David Stern came to Minneapolis Wednesday likely for his final time as NBA commissioner. On the two-day visit, he will meet Thursday with Mayor R.T. Rybak about a $100 million-plus Target Center refurbishment he said will bring the arena "into the 21st century" and ensure the Timberwolves' presence in Minnesota long after owner Glen Taylor sells the team.
The city, team and arena management company AEG Facilities remain in negotiations to finalize details of how much and who pays for what in a project approved as part of the Vikings stadium bill.
Stern compared the refurbishment to updates done over time to Detroit's Palace at Auburn Hills, Phoenix's U.S. Airways Arena and New York City's Madison Square Garden that have kept those arenas viable while the Sacramento Kings' owners recently submitted to the NBA an agreement to sell their franchise to a Seattle group after the California city failed to finalize a new arena.
"I don't think fans have to worry about that at all," Stern said when asked about the Timberwolves' long-term future in Minnesota.
Taylor has prepared the Wolves for sale, a process he once hoped would be completed before this season but now has an indefinite timetable. He has said he'd like to sell minority interest in the team as part of a multi-year plan for him to eventually sell all or most of it.
Stern said he is "pretty involved" in that process which says Taylor is pursuing in a "very thoughtful and prudent way."
"I think eventually it will happen," Stern said. "Glen is not what you'd call an anxious seller. Sometimes I think he may have seller's remorse even though he hasn't sold it because he loves the team and he loves what it does for the community."
Stern will retire next February, 30 years after he was promoted to league commissioner.
In that time, the NBA has grown from an afterthought of a pro sports league that previously had trouble getting its championship series broadcast in prime time into a tremendous international money-maker.
In that time, Stern has severely punished Taylor and the Wolves for their illegal signing of free-agent Joe Smith in 1999 and in recent years has embraced Taylor as one of his most trusted owners who just recently completed a term as chairman of the NBA's Board of Governors.
"The team did what it did at that time and I did what I had to do as commissioner," said Stern, who ultimately heavily fined the team, suspended Taylor and executive Kevin McHale and stripped away three first-round draft picks. "But that didn't stop me from respecting Glen as a businessman and as a person, and I'd say we have become very good friends and work closely together. I have enormous respect not only for his business acumen, but for his very, very serious concern for this team and its future in the Twin Cities.
"He wants it to stay here and all discussions of sale revolve around finding the person or persons who will commit to keep it a first-class franchise in the Twin Cities."
Stern spoke at a media gathering on a number of other topics, including:
• The possibility of the NBA All-Star Game returning to Target Center for the first time since 1994: He said Target Center isn't "currently configured" for that, but "after the refurbishment, I'll tell (incoming commissioner) Adam Silver that he definitely should open the envelope on the Minnesota All-Star bid application."
• The Sacramento-Seattle situation: He said the NBA has received a signed agreement for the Kings to be sold to a group that will move them to Seattle. The league will consider that agreement at its Board of Governors meeting in April, when it also could receive an offer from a Sacramento group offering to keep the team there in a new city-subsidized arena.
• Testing for human-growth hormone: Stern said it could begin, with the players association's approval, by next season.
• Corporate logos on players' uniforms: Stern said that day is coming even if he doesn't like the idea, but it won't come this season or next before he retires. "When it does happen, I would like you to send me a postcard because I really want to keep track of it," he said.