A Season Ticket Holder's Travels
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Mitsuaki Ohno is a unique season ticket holder. A passionate Wolves fan for much of the franchise’s existence, Ohno has held seats at Target Center since 2003-04—all while living in Japan.
But when he comes back for at least one trip each year, he’s reminded of the lifelong impression the state of Minnesota left on him while living in Rochester in 1989. The people, the team and the atmosphere are all reasons why Ohno enjoys his trips back each season.
“When I enter Target Center, I feel I’m back to Minnesota,” Ohno said. “The Timberwolves and Target Center, I like this atmosphere and excitement.”
Now 34 years old and living in Kawasaki City—15 miles outside of Tokyo—Ohno went to junior high school in Rochester in 1989 before moving back to Japan with his family. It was during that season the Timberwolves franchise entered the NBA, and it was the beginning of a life-long allegiance for Ohno. He made his first trip to Target Center in 1992 and became a season ticket holder prior to the Wolves’ most successful season, when Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell led Minnesota to the Western Conference Finals.
Sitting courtside prior to the Wolves’ 117-100 win over Denver on Sunday, Ohno’s passion for the team was evident from his attire to his conversation. Dressed in a light blue Timberwolves warmup jacket, he regaled all the ups and downs he’s gone through right along with the team.
He couldn’t wait to see how Duke University’s Christian Laettner looked in the Wolves’ blue and green when the team drafted him in 1992—hoping he’d bring the magic that helped the Blue Devils win a two national titles and landed him on the Dream Team. And he knew a new era was coming when the Wolves took Garnett in the 1995 NBA Draft—a move that paved the way for the team’s most successful seasons to date.
Now, Ohno sees a new era rising in Minnesota. With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way, he said the Wolves are once again ready to compete against the top teams in the league.
In many ways, Ohno is an ambassador for the Timberwolves—both in the U.S. and in Japan.
When he does not go to games, he puts his season tickets up for donation so children can experience a night watching the Wolves play. In Japan, he said the NBA teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics get much of the attention. But when Ohno brings his friends to Minnesota to watch Timberwolves basketball—his friend Kentara Harimoto joined him on Sunday—they gain an appreciation for Minnesota and its organization.
When he comes to games, Ohno said he meets with other season ticket holders before or after games—making it feel like a reunion.
Timberwolves Vice President of Fan Experience & Community Basketball Jeff Munneke has known Ohno since his early years as a season ticket holder. He said it’s a privilege to be able to welcome him back each year and see him continuing to enjoy being part of the Wolves’ in-game festivities.
Munneke and Senior Season Ticket Executive Larry Traversie work closely with Ohno as a season ticket holder, and both said Ohno is clearly a year-round Wolves fan that shows his passion for the team both in Japan and in Minnesota.
“I’m friends with him on Facebook and he’s always posting [Timberwolves] things on Facebook,” Traversie said. “I know he’s got other season ticket holders involved on Facebook in his chatter as well. He’s gone from a Kevin Garnett fan to a Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio fan. It’s great that he’s not just following a player but he’s following the team as a whole.”
Ohno said both Munneke and Traversie make him feel at home when he’s at Target Center, something Munneke said he hopes all season ticket holders feel.
“We’re giving him something that is really special, and we want to give that to all our season ticket holders where they say, ‘Man, it’s not just about the game, it’s about the relationships I’ve created with Larry, with a staff member, myself, or some other staff members here.’ Where they get that feeling that I’m not just working with these guys, we’re friends.”
Munneke said Ohno is a prime example of that relationship.
“We really enjoy him coming over here,” Munneke said. “Sometimes it’s a week, sometimes it’s a couple weeks. But it’s been so fun having him as a fan, especially from that distance.”
Ohno will be on hand for the Boston Celtics game on Friday before heading back to Japan. His hope is that the team can make a playoff push like they did in the 2003-04 season. That year, he said he came to Minnesota four times to cheer on the team.
Traversie said his allegiance to the team is extraordinary.
“It’s really special because he could have picked another team, another sport to be a fan of,” Traversie said. “But it’s pretty cool that he picked us to follow, and he’s such a dedicated fan.”
Ohno said he appreciates the hospitality Munneke and Traversie show him when he comes to town. Target Center is, in many ways, a home away from home for him.
He’s just hopeful the team can decorate the rafters with a banner in the near future.
“I hope someday the Wolves make it to the finals,” Ohno said. “And I want to watch them play in the Finals.”
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