Posted Oct 25 2009 3:54PM
MANKATO, Minn. -- If real life were an old Randolph Scott Western, this "micropolitan" area about 70 miles southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul might be the sort of town bought and paid for by one all-powerful land owner, a man all the ranch hands, trail bums and storekeepers respect and fear. Or it's what Bedford Falls would have been in It's a Wonderful Life had Mr. Potter gotten his way, squashing George Bailey's infernal building and loan.
If Glen Taylor were, y'know, sinister or something.
Taylor's influence and shadow loom that large over this community where he studied as an undergraduate, staked his claim as a small-business owner, built that into a multibillion-dollar fortune and established himself as a prime NBA mover-and-shaker since purchasing the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995. But from all appearances, Taylor is a benevolent big shot, a fellow who could vamoose to La Jolla, Naples or Hilton Head yet keeps his primary residence right here where it all started.
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What Warren Buffet is to Omaha, local boy making it outrageously good, Taylor is to Mankato.
"That seems about right," Taylor said Sunday night, laughing at the comparison after the Wolves faced Milwaukee in the preseason opener for both clubs. "Ten times as much, though. Maybe it's 25 times as much."
It depends on the math you choose. In size, Omaha is about 12 times the size of Mankato (approximately 36,000 residents, with another 13,000 in nearby areas). In estimated net worth, it's about 15 times -- Buffet at $50 billion, Taylor at $3.3 billion. In Forbes' annual ranking of richest Americans, the Oracle of Omaha is at No. 2, 121 spots higher than Taylor -- who still has a lot of people below him on that famous list of 400.
So it's no surprise that Taylor's NBA team played its first October game in the building that bears his name (and bronze dedication at its entrance) on the campus that has been shaped (and in some cases built) through his efforts. Not far from the corporation that made it all possible. Or, for that matter, from the house where he routinely hosts team dinners each autumn when the Wolves hold their training camp in town. On Sunday, another 45 season-ticket holders and VIPs bused down for pre-game chow at Taylor's home.
Somehow, you get the feeling that Lakers owner Jerry Buss rolls a little differently out in southern Calfornia.
"I think they're both very comfortable where they are,'" said Kurt Rambis, longtime Laker and new Wolves head coach. "They're just different, but they're both extremely successful. They have a passion for the sport, a passion for winning."
Buss' roots are in Salt Lake City, via the University of Wyoming and a chemistry career that veered into real estate investments; the sports ownership, the poker and the trophy dates came later, along with the Lakers holding past training camps in Honolulu.
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has made a point of staying well-rooted in the Mankato community.
Steve Aschburner/for NBA.com
Taylor's roots are even more rustic, starting on a farm 60 miles west of Mankato. He worked his way through Mankato State at a print shop, later buying out owner Bill Carlson. He grew Taylor Corp. into stationery and printing behemoth with 80 subsidiaries and $1.7 billion in sales. More recently, Taylor's Midas touch has extended to chicken farms in Minnesota and Iowa; he processes liquefied eggs to the food industry.
It's not high tech, exactly, but it is high finance. And it has enabled Taylor to give back -- he bought the Timberwolves for $88.5 million when they were on the brink of relocating to New Orleans; the franchise is valued at about $300 million now -- and bring home.
"I like living here," Taylor said. "I grew up near here and my business career [did] too. So many of my friends have been friends, well, since before I had any money, let's say. They're still my friends, and I like that."
A handful of the Wolves' limited partners are Taylor's Mankato pals. The team has held training camp several times at Minnesota State and a preseason home game is part of the fall tradition now. It isn't the most convenient location -- the Bucks spent more time on the bus to and from the Twin Cities than on their flights to and from Milwaukee -- but that is the NBA's small-town deal each October.
"I don't think that anybody would be really fond of [traveling to small markets] but it's part of it," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "There's no reason to give a lot of thought or complain about it. It is nice that people in the markets around some of these cities who don't normally see NBA players can see 'em.
"One thing that's good about it, it's good for evaluation. You find out about guys -- who can get ready to play. It's an odd environment. Not that it requires a lot of mental toughness or anything, but you do find out some things about people."
Rambis and Skiles found out a lot about their young, rebuilding teams Sunday. The Wolves and the Bucks, meanwhile, found out the replacement refs; Scott Bolnick, Marcus Clayton and C.J. Washington called 73 fouls and awarded 94 free throws in a game that dragged on for 2 hours 34 minutes.
"Hey, first game, we got a win," one Wolves player shrugged. "It's training camp for the refs, too."
In a smallish town with a huge home-owner advantage.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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