Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises: The Minnesota Timberwolves and an Unlikely Hero

Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises: The Minnesota Timberwolves and an Unlikely Hero

Editor's Note: This is the last piece in our series of Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises until the NBA expands to Europe. You can expect the London Fire FMUF around 2022.

In 1987 the NBA added four expansion franchises, making a heavy push into the southeast market by granting teams to Charlotte, Orlando, and Miami. And what the hell, they threw a bone to the former owners of the Minneapolis Lakers and gave Minnesota a franchise!

For an expansion team, the first year was a success, as the team set a (still standing) NBA record for attendance, and were generally not awful, just pretty bad. They even had a player on the all-rookie team, the wonderfully named Pooh Richardson. The next few years however, were pretty bad, and the Timberwolves owners were looking to sell.

I know it may seem hard to believe for recent NBA fans, but in this saga, David Stern and NBA owners were on the side of the good guys. Stern worked as a mediator in an attempt to solve the differences between the team and operators of its arena, but his efforts were in vain. The owners didn’t really give a shit who owned the team, as long as they got paid. Got paid they did on May 23, 1994, when an ownership group known as Top Rank purchased the team and filed paperwork to move the Timberwolves to New Orleans. Early front-runners for the name of the team (because who ever heard of a Timberwolf in Louisiana? It’s not like there is a team in Salt Lake City, the whitest big city in America, called the Jazz or anything) included the New Orleans Rhythm and New Orleans Angels. Really?

But wait a second. We all saw Kevin Garnett toil away in the Twin Cities, and are now witnessing the rebirth of the Kevin Love led-Timberwolves take place. How the hell did that happen? Remember earlier, when I said in this story David Stern and the owners are the good guys? A month after Top Rank bought the Timberwolves, the league’s relocation committee rejected the move to New Orleans. It was then revealed that the Top Rank group was hilariously under-financed: $40 million of the $152 million franchise price was to be paid by “unknown” investors, $50 million from “projected” revenues, and the rest on yet-to-be-secured bank loans. Basically, a couple of guys like yourself walked up to the Timberwolves owner with a fistful of Monopoly money and a business plan straight out of Blank Check and bought the team.

But David Stern was only getting started. The league filed a lawsuit blocking the move of the team from Minnesota, which we’re pretty sure Stern filed in full Superman getup. Eventually, after a long search and a couple whiffs, the league was able to secure a local owner, Glen Taylor, for the team, and they have played in Minneapolis ever since.

The Timberwolves have had a lot of bad years, and when KG was around, a run of pretty good years. They even made it to the Western Conference Finals once! Assuming Ricky Rubio returns to full health, we could be witnessing another long playoff run in the Great White North. Hell, I’m so high on this team that I think an argument can be made that the T-Wolves most fortunate moment will be this upcoming season, especially if Brandon Roy plays anywhere close to his best.

But, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if it weren’t for a local owner, the commissioner, and the NBA Board of Governors, who saved basketball in Minnesota. Kinda makes you Sonics fans throw up in your mouth a bit doesn’t it?

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