Reusse: Protesters occupying NBA's void

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2011 - 12:18 AM

Not far from where eager Wolves fans lamented a lockout, Wall Street bashers made their case, unaware of the Wolves' forced absence.

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NBA hoops were on last Nov. 5 in the season oepner at Target Center, where the Wolves' Darko Milicic tried to block a shot by Atlanta's Jeff Teague.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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The original NBA schedule called for the Timberwolves to open the 2011-12 season on Wednesday night against Atlanta at Target Center.

This would have been the league debut for Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams, and also the official Minnesota debut of a much-respected coach in Rick Adelman.

"In June, when the Wolves signed Rubio and then drafted Williams, there was definitely more buzz on the Timberwolves than at any time since [Kevin] Garnett left," David Klarich said. "I think people still could get pumped up to see what a coach like Adelman could do with those young guys."

He paused, looked around Hubert's restaurant and bar, and said: "We're going to have to wait awhile to find out.''

Klarich works for the company that operates the Hubert's on the first level of Target Center (as opposed to the original Hubert's still next to the Metrodome).

The Target Center restaurant was rebranded from NBA City to Hubert's in April 2010, when the Twins started playing at Target Field.

The NBA would have been the attraction again on Wednesday night.

"Opening night ... we probably would've had six bartenders, 12 servers and a couple of managers working," Klarich said.

The owners' lockout of the players took care of that. The first month of regular-season games has been canceled, with no evidence that either side is ready to make a deal.

And so with no opener to be played, Kayla Johnson was getting ready to finish her late afternoon shift as the lone bartender.

A manager also was on duty. There were two customers at the bar and three guys at a table, having a drink at Happy Hour prices.

"I've always liked basketball," Johnson said. "It's real sad for the fans. And for me. If the Timberwolves were playing, maybe I wouldn't have to be working another job."

The Hubert's staff does remain grateful for the championship run by the Lynx that included five games at Target Center.

"The Lynx crowd was excited to support a winning team," Klarich said. "It was a nice contrast to the season the Twins had, with the way the Vikings started, and with no basketball."

There was a much larger crowd to be found six blocks east of Target Center, where a few dozen people milled on the plaza in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. Most were associated with the Minneapolis branch of the Occupy Wall Street protest.

Around 5 p.m., a score of protesters broke off and started across the street to the jail. Most were tooting whistles. There were signs, and a pair included these messages:

"Solidarity with Prisoners" and "Cops & Capitalism Go Hand in Hand.''

Jamie Utphall, a lifelong union member now retired, and Josh Harein, a young man of large ideals, were on the plaza and looking at the protest now taking place in front of the jail.

They lamented the signs that made this protest look as if it were pro-prisoner and anti- police.

"We're not here for that," Utphall said. "We're here to change some of the government's policies toward Wall Street, toward bankers ... to change some of the government's policies that make it harder for people than it has to be."

Speaking of other issues: The NBA season should be starting in a couple of hours down the street. Do you miss having games to watch?

Utphall nodded below the Twins hat he was wearing and said: "I've slept out here for the past 19 nights, but, yeah ... if I was home and an NBA game was on, I would watch it.

"I wouldn't watch the Timberwolves, but I would watch a more interesting team."

Utphall was asked if as a union guy, he finds himself sympathizing with the NBA players association in this struggle against management.

"I don't see them the same as factory workers; it's millionaires fighting billionaires," he said.

Harein interjected that he didn't consider pro basketball players to be part of the "99 percent'' that the Occupy Wall Street protest claims to represent.

There was a pause and Harein said: "Why are you asking if I support the NBA players?"

The lockout imposed by management, Josh ... the lockout that has postponed the season.

"I didn't know anything about that," Harein said. "I've never watched a game of basketball in my life. When I watch TV, they are shows with meaning -- on ancient aliens, on tangible things from our past."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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