Why aren’t we upset?
That’s the first thought that came to mind Wednesday when it was reported that Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor had told us what he thought we wanted to hear instead of, you know, the truth.
It already should have been considered disconcerting that Taylor agreed to sell his NBA and WNBA teams to out-of-towners Alex Rodriguez and billionaire Marc Lore, but Taylor wanted to soothe any fears about potential relocation so he attempted to assure us that there would be a provision in the $1.5 billion agreement that would require that Rodriguez and Lore keep the franchise in Minnesota.
“You see, the agreement says the Wolves can’t move,” was the retort given to those who suggested that a billionaire and a disgraced former big-leaguer might have ulterior motives and consider us a bunch of easy to fool bumkins. Taylor’s mistruth was only exposed because Meyer Orbach, the Wolves’ second-largest shareholder, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court that claims Taylor is not honoring the “tag-along rights” for minority investors in the franchise.
If that had been the extent of the complaint nobody would have cared, and Orbach knew this, so the complaint, first reported by ESPN, included the fact that Taylor had included nothing in the deal that would stop Lore and Rodriguez from heading to Las Vegas, Seattle or any other location. Suddenly, a boring business story became very interesting. Or did it?
Taylor’s whooper of a fib was met with a couple of reactions in the Twin Cities: 1) Who cares if the Wolves move? Good riddance. 2) The Wolves aren’t going anywhere, just calm down. New owners in Las Vegas and Seattle will pay huge expansion fees and the NBA isn’t going to let A-Rod and Lore cost them that money. The league will block any move so this is a non-story.
To the first group of people: You never want to lose a professional sports franchise in a major sport. It’s a terrible look and city and state leaders will end up pursuing a replacement that will be far more expensive. How do I know? I lived through it.
The more important message goes to Group 2: Have you heard of the Minnesota North Stars? Minnesota, which now goes by the State of Hockey, managed to lose its first NHL team because too many people didn’t show enough concern until it was too late. That ball got rolling in the late 1980s when the Gund brothers, not Norm Green, began looking for improvements to Met Center and were ignored. That set off a chain of events that ended with new owner Norm Green relocating the team to Dallas.
For those who say the Wolves aren’t going to Las Vegas or Seattle because each of those cities will get expansion teams, there is another lesson that can be learned from what went on with the North Stars. Green’s initial choice for relocation was Anaheim, Calif., but Disney had a cute little movie out called “The Mighty Ducks” and the NHL wanted to Disney to have an expansion franchise of the same name in Orange County. The agreement was if Green didn’t move to Anaheim, he could take the North Stars anywhere else. He did exactly that.
There is one thing that will alleviate concerns about the Wolves packing up the moving trucks: A new arena. The North Stars never would have left if Green had gotten the improvements he wanted at Met Center, but when that didn’t happen, and it was clear that there wasn’t enough revenue to go around if the Wolves and North Stars shared the brand-new Target Center, what would become the State of Hockey became the State without the NHL.
Target Center is now 31 year old — or five years older than Met Center was when the North Stars bolted — and despite a couple of remodels it is among the oldest buildings in the NBA. While there have been improvements made, the most recent renovations cost $140 million, the upgrades can’t make it a state-of-the-art building. While Rodriguez and Lore aren’t expected to assume full control until 2023, it won’t be long before they begin to make rumblings about the need for a new building.
That $50 million it would cost for the Wolves to break a lease that runs through 2035, would be happily paid by any city that gets the franchise.
This is how the game works. Odds are the new owners will offer to make some type of contribution to the new building, but if you don’t think they will be looking for help you haven’t been paying attention. If city, state and county officials are willing to help, Rodriguez and Lore will be more than happy to remain in Minnesota. If they look at all of the money that has gone into building the plethora of new stadiums in the Twin Cities and decide they’ve had enough, it will be only a matter of time before the threats begin.
In the case of the Vikings, New Jersey residents Zygi and Mark Wilf made it clear what they needed and they eventually got it because they own the most popular team in town. The owner(s) of the Wolves do not have the same advantage. What they do have is the ability to say they are looking at Seattle and Las Vegas — just as Green flirted with Anaheim — and then agree not to go to either of those cities as long as the league won’t fight a move to another destination.
Taylor had an opportunity to offer a strong assurance Thursday that there was concrete evidence he had been telling the truth. “I am aware of the story published by ESPN and the litigation that has been filed,” Taylor said in a statement. “As a policy, we do not comment on pending legal matters. I stand by my prior statements and commitment to keeping the Timberwolves and Lynx in Minnesota.”
Not exactly a strong reassurance that everything will be OK. That shouldn’t come as a shock.
By the time the Target Center storm would begin to brew, Taylor will be comfortable in his Mankato mansion, counting his millions and long past the headaches that go with owning this woebegone franchise. Will he feel guilty about hoodwinking us, or just laugh at how gullible we all were when he assured us that Rodriguez and Lore were committed to Minnesota?
Right now, I’d put my money on the latter.