The Minnesota Timberwolves joined the NBA for the 1989-90 season as part of a two-phase league expansion that also brought in Orlando, Miami, and Charlotte. But the Timberwolves