If Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor finds a suitable buyer to meet his demands and his asking price for the club, it will end one of the most important pro sports tenures in state history.
The word from Taylor is that he wants to start getting his business profiles in order as he gets ready to turn 80 years old next year.
Yes, local geniuses are always quick to point out that the Wolves have had real struggles on the court, but the simple fact is there wouldn’t be a team on the court at all if it wasn’t for the great effort put forth by Taylor to purchase the franchise back in 1994 for $90 million.
The writing was on the wall: If the Wolves were unable to find a buyer to keep the club they were gone. New Orleans was ready to welcome them, and the Twin Cities were viewed at the time as a failing sports town. The North Stars had moved to Dallas in 1993, somehow leaving one of the biggest hockey regions in the country without a team.
If the Wolves had moved, who knows what would have happened to sports in the state?
There have been other threats to local teams — the Twins were nearly contracted in 2002, the Vikings were long rumored to be moving under owner Red McCombs and were also targets for Los Angeles until U.S. Bank Stadium got built.
But the threat against the Wolves was so serious that in 1994 NBA Commissioner David Stern had 32-year-old Adam Silver, then the NBA chief of staff, lead a legal challenge against Top Rank of Louisiana to keep the Wolves in Minnesota until a suitable buyer could be found to take the team from then-Wolves owners Harvey Ratner and Marvin Wolfenson.
That buyer was Taylor.
Keeping the team local
Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, is making sure that whoever buys the Wolves will guarantee to keep them in Minnesota, and that just shows how great of an owner Taylor has been, and how much this team means to him.
When Taylor purchased the club, the Mankato businessman’s ties to Minnesota were a big bonus.
Silver, who took over for Stern as NBA commissioner in 2014, told me in August 1994 that there were several potential buyers for the Wolves.
“There were other individuals who had contacted the league office about buying the team,” Silver said then. “Some of them were located out of Minnesota. But all agreed to keep the team here. We naturally preferred a local owner.”
Silver added that he thought there was a lot of room for growth with the Wolves and that Taylor was going to be the right owner.
“We believe there is a real upside here for Mr. Taylor,” Silver said. “We only expect the team will get better and the fans will continue to show support for the team.”
The fact that Taylor bought the team for around $90 million and now might sell it for more than $1 billion shows how right Silver was.
Target Center lease
Even when the NBA approved Taylor’s purchase of the team, the Wolves weren’t in the clear yet regarding their future in Minnesota; the deal was contingent on Target Center being transferred to public ownership. Taylor had to go through a tough negotiation with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission on a new 30-year lease.
In September 1994, Taylor was speaking at the Dunkers downtown and in the audience was Bill Lester, the MSFC executive director.
Taylor didn’t hold back when saying he wasn’t going to sign a lease that didn’t guarantee the club would stay in the Twin Cities for the long haul.
“The worst thing I could do is sign something ... [and] embarrass my family, my business and my partners, all of you or the fans of Minnesota by coming back five to 10 years from now, saying, ‘We’ve got problems.’ ” Taylor said. “If I found myself in a position where I was signing a lease that would force me to move the team out of Minnesota, then I wouldn’t do the deal.”
Target Center was most recently remodeled in 2017 at a cost of $140 million, of which Taylor paid $60 million. The improvements were primarily to the exterior and the main entry.
It also gave the club new seating and concourses and tied the Wolves to the Target Center lease until 2035.
Not for lack of trying
And while the Wolves haven’t found the success on the court that Taylor has always wanted, it hasn’t been for a lack of resources or trying.
Taylor gave out historically large contracts and hired some top talents in coaching — Rick Adelman, Tom Thibodeau and of course Flip Saunders, twice.
For whatever reason, it has never worked exactly right for the club.
But there’s reason for optimism with the current Wolves, with coach Ryan Saunders, Gersson Rosas leading the front office and Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell teaming up on the court next season.
• Giving Mike Zimmer a new contract was a no-brainer for the Vikings. The coach’s new deal will keep him with the team through 2023. Assuming the NFL plays this season, it means Zimmer will have a chance to match Dennis Green’s 10 seasons. That would tie for the second-longest tenure in club history behind Bud Grant’s 17.
• The Vikings have only five opponents on their schedule who had a winning record last season. The Vikings play four of those five opponents in the first five weeks — Green Bay, Tennessee, Houston and Seattle — before playing the Packers again Nov. 1 and New Orleans on Christmas. The Vikings also have three games against opponents who were 8-8 last year in Dallas and Chicago twice.
• New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, the Vikings offensive coordinator last year, hired Kevin Rogers, Vikings quarterbacks coach from 2006 to ’11, to be Cleveland’s senior offensive assistant coach.
• Street & Smith’s college football preview magazine picked the Gophers to finish fourth in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa.
• It has to feel great for former Wild President Tod Leiweke to have a name to attach to Seattle’s NHL team in the Kraken. It’s a big success for Leiweke, who will be president and CEO of the club.
• Look for Gophers men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko to make a big push on the recruiting trail for Maddox Fleming, who played for Rochester Mayo and Shattuck St. Mary’s. Fleming is generally considered one of the best prospects in the country for the Class of 2022. He recently made the roster for the U17 United States national team development program. Other Minnesotans on that roster are Cruz Lucius (Grant), James Snuggerud (Chaska), Charlie Stramel (Rosemount) and Ryan Chesley (Mahtomedi).