Patrick+ Logo

Blog

Patrick+

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Kundla, Mikkelsen were a tandem that couldn't be topped

The Minneapolis Lakers won a championship in six of their first seven seasons, 1948 to 1950, and then 1952 to 1954. It is very likely they would have won seven in a row, if center George Mikan had not broken an ankle near the end of the 1951 regular season, and tried to play while hobbling around in the playoffs.

The Lakers lost 3-1 in a best-of-5 series in the Western finals vs. the Rochester Royals, a team that then defeated the New York Knicks in seven games for an NBA title.

What do we old-timers say on occasion? “That was before my time.’’

The glory years of the Lakers were before my time. I was 8 when the Minneapolis Lakers won their last championship, beating the Syracuse Nationals in a Game 7 on April 12, 1954.

There are glimpses of sports events before that, by my first vivid memories occurred that fall: losing 50 cents to my Uncle Harry betting on 111-win Cleveland against Willie Mays and the New York Giants in the World Series, and being located in the end zone of an overflow crowd for the Gophers’ famous 22-20 victory over Iowa on Nov. 13 at Memorial Stadium.

I had been 9 for a month by then, so maybe that’s why I still can see clearly Bob McNamara’s kick return vs. the Hawkeyes. Go, Bob, go … keep going.

The other part of this absence of memory is that the Lakers were very much a Twin Cities thing. On the prairie of southwestern Minnesota, we fretted over Gophers football and closely followed baseball in all its forms – 16 major league teams, the Minneapolis Millers, and the town-team Fulda Giants.

I knew more about what was happening with the Milwaukee Braves (once they arrived from Boston in 1953) than the Minneapolis Lakers. And while I don’t remember specific games played by Paul Giel, I recall the disappointment in Fulda when he finished a narrow second to Notre Dame’s Johnny Lattner for the 1953 Heisman Trophy.

Baseball and Gophers football … and oh, yes, the state basketball tournament. Those were the preoccupations in Fulda, while the Lakers were winning championships.

My full appreciation for those Lakers came three decades later, when I started having conversations and writing occasional columns with John Kundla and Vern Mikkelsen as central characters.

I was taken by the great friendship between a former coach (Kundla) and Mikkelsen (player) from the Lakers glory.  It was a wonderful twist of fate that, after a long wait, Johnny and Mick were inducted together into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. in 1995.

John’s friendship helped to comfort Mikkelsen when Jean, Vern’s wife of 47 years, died in 2002. Mikkelsen’s friendship did the same for John when Marie, his wife of 65 years, died in 2007.

They went in the Hall of Fame together. They were honored together by the Los Angeles Lakers in the arena for a few grand days around L.A. Kundla and Mikkelsen would talk of the generosity of the Buss family with such gratitude that you knew it was a memory that would last forever.

Mikkelsen died on Nov. 21, 2013, at his home in Wayzata, at age 85. His son John was with him. Before his death, his grandsons Kyler, 12, and Caden, 10, talked with Mick  by phone from their home in Phoenix.

“It was beautiful,’’ John Mikkelsen said.

John Kundla returned a phone call to me from his apartment at Catholic Eldercare the next morning.

“Vern died … that’s terrible news,’’ Kundla said. “He was the gentle giant. Funny, too. He bragged about coming from the Rutabaga Capital of Minnesota. What was the name of that little town?’’

Askov.

“That’s right,’’ he said. “With the Lakers, we had a play called Askov that we ran all the time.’’

Kundla continued with family, other friends and bingo rivals at Catholic Eldercare. He reached 100 on July 3, 2016, and the milestone was marked with large stories in newspapers and prominent sports Websites around the country. The New York Times went full out with a piece on John a couple of weeks before he turned 100.

I offered this warning to John when visiting for the Star Tribune’s piece on his 100th birthday: “I wrote a column on Edor Nelson, the football coaching legend at Augsburg, on his 100th birthday, and Edor died a couple of weeks later.’’

John laughed and said he would try to avoid that jinx He made it another year, 101 on July 3, but there had been recent health setbacks and on Sunday, surrounded by much of his large family, John died in the early afternoon at Catholic Eldercare.

Karen Rodberg, John’s daughter, described the peacefulness of the event for her deeply religious father, and it sounded beautiful.

Mick and Johnny … grand friends, grand gentlemen.

Reusse: Wolves have made too many solid moves for this to be another failure

The free advice offered to the Twins as they started construction of a new ballpark was this: Make the exterior multi-colored painted bricks, in the style of Met Stadium.

“This will recall the excitement when the Twins first arrived on our prairie, and also the glory of that first decade in the major leagues,’’ I said. “It will be great.’’

The advice was dismissed out of hand.

Target Field went with a limestone theme, outside and in, and in retrospect it probably was a classier look than painted bricks.

Across the plaza from the ballpark, there is a $140 million remodeling being completed at Target Center, the arena that opened in 1990 with the then common idea of having several thousand more seats upstairs than down.

As part of the remodeling, there is a dark-brown covering made to look like wood being attached to the exterior. It’s not done yet, but my observation on Wednesday was that they should have stuck with the two light shades of concrete that have marked the building for 27 years.

Let’s face it: That’s not much of a budget -- $140 million and change – to improve an arena with this age, and the dollars spent covering the concrete could have been spent more productively elsewhere, I’d guess.

