Jim Petersen played eight seasons in the NBA from 1984 to 1992. This placed him on the court occasionally with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the magnificent threesome that put the NBA on the path to the financial juggernaut it is today.
The brushes with these legends increased Petersen’s interest in observing greatness.
“I’ve made it a point to try to watch greatness on their stage,” Petersen said. “That’s various musicians; that’s Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter and those people as athletes.”
Monitoring greatness in basketball has been easy for Petersen to attain. He has been part of the Timberwolves’ broadcast team for the 17 years — four seasons on radio and 13 on television (including the past 12).
Petersen took on a summer job in 2009 as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Lynx. There were two coaches that season, Don Zierden and Jen Gillom, and Petersen has worked for Cheryl Reeve since she was hired before the 2010 season.
The Lynx went 13-21 in 2010. At that point, the franchise had been in business for 12 summers, had reached the playoffs twice and had a grand total of one playoff victory.
What they did have, thanks to earlier trades with the Connecticut Sun, were two of the four spots in the 2011 draft lottery. The Lynx finished first — allegedly with their own Ping-Pong balls — and wound up with Maya Moore.
“If you’re like me and want to observe greatness, and you haven’t watched Maya Moore play basketball, you’re really missing out on something,” Petersen said.
The Lynx landed Seimone Augustus as the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. They brought home Lindsay Whalen in a trade with the Sun for 2010. These are terrific players, gold medal-winning Olympians in the 2012 London Games.
Yet, when the Lynx went from a losing franchise hanging on only through the loyalty of owner Glen Taylor to what they are today was when the lottery was won for the 2011 draft, and Moore came to Minneapolis.
“Have you ever heard of anyone winning in a team sport as much as Maya Moore?” Petersen said.
Not really. She was a combined 275-7 in high school and college. UConn went 39-0 in both championship seasons with Moore. She shares the Olympic gold medal with Augustus and Whalen, and also won world championships in 2010 and 2014.
Moore’s first international season was for Valencia in Spain in 2011-12. Her team won the Spanish and EuroLeague titles. She signed a four-year deal with Shanxi in the Chinese League in 2012. That team has won three consecutive titles.
On Sunday, Moore did it again. The Lynx and their new main rival, Phoenix, were tied 71-all near the end of Game 3 of their playoff series.
“Maya makes the steal, she gets fouled, she makes the free throw, and we’re in the finals … again,” Petersen said.
The WNBA reviewed the final play and decided a foul should not have been called. Of course, the Mercury might not have had to worry about all that whining if they had kept the ball away from Moore’s quick hands in the final seconds.
This will be the fourth time in the WNBA Finals in the five years that Moore, 26, has been in the Lynx lineup. They won in 2011, were upset by the Indiana Fever in 2012, and won again in 2013. They get the Fever again starting Sunday at Target Center.
The Lynx were 1-4 in the playoffs in 12 years of existence before Moore. They are 26-8 with Moore.
A franchise that couldn’t get out of its own way for a dozen years is now going for its third WNBA title in the five years of Maya Moore.
Have you ever seen such a winner?
“Maya’s not the quickest player, but she’s fast,” Petersen said. “She’s not the biggest player, but she’s physical. And she just makes so many plays.”
Petersen laughed slightly and said: “Some of them are drawn up in the game plan; some of them aren’t. The way I put it, ‘She goes rogue.’ Sometimes when she goes rogue, it turns into a great play. The rest of the time, Cheryl is yelling at her.
“I’ve never seen a great player get yelled at as much as Maya. She just takes it. Maya has that rare ability to put a bad play — a foul, missed shot, whatever — behind her and instantly get back in the moment.
“That’s what I’ve noticed in the great ones. They don’t dwell on what just happened. They are looking at what’s going to happen … about what play they are going to make next.”
Petersen laughed again.
“Going rogue … she’s like the musician who goes off riffing,” Petersen said. “You say, ‘What are they doing?’ and then it turns into magic.”