1994 All-Star Game Put Spotlight On Minnesota

 

It was a Jordan-less All-Star Game in 1994, but that didn't slow down the stars here in Minneapolis. Patrick Ewing, left, and Shaquille O'Neal, right, were among the group. (Photo credit: NBAE/Getty Images)



If there’s one three-day stretch that mutually binds all basketball fans’ interests into one, it’s the NBA All-Star Weekend. It’s the one time during the calendar year in which the best of the best from across the league come together and compete in the type of game that caters to their athletic skills—the type of scenario we can only dream about during the rest of the year.

It’s the one time each year when we could see Magic feed Hakeem in the paint, when we could see Michael team up with Ewing, or when we could see Kobe and Durant play side-by-side.

NBA All-Star Weekend brings the best of the best together, and it puts all eyes around the world on one particular host city that’s lucky enough to welcome in fans, celebrities and NBA legends.

If you flash back 20 years ago today, Minneapolis was the center of the NBA universe. On Feb. 13, 1994, Target Center hosted its lone NBA All-Star Game—a weekend that largely put the Timberwolves’ hometown on the NBA map for the first time since the Lakers dynasty of the 1940s and 1950s. At the time, the Timberwolves were five years old and hadn’t yet developed an identity. Kevin Garnett had not yet become the face of the franchise, the team had not yet made a playoff appearance and—ironically, since Kevin Love is traveling there this weekend for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game—there were rumors the team could potentially relocate to New Orleans before Glen Taylor bought the club in 1995.

But for one weekend in February 1994, the Twin Cities were host to the very best basketball players in the world. And the world was watching.

“People take a great deal of pride knowing that in this case the NBA was sending its top stars here, and all the focus would be here,” said longtime Wolves play-by-play man Tom Hanneman, who was working for NBA Radio during the 1994 All-Star Game. “You care about your community, and people were really excited just to see the All-Star logo with Minnesota’s name on it and the snowflake at the time. Every nuance had meaning for Wolves fans and NBA fans.”

Any All-Star Game has its statistics that may or may not fade away in time. For instance, the East won the 1994 game 127-118 led by Most Valuable Player Scottie Pippen’s 29 points and 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. Patrick Ewing and Mark Price added 20 points each for the East, while Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson each had 19 for the West. Lenny Wilkens and George Karl, two future members of the 1,000 wins club, were the head coaches, and 17,096 attended the game.

But it’s the little memories that stick with you at an All-Star Weekend. It’s the signage that drapes all around the downtown area, marking the path to Target Center. It’s the preparation that goes into it from the city, the team and the NBA. It’s the celebrity faces arriving in town, and it’s the incredible individual plays that stick with you long after the weekend is over.

Inside Target Center today, there are still a few people who were working with the team at the time that still very much remember All-Star Weekend 1994. It was a point in time that not only energized those involved but also put this franchise right in the heart of the NBA landscape.

Guys like Vice President of Fan Experience Jeff Munneke and Communications Manager Dan Bell were both working for the Timberwolves at the time, and they were sitting side-by-side near the bench during the All-Star Saturday Night festivities. If you watch the YouTube clip closely and know who you’re looking for, you can see the two near the court. They had a perfect view of Isaiah Rider’s “East Bay Funk” jam in the Slam Dunk Contest, which ultimately helped him win the slam dunk title that year.

It was a big enough moment that Charles Barkley, who was hurt during the 1994 All-Star Game but was calling the Slam Dunk Contest for television, called it the best dunk he’d ever seen.

“Back then, that was a first,” Munneke said. “I'd never seen it done before and that obviously was a prelude to all the different things that happened now in the dunk contest.”

Hanneman said it was the pinnacle of the weekend for him.

“It was an exciting a moment at Target Center as there ever had been at that point,” Hanneman said. “And the pride, the energy in that arena. I was lucky enough to be courtside working at the time, and it was electric.”

There were other reasons to remember that weekend, some of them not as engaging for the fans. This, of course, was the first All-Star Game post-Jordan. He retired for the first time after the 1993 season and attempted a career in baseball. It left a void in that All-Star lineup that couldn’t be replaced, even though there was a wealth of up-and-coming talent that played in the game. It was the first All-Star appearance for 11 players, including Gary Payton and Latrell Sprewell. Shaquille O’Neal was in his second appearance.

But there were still six Dream Team players in the game, plus Barkley who was sidelined by injury. And another, Magic Johnson, was helping call the game on the NBA on NBC.

“A lot of these players that were here that were All-Stars went on to be top 50 players, Hall of Famers, of course, but it was just different [without Jordan],” Munneke said.

For the Timberwolves staff, All-Star Weekend meant working around the clock. Like it is today, All-Star Weekend is a production from Thursday morning through Sunday night. Between the events, the Jam Session and the appearances, there are a lot of people working with the NBA to make everything go smoothly without a hitch.

Twenty years ago, the Wolves’ office was full of staffers pitching in to put on a show for fans around the world.

“We practically slept here all weekend long in our cubes,” said Mary Bohmbach, the Wolves’ executive assistant to the president/sales & marketing coordinator. “We got up, did it all over again. And we loved it. We were young, we were full of energy back then. We didn’t care when we slept. It was fun to be part of it. Something when we’re old and we’re tired we can say we did that. We were part of that, and that’s pretty cool.”

This weekend, the NBA world will once again put its spotlight on a city—this year, it’s New Orleans. The players who were in Minneapolis for All-Star Weekend in 1994 have all moved on to new careers, some of them overlapping with today’s NBA. O’Neal and Barkley are part of the NBA on TNT crew. Patrick Ewing is an assistant in Charlotte. Charles Oakley has done radio programs at All-Star Weekends. A new generation has taken over led by LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Chris Paul.

But as time goes on, one thing remains the same: The All-Star Game is an incredible experience, and those memories never fade. Two decades ago today, Minnesota got a chance to enjoy those festivities firsthand.

“It was terrific—it was especially exciting that February because it was home,” Hanneman said. “And all the focus of the NBA world was on the Twin Cities and Target Center. We were excited to have the stars come to the Twin Cities.”


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