After listening to the Timberwolves' owners talk, I'm worried about team relocation.
I'm worried that they won't move.
Incoming owners Mark Lore and Alex Rodriguez sat alongside current owner Glen Taylor on Monday morning and discussed management philosophies. Later, I asked Lore, who is promising to make the Wolves winners, about his goal of creating a futuristic city.
"That's in the future, a multidecade project," he said.
Lore's dream is a $400 billion, new-age, self-sustaining, eco-friendly city in the desert.
He believes that no worker should have to commute more than 15 minutes. That all trash should be stored underground. That all vehicles should be autonomous. Lore is promoting an economic system he calls "equitism," a reformed version of capitalism, and envisions a city that would look to blend the best of New York, Stockholm and Tokyo.
Let me state this unequivocally:
This is crazy.
I mean, the part about the Timberwolves winning.
The Jetson City thing? That has a much better chance of happening.
Here's the problem with new-owner-meets-local-press functions. The message is always the same: "I, successful and innovative rich person, will apply the principles that made me a successful and innovative rich person to this sports team, which will guarantee success."
Lore is a remarkable story, and Rodriguez once hit a double down the left-field line to beat the Twins in a playoff game. Combine the two, and you get one accomplished business operator.
Lore is making the same assumption that every other major league sports owner makes, that changing "culture" and business practices will result in championships. But now he's competing with 29 other billionaires whose business practices made them rich enough to afford a bouncy-ball company.
Take Taylor. He's one of the most impressive business people in Minnesota history, right up there with the inventor of the bucket of melting cookies. He saved the Wolves from leaving town and bought the Star Tribune because he cares about local institutions.
Applying the business principles that made him a self-made billionaire, Taylor has made a series of disastrous hires that have helped the Minnesota Timberwolves become one of the worst sports franchises in modern American history.
In a league that allows any team that can dribble straight into its postseason, the Wolves haven't won a playoff series since 2004.
Even crazier, Taylor once hired to run his basketball operation a former sportswriter.
So if Lore wants to tell me that someday I'll be living in a magical city where geese don't poop and every bar can honestly say it serves the coldest beer in town, hey, I'm a believer. Slap that rocket on my back, give me those VR glasses that show Vikings kickers making all of their clutch field goals, and count me in.
But if you're trying to tell me that the "vision" that makes Walmart a smidgen more profitable is going to create an NBA champion, I've got a nice patch of desert to sell you.
Monday, Rodriguez painted himself as someone who, like Lore, started at "the bottom" and made a success of himself. Fine. He also painted himself as a championship guru, and said that details like "showerheads" can help change a culture.
Showerheads have nothing to do with it. The Twins had leaky Metrodome showerheads when they won two titles, and the Lynx had the same showerhead design as the Wolves when they won four titles.
Rodriguez played for 22 seasons and won one championship — when his New York Yankees outspent every other team in a sport lacking a salary cap by $65 million ($201 million compared to the Mets' and Cubs' $135 million).
They literally bought a title. Lore and Rodriguez will not be able to do that in the NBA without breaking a lot of rules.
If they turn the Wolves into winners, it won't be because of magical thinking. Either they'll hire the right person to run their basketball operation, or they won't. Sports history suggests doing so requires an unpredictable blend of intuition and luck, two commodities that can't be purchased over the counter.