Former Muskies Guard Erv Inniger Enjoying Trip Down Memory Lane
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The American Basketball Association left its imprint all around us, whether we know it or not. The ABA introduced the 3-pointer in its inaugural season—a decade before the NBA followed suit. Teams like the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs originated in the ABA, and the players the league produced—led by Julius Erving—helped pave the way for the high-flying sport we watch today.
Erv Inniger knows it. As a young guard out of Indiana University, Inniger played for the Minnesota Muskies during the ABA’s first year in 1967-68. He still carries the league with him through memories (he’s stayed in contact with his Muskies teammates over the years) and memorabilia (from George Mikan holiday cards to decades-old newspaper clippings).
But when it comes to paying tribute to the ABA and sharing his memories with his grandchildren, perhaps nothing quite compares to seeing it firsthand. When he and his family came to the Timberwolves’ March 5 game against the Clippers, seeing the Wolves wear those old Muskies uniforms was the best history lesson yet.
“Very honestly, this was probably the best test for them to see it, because I brought the box down once, but none of them looked through it very thoroughly,” Inniger said. “They were mesmerized by the game. My wife and I were just impressed.”
The Wolves will wear their Muskies attire for the sixth and final home game on Friday, March 30 against the Boston Celtics. As part of the Hardwood Classic series, Minnesota paid tribute to the ABA franchise that spent one year playing in the Twin Cities before moving to Miami the following year.
It was a special night for Inniger: His wife, Linda, son Bart, daughter-in-law Linda and grandkids Dylan, Michael and Benjamin were all with him at Target Center. It was a game that brought him full-circle back to where his career began.
He played in 75 games for the Muskies, averaging 10.6 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting. In 10 playoff games, he averaged 13.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per night as the Muskies lost in the Eastern Division Finals to the Pittsburgh Pipers.
Inniger moved with the team in 1968 and played one more season of professional basketball before retiring as an athlete and moving back to Minnesota. When he returned, he had a chance meeting with the Golden Valley Lutheran Junior College athletic director that landed him his first collegiate coaching gig. That turned into a 23-year coaching career with a five-year stop at Augsburg College before taking over North Dakota State University’s program for 14 years.
He’s been in Fargo ever since and now works as the Bison’s senior associate athletic director for development and external relations.
But it was his Muskies connection that first brought him to Minnesota, and it was his fondness of the state that brought him back just in time to get him his first coaching gig.
With the Muskies, Inniger was known for the small-town, genuine personality he still carries with him today. A hard worker who thoroughly appreciates the opportunity he received to play professional basketball, Inniger brought that same mentality with him throughout his coaching career.
Looking back on his time with the Muskies, Inniger said he’s thrilled to say he played in the same league as Dr. J, Connie Hawkins and Rick Barry.
“It’s so much more meaningful now than it was then, because it was a lifelong dream,” said Inniger, who grew up in Berne, Ind. “I’m a small-town boy—You come from a town of 2,000 people, and it’s spectacular when you look back at it. A lot of kids don’t realize what they have, and they won’t realize it until afterwards, too.
“We played for the love of the game, but to start a new league was a great opportunity for us.”
Inniger still has his uniform from the 1967-68 season, which looks identical to the uniforms the Wolves are wearing this season. Seeing those blue, gold and white jerseys on the court once again brought back sentimental memories that Inniger was able to share with his family.
“It was very special for me and my grandkids,” Inniger said. “I spent a fortune on t-shirts for the family.”
For Inniger, seeing the Wolves honor the Muskies, the ABA and the legacy each left behind was a thrill he’ll never forget.
“Your grandkids don’t always get to know what you’ve done, but even for them they got a little picture of what I did,” Inniger said. “Those uniforms, they were so alike. It was really a special night.”
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