The Timberwolves are honoring a blast from Minnesota's basketball past starting this week, and as usual there is no better way than money to point out the differences between sports then and sports now.
The Wolves' game on Wednesday against Indiana is the first of six "Hardwood Classics" games in which players will wear jerseys from the Minnesota Muskies of the old American Basketball Association. Muskies merchandise will be available for purchase at those games -- including jerseys, which cost $110. That's roughly twice as much as longtime local sports figure Dick Jonckowski made per week working in public relations for the Muskies during 1967-68, their one and only season here.
"I was making $60 a week. The team didn't have a lot of money," Jonckowski said. We had our office in the same building, same floor, as the ABA office. We tried everything. We just didn't draw any people."
The Muskies played at the Met Center in Bloomington, but they didn't need all 15,000 seats. One estimate said the Muskies sold 100 season tickets -- something one might call an unsustainable business model these days. Jonckowski said the number might have been a little higher. But he also says he once actually used one of the great lines in poor attendance lore on a customer.
"A woman called the office and asked what time a game started," he said. "I asked her, 'What time can you get here?'"
On the court, the Muskies were a success -- they went 50-28 and won a playoff series before falling to the Pittsburgh Pipers. Strangely enough, when the Muskies folded up shop, the Pipers moved here from Pittsburgh and played a year before they, too, vanished in history. A fan vote determined whether the Muskies or Pipers would be honored during the Hardwood Classics games, and the Muskies won out.
Jonckowski will be on hand for the game Wednesday against the Pacers -- also a charter member of the old ABA -- and has donated some memorabilia to the Timberwolves for use during the Hardwood Classics games. The ABA was different era, indeed -- but one Jonckowski is glad to see get some recognition.
"I don't think a lot of people know we had those teams," he said. "I'll mention [the Muskies and Pipers] and people will say, 'Who?' They didn't know who they were."