There are Minnesotans absorbed with every sport. You can see them at frigid, bare-bone hockey rinks and small-town baseball fields, not because they have a rooting interest but for the simple reason that there is a game to be seen.
I’ve always felt there was something special about the basketball nut, the addict who needs a gym like an activist needs a cause.
You can sit right on top of a basketball game — take in every movement, analyze a key possession as if you were Hubie Brown. Basketball does more than clutter your mind; the sweat of a small gym can get into your pores, just from watching.
There are basketball aficionados in Minnesota. And then there is Terry Kunze.
Dennis Fitzpatrick, godfather of the daily game “Noonball” in St. Paul, pal of the late Rick Majerus and a thousand more basketball guys, was asked about Kunze’s standing among Minnesota’s basketball nuts.
“The best,” Fitzpatrick responded. “Full of it, but he knows his ball.”
Kunze was the 6-4 star guard on Duluth Central’s 1961 state championship team. He played for the Gophers, and later for Minnesota Muskies in the one season (1967-68) that they existed as an ABA entry.
He played and coached in Europe, was an assistant for Jim Dutcher with the Gophers, coached the Minnesota Fillies in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, coached at Mora High School and Anoka-Ramsey Community College … and now, 75, his basketball addiction remains in full force.
This has to be the best, Terry — the Final Four here in Minneapolis? Where are your seats?
“Why would I want to go to a game and sit 100 yards away from the floor?” Kunze said. “I like to analyze the game. I like to look for the adjustments. And that’s what I’ll be doing, while sitting in front of my 65-inch television.”
Kunze paused, leaned forward on the table at the Perkins in Fridley, where they know him by his first name, and said: ‘With replays!”
The 65-inch TV is where he now watches Timberwolves games, after 25 years as a ticket-holder. It’s where he watches games from the Spanish League.
“I tape all of them; Channel 623,” Kunze said. “I watch other games from Europe. France … that’s pretty good basketball. I also watch a few state tournaments. Texas is one. There’s good high school basketball in Texas.”
Does this mean Terry Kunze is now a basketball couch potato? Not exactly.
This winter, he saw 60 high school games around the state as a member of the Mr. Basketball committee. He’s also a constant presence at MIAC games, and junior college games — and then there are trips to Sioux Falls.
Terry’s younger brother Bill is retired there, after teaching and coaching at Duluth East. The Timberwolves play 82 games and, for all of them, Terry makes the call to his brother to set up the wager:
One selects his team based on the point spread, the other on the over-and-under, and there’s the odd-even bet on what the point total will be after each quarter.
“Terry’s been killing me on the odd-evens lately,” Bill said.
In March, Terry heads for Sioux Falls for a couple of weeks. The Kunzes go to the Northern Sun tournament, the Summit League tournament, G-League games if the Skyforce is in town, and the South Dakota state basketball tournament.
The Kunzes grew up in a crowded house four blocks from Lake Superior in the Duluth Central area. Bill laughed and offered this remembrance:
“We had a house, when it was blowing hard off the lake and the windows were shut, there was still enough wind getting through to blow a piece of paper off the table.”
The Kunzes spent as many hours at the YMCA gym down the street as they did at home.
“We weren’t members; we just walked in,” Bill said. “We were there so much I think they thought we were members.”
Terry Kunze was a bench warmer for the YMCA’s Fighting Toads team in grade school, then started to grow, and became a marksman and ballhandler extraordinaire.
“When Terry was about a sophomore, he’d go out in the driveway, and start dribbling, and tell me and my friends, four or five of us, if we could knock the ball away, he’d give us a nickel,” Bill said. “We’d never get that nickel.”
After college, before the Muskies, Kunze played for Sunair Oosteende in Ostend, Belgium. He went back for several years in the ’70s and was popular enough to author a basketball instructional book that was translated into Flemish.
Later, he coached there, including a championship team for Sunair for 1987.
“You better win in Europe,” Kunze said. “You lose a few in a row, you get fired.”
Kunze’s an artist, and would spend hours during the day painting city squares and other scenes.
“I had a show of my paintings over there,” he said.
Now, through the winter of basketball and summer Pacesetter high school and AAU tournaments, what he looks for is talent on the basketball court.
“This Jalen Suggs kid at Minnehaha … we’ve never had anything like him,” Kunze said. “We have more players than ever in Minnesota, enough to win the Big Ten if the Gophers could get them, but this Suggs.”
Terry Kunze then leaned forward and, wide-eyed, said: “He moves like a reindeer!”