First-Year Timberwolves Still Feel Connected To Minnesota
Editor’s Note: The Timberwolves are celebrating their 25th season in the NBA this year, and as part of the commemoration Timbewolves.com is looking back at the early years. In Part I of this three-part series, we head back to the team’s arrival in 1989-90 and the bond that inaugural team had with a fan base that waited so long for NBA basketball to return.
In order to fully appreciate the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first season in the Twin Cities, you have to understand the scene in the Twin Cities heading into the 1989-90 season. The Minneapolis Lakers left town exactly 30 years earlier, taking the franchise and its five titles with them to the West Coast. For three decades, Minnesota sat without an NBA team while the league meteorically flourished thanks to the marketability and popularity of Larry, Magic and Michael.
By the time the Wolves arrived in 1989, the fan base was ready to rally around a new NBA franchise.
“The special part about it is the people, the fans there,” said Sidney Lowe, a guard on that inaugural team. “They were great then, and they’re great now. When we go back, they still say things like, ‘Welcome home.’ And that’s a great feeling.”
The Wolves were dropped into the league during a time when the NBA was trying to grow in franchise numbers, and it was beginning a push toward increased international popularity. Four teams joined during that two-year span of 1988 and 1989, and six years later two more franchises were awarded to Vancouver and Memphis.
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None of those cities had ever held NBA franchises before. This city had, and the fans were ready to come out and fully back the team. And they were ready to see those iconic NBA players from out of town come through and play meaningful regular season games. It was a golden era in the development of the league into what it is today, and fans were eager to be part of it.
That, coupled with that first season’s regular season slate being played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, made the Timberwolves’ first season a record-breaking campaign. Minnesota finished the 1989-90 season with an overall attendance of 1,072,572, which is still an NBA record that likely will never be touched. The domed arena, built for football and baseball, afforded additional capacity that isn’t available in today’s NBA arenas. Today, no venue in the league holds more than 23,200 people. In 1989-90, the Wolves averaged 26,160 per night.
That included four games with more than 40,000 fans in the seats and two more with at least 35,000 fans inside the Metrodome during that inaugural year. Of the 22 games they won that first year, 17 came at the Dome. Four of them were against playoff teams.
Tony Campbell, who led the team in scoring that year, said the fans were like the team’s sixth man and the depth perception in the larger Dome was the seventh man. Of the 18 expansion teams in the NBA since 1961, the Wolves’ 22 wins are tied for fifth most in an inaugural year.
“It was nice, because we broke attendance records,” Campbell said. “Fans were coming out in droves, and we had all those people there, national TV, and then we won big games. It brought the team and the city together.”
It’s been 25 years, but the connection this group of players—many of whom knew one another during their years playing in the Continental Basketball Association in the 1980s—had during that first season still holds true today. They are still and forever will be linked with the return of NBA basketball to the Twin Cities.
Many of them have gone into coaching or other positions in the NBA, but they still—from time to time—cross paths and talk about the early days of Timberwolves basketball when they came together here in the Twin Cities.
It’s a bond that began a quarter-century ago in the unlikeliest of scenarios.
“We went out, we laughed, joked, cried,” Campbell said. “We did everything together.”
Their relationship with the fans is equally strong.
“I always look back through the years, when I left I kind of wanted to make sure I knew what was going on with the franchise,” former Wolves forward Tyrone Corbin said. “You always look back to see how they were growing when they had Kevin Garnett and that group took off with Stephon Marbury, and they had some great years. I was excited for the city. It’s great to see how not only the Timberwolves have grown, but how the city of Minneapolis has grown around them.”
No matter how many years pass, these players will always feel a special bond with this team and the fans that supported them in their first year. And vice versa.
“They don’t forget the players,” Lowe said. “They don’t forget the guys, the first team and guys that just played hard for them. They don’t forget that. And that’s a great feeling to know that you see a light there and they still see you as part of the extended family.”
Part II of this three-part series focuses on the impact coach Bill Musselman left on his players. His detail and competitive fire was evident in the types of players the Wolves wanted in those early season.