Mitsuaki Ohno's Wolves Commitment Now On 25 Years And Counting
Longtime Fan And Season Ticket Member Mitsuaki Ohno's Commitment To Wolves Now On 25 Years And Counting
Special To Timberwolves.com
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Mitsuaki Ohno has been with the Timberwolves since Day 1. A native of Japan, Mitsu first came to Minnesota in 1989 while his father worked at IBM in Rochester, and while attending junior high school he fell in love with Wolves—an expansion team entering the NBA.
And even though he moved back to Japan shortly thereafter, his dedication has never faltered.
As the Wolves enter into their 25th anniversary season this fall, Mitsu remains as dedicated to the team as he was back then—if not more so. In fact, he’s celebrating 25 years right alongside the team despite having to travel approximately 6,000 miles one way to see them live. A season ticket member since the 2003-04 season, each year he makes at least one trip to Minnesota to take in a collection of Wolves games at Target Center. This year will be no different.
The Wolves are embarking on what could be a special 25th anniversary season. After an injury-ravaged 2012-13 campaign, new President of Basketball Operations and former coach Flip Saunders began reshaping the pieces of the club around cornerstones Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, and all signs point toward the Timberwolves rivaling for their first postseason appearance since that memorable 2003-04 campaign—when Mitsu watched his favorite all-time Wolves player, Kevin Garnett, win the NBA MVP award en route to the Western Conference Finals.
Season ticket members like Mitsu are a driving force behind the Wolves organization striving to get back to the postseason. His dedication and commitment to the team fuel them to give Mitsu the best possible experience each time he makes at least one annual trip to Minnesota—in 2003-04, his first season as a season ticket holder, he made three trips back from Japan.
“He takes it to a whole new level,” Wolves Director of Fan Relations/Guest Services Jeff Munneke said. “It’s just such an interesting story to have a season-ticket holder from Japan.”
Timberwolves team president Chris Wright said when Mitsu comes to town, it’s all hands on deck for him. The Wolves have season ticket members extending as far as the Dakotas, Iowa and even California, but Mitsu easily comes in as the longest-distance holder. In fact, Mitsu might be the longest distance season ticket member in the NBA.
It’s fitting the Wolves have that distinction, because Minnesota has become an internationally diverse and marketable team over the past two seasons. Right now, counting restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves have players from the U.S., Spain, Puerto Rico, Montenegro, France (Martinique), Senegal and Russia on the roster.
“We see ourselves as one of the most globally diverse groups in the league,” said Wright, also a native of England. “Plus, we have an English [team] president—in itself a story. Coming from Asia, Mitsu has become a brand ambassador for us. It’s powerful for a localized brand of the Timberwolves, and it also has an effect on people globally.”
From Japan To Minnesota
The NBA already draws a large following in Japan as fans watch through satellite stations and on the web. It’s not unusual to see Kobe and LeBron jerseys overseas. But Mitsu is introducing a smaller market team to his native Kawasaki City [15 miles outside Tokyo].
He watches games regularly with friends and is able to correspond with other Wolves season ticket members through social media. It helps him stay connected when he’s not here at Target Center.
Senior account executive Larry Traversie has been Mitsu’s personal ticket representative since Day 1, and the two have built a friendship that includes keeping in touch regularly through Facebook. Munneke said season ticket members like meeting one another, and during Mitsu’s tenure with the team he’s been able to get to know more and more Wolves fans. Through Facebook and Twitter, that ability to connect has only increased.
Wright said social media platforms have become an integral part of the NBA experience, ensuring fans like Mitsu who live on different continents can still connect with players, front office members and other fans regularly. It’s all about accessibility.
Another way Mitsu connects and builds rapport with Wolves fans is through the T-Wolves Army fan group. At Target Center, the T-Wolves Army is a group of extra-crazy fans who attend every game decked out in Wolves gear and engage the crowd through cheers and other entertaining stunts in Section 121.
In 2012, Jeff Croyle organized international T-Wolves Army stations around the world. In a four-hour timeframe, Croyle received Twitter responses from Timberwolves fans in more than 20 different countries. The group now features 11 official chapters—including Japan, Greece, Denmark and the Philippines.
When Mitsu visited Minnesota last year, he met Croyle and became the first official international leader in the group. Since then, he’s continue to build followers in Kawasaki City. He even wrote an article for Hoops Magazine in Japan that featured and promoted the group.
“[Mitsu]’s talking about his love for the team over in Japan, and he has followers there,” Munneke said. “He’s going to continue telling this story.”
Preparing For Year 25
If you ask Mitsu what the 25th year will bring, you can immediately sense the passion and enthusiasm he has for the team. Although he admittedly purchased his season tickets at the peak of Minnesota’s success, during the 2003-04 run, he lives and breathes the Timberwolves regardless of their record.
That passion spills forward each year, and the Wolves have a group in place that will try to work toward replicating that previous success.
“I love to watch [Kevin] Love and [Ricky] Rubio play together,” Mitsu said. “Their pick-and-roll is a textbook move, and if [they continue] to play together, they are both getting better and better.”
His favorite all-time Wolves are Garnett and Mark Madsen, but choosing a current favorite is a bit more difficult. Part of that might be because of his off-the-court access during his visits. He’s been able to meet and interact with Love, Rubio and Alexey Shved—among others—during his trips to Minnesota.
Between meeting the players and getting to the arena early, getting a behind-the-scenes peek while sitting on the bench, then taking in the game, Mitsu gets the full Timberwolves experience.
“Overall, all the guys are so kind,” he said.
There’s excitement in the front office, too. Heading into the 25th year, the Wolves made a throwback hire when they brought back former coach Flip Saunders as the team’s President of Basketball Operations. Mitsu said he’s excited about the move bringing Saunders back because he has a well-balanced basketball mind that can impact a small-market franchise like Minnesota, and his experience should mesh well with coach Rick Adelman.
Wright agreed, saying Saunders’ ties run deep in the Wolves’ marketplace—and much of that stems from that memorable 2003-04 Western Conference Finals run.
“He’s someone who is very iconic in a very young franchise, and to have someone like that return is phenomenal,” Wright said. “Those people with us in 2003-04 are so excited, because they can remember what is probably the greatest run in our [history]. They remember the Denver series, Game 7 against Sacramento. Everyone remembers the series against the Lakers in which all of our point guards were injured—Fred Hoiberg and KG playing point guard in an effort to make the Finals. All that history bubbles back to the surface when you bring back the guy who was at the helm during that time.”
That’s a memorable year for Wolves fans—no matter where they live. That includes Mitsu, who will continue to go the distance to follow his team—in confidence his beloved team will do the same.
Simply put, said Traversie: “[Mistu] really loves the Timberwolves.”