Plus, the new exterior could be confusing. The sole run of glory for the Timberwolves came and went in 2004, without an ensuing playoff appearance  – meaning, it’s been so long since most members of the sporting public have been to Target Center to see the Wolves that they could walk right by the place, looking for the trademark concrete.

The good news is that looking at the remodeling of the actual team from the outside is more impressive.

The final major piece in Tom Thibodeau’s roster manipulation was introduced on Wednesday in a low-key press gathering: Jamal Crawford, the 37-year-old guard who was first added to the NBA on the night of the 2000 draft at Target Center.

He was taken No. 8 by Charlotte, then immediately traded to Chicago for No. 7 selection Chris Mihm. The Wolves were hosting the draft but didn’t have a first rounder due a trade for Bobby Jackson and Dean Garrett.

That also was a couple of months before Xcel Energy Center opened in St. Paul and the Twin Cities learned that a decade had made quite a change in arena architecture, and for the benefit of customers.

Thibodeau had a blasé first season in charge of the Timberwolves, but he has followed that disappointment by bringing in Jimmy Butler through a trade, and Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and now Crawford as free agents.

The starters will be Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Butler and Teague, with Gibson up front and Crawford as the shooter off the bench. That’s seven deep in strong NBA talent, and Nemanja Bjelica could make it eight were he stay healthy for a season.

The rest of the roster currently consists of Cole Aldrich, Tyus Jones and Justin Patton, the No. 1 draft choice. On Wednesday, Patton could be seen pushing himself around a skyway on a medical scooter, with his left leg folded and with a walking boot.

There was no more Timberwolves’ thing than the recent day when the team issued a release announcing Patton’s signing, followed a half-hour later with a release that Patton had undergone surgery to repair a broken foot.

Timberwolves followers thought they might be done talking about big men with bad feet with the final buyout to the wonderful, wounded bear, Nikola Pekovic, and then his replacement, the rookie, doesn’t make it to Summer League without a bad foot.

This has to change, right? Everything that can go wrong can’t continue to go wrong for one franchise.

OK, the Wolves have brought most of it on themselves, but when you go out and get Butler, a star, and Teague, a well-regarded point guard, and add noble veterans such as Gibson and Crawford – and you already have Towns and Wiggins – it has to work, right?

The silliest thing we’ve been hearing is that Golden State can’t be touched for the next several years, so a team such as the Wolves might as well have kept adding young talent until the next decade, when the Warriors could be vulnerable.

Guaranteeing the future with any athletic team – even in a league as imbalanced and star-dominated as the NBA – is ridiculous. Basketball players break a foot on occasion. Kevin Durant played 27 games in 2014-15 after bone graft surgery in his right foot.

You can’t spend 13 years outside the playoffs, get players with the talent of Towns and Wiggins, and say, “We’re going to keep building.’’

This isn’t about a championship window. This is about getting back into the competitive mix. There’s too much energy in the NBA – people even take notice of Summer League – to continue as complete bystanders.

The new wood-like exterior and improved concessions aren’t going to change the Wolves’ status. Butler, Teague, Gibson and Crawford will do so, as long as the luck switches even a touch.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Sioux City at Saints

    7:05 pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at L.A. Dodgers

    9:10 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Canterbury Park live racing

    6:30 pm

  • Sioux City at Saints

    7:05 pm on 1220-AM

  • Lynx at Atlanta

    6:30 pm on FSN, 106.1-FM

  • Canterbury Park live racing

    6:30 pm

  • Saints at Sioux City

    7:05 pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at Oakland

    9:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Canterbury Park live racing

    12:45 pm

  • D.C. United at Minnesota United FC

    7 pm on Ch. 29, 1500-AM

  • Saints at Sioux City

    7:05 pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at Oakland

    8:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Canterbury Park live racing

    12:45 pm

  • Saints at Lincoln

    2:05 pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at Oakland

    3:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Seattle at Lynx

    6 pm on FSN/NBATV, 106.1-FM

  • Saints at Lincoln

    6:45 pm on 1220-AM

  • Saints at Lincoln

    6:45 pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at San Diego

    9:10 pm on FS1, 96.3-FM

Today's Scoreboard

  • Chicago White Sox

    Chicago Cubs

     

    - F

    2

    7

  • Cincinnati

    NY Yankees

     

    - F

    2

    4

  • Houston

    Philadelphia

     

    - F

    5

    0

  • Milwaukee

    Washington

     

    - F

    8

    0

  • Oakland

    Toronto

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • LA Angels

    Cleveland

     

    - F

    7

    11

  • Kansas City

    Detroit

     

    - F

    3

    1

  • Baltimore

    Tampa Bay

     

    - F

    4

    5

  • Miami

    Texas

     

    - F

    4

    10

  • Colorado

    St. Louis

     

    - F

    2

    3

  • Atlanta

    Arizona

     

    - F

    8

    3

  • Minnesota

    LA Dodgers

     

    - F

    2

    6

  • NY Mets

    San Diego

     

    - F

    6

    5

  • Boston

    Seattle

     

    - F

    5

    6

  • Pittsburgh

    San Francisco

     

    - F

    3

    11

No NFL games today

No NBA games today

No NHL games today

No MLS games today