led by Marc Lore and former Major League Baseball star Alex Rodriguez, Watts wants to build more public relations.
He wants to be part of the Minneapolis community, someone that athletes – or potential athletes – need to know. He wants to bring people together from strata of society who might not otherwise have done so.
“It’s funny because ‘Quise has always been able to manage relationships really well with people,'” said another lifelong friend, Justin Hubbard. “He’s such an authentic guy, and people understand that. One of the things that’s important, and one of the things that he’s really good at, is being a man of his word. If ‘Quise tells you something, it will happen.
An employee of the Timberwolves appeared in a meeting room to indicate that Watts had to move on to another meeting. For years, he had stood in the background behind some of the biggest names and brands in basketball. Now he will be seen and heard from a little more.
Which may not necessarily be his style, but it’s something that will carry a bit of weight at home.
“What does that mean? It’s immeasurable what I think it would mean,” said Trimble. “Because we will be able to say yes, right here at Sherman and Ruby – yes right there, that building right there – that was where the child went. Right there on 84th and Bluemound, that was where he went to high school at.
“Our children need to see it. We should celebrate those who have quietly continued to just try to create a path and opportunities.
“We have a pandemic in our youth community where we do not believe in what is possible. So anytime we can share someone who was driving or walking in the same neighborhood, driving down the same streets, it’s so inspiring, man. It is. “