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Bellingham teen’s letter-writing campaign nets signed ball, free trip to NBA game

A combination of social media smarts and old-school handwritten letters put a young Bellingham sports fan on the digital map and landed his family a free trip to watch the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves play the Orlando Magic next month.

Connor Urcuyo, a 16-year-old junior at Squalicum High School, has loved basketball ever since he was young. Born in the Los Angeles area, he began as a fan of the Lakers and especially of Kobe Bryant, the team’s star guard. Indeed, the family’s yellow Lab is named Kobe, in Bryant’s honor.

When Connor and his parents, Gina and Martin Urcuyo, moved to Bellingham in 2002, he quickly became a fan of the Seattle Sonics and such players as feisty guard Gary Payton and former Blaine High standout Luke Ridnour. But the Sonics left Seattle in 2008 to become the Oklahoma City Thunder.

While Connor continues to follow his favorite players, including the Thunder’s Kevin Durant (originally a Sonic), he never gave his full loyalty to another basketball team. After learning about a fan who sent a letter to every NFL team, Connor came up with a plan.

Over the past several weeks, he wrote a letter to each of the 30 NBA teams asking them to respond and say why he should become a fan of their team.

“I wanted a team that would care about their fans,” Connor explained.

His parents wondered if he might be wasting time, paper and stamps, and they were nearly correct. Only one team replied, the Timberwolves.

A letter dated March 4 and signed by team president Chris Wright lists 10 reasons the Timberwolves warrant a new fan, even one who lives 1,700 miles away. Most of the reasons refer to the team’s young stars, while managing to misspell the names of two players; Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad.

No biggie. Besides, Connor left a word out of his own letter, and the Timberwolves mailed him an NBA basketball signed by a dozen players.

Last Thursday, the family received a call from the team offering them an all-expenses-paid trip to watch the Minnesota team in action. The family plans to watch the T-Wolves play Orlando at the Target Center in Minneapolis on April 3.

Team officials didn’t return a call for comment. Perhaps I should have written a letter.

Hoop dreams

As an only child, Connor took an early liking to basketball because he could shoot hoops on his own if no other kids were around.

“I used to pretend to be Derek Fisher making the last shot to win the game,” he said, citing a former Laker known for his late-game heroics.

Connor played football and basketball in middle school, and participated in high school track last year. He isn’t playing sports this year because he’s busy taking Advanced Placement classes. Connor also plays cello and bass in the school orchestra, and has nearly a straight-A average.

He’s a fan of the Seahawks, the Sounders and the Mariners – he has a Robinson Canó jersey – but the NBA remains his first sports love. He also likes to draw, so he drew each NBA team’s logo in his letters to the 30 franchises.

In this age of emails and Tweets, Connor figured he had a better chance of receiving a reply if he wrote each letter by hand.

“It’s the most personal way to get my message across,” he said.

Once he received the letter and basketball from the Timberwolves, Connor posted a photo of each on the social media website Reddit. His story was quickly picked up by other websites and other media, including the New York Daily News and USA Today. He also has been interviewed by radio stations.

“This has been an exciting experience for me,” he said. “I love to talk to people, so it has been fun.”

A member of Future Business Leaders of America, Connor now thinks he might pursue a career in sports management.

For now, he’s looking forward to watching the Timberwolves play an Orlando team that has Luke Ridnour on its roster. It’s good timing, because news report suggest Ridnour might retire after this season.

Some of Connor’s schoolmates at Squalicum say he’s famous. Connor doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m not really famous,” he said. “ It’s my story that’s famous.”

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