With Lynx and Wolves, Jim Petersen sees basketball inside and out

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 18, 2013 - 6:55 AM

Jim Petersen is a Lynx coach who analyzes Wolves games. Or maybe that should be turned around. Each of his jobs makes him better at the other.

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Twice a year, for about 10 days each time, Jim Petersen will come out of the film room, leave the bench and step away from the microphone.

Maybe even rest.

For half the year Petersen, the former NBA post player, is a Lynx assistant coach, working with the team’s frontcourt. His summers used to be spent golfing with stepson Sanjay Lumpkin. Now they are spent in dark film rooms and with the Lynx, adding some in-game cool to counterbalance fiery head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The other half of the year, Petersen slides over a few chairs. Days after the WNBA playoffs end, Petersen will start his 16th season broadcasting Timberwolves games.

Petersen, who is woven into Minnesota’s basketball fabric, does this by choice. The son of a truck driver and a nurse, he grew up in St. Louis Park knowing the value of work. He had a heart attack in November of 2010 but was back behind the microphone three days later.

Besides, is it really work when you love every minute?

“They feed each other,” Petersen said of his two lives, one looking at the game from the inside, the other from the outside. “The analyst feeds the coach, the coach feeds the analyst, and it’s an unbelievably fulfilling situation.”

A basketball life

For Petersen, 51, it’s a continuation of a basketball life. He played in three state tournaments at St. Louis Park High. He was the state’s first McDonald’s All-America selection. In four years at the University of Minnesota, Petersen helped win the Gophers’ last official Big Ten Conference championship in 1982. During his eight-year NBA career with the Rockets, Kings and Warriors from 1984 to ’92, Petersen reached the NBA Finals in 1986 while backing up Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in Houston.

“I’ve been able to do a lot of things,” Petersen said. “I’ve been able to reach a lot of my goals.”

When he looks back, Petersen sometimes wishes he’d been more confident. But with age that confidence — and more accomplishment — has come. He earned a WNBA championship ring in 2011. His work as a coach has made him a more incisive analyst. But his Minnesota roots have prevented him from ever losing his perspective.

“He doesn’t think he’s anything special,” said Bob Stein, Petersen’s friend and former agent. “That’s what makes him special.”

But it took a while to get here. Sore knees forced Petersen from the NBA in 1992. He moved to the Bay Area, determined to use a yoga-based discipline to get healthy while working with the NBA Players Association. Then to San Diego, to return to school, where a friend in the NBAPA convinced Petersen to coach her daughter’s sixth-grade team.

“I took this ragtag group of girls from this private school in La Jolla and we ended up winning the city championship,” Petersen said. “I realized it was so much fun to mold this group of girls, make them feel really great about themselves. I felt as good about that as I did about winning the Western Conference championship as a player.”

Making connections

As so often happens, a career path was formed by connections and circumstances.

Looking for a dentist, Petersen found Dr. Michael Sudit, whose son’s youth basketball team — Stein’s nephew was on that team, too — was looking for a coach. Arm-twisting ensued, and Petersen took the job. Then-Wolves coach Flip Saunders and assistant Randy Wittman had sons in the league.

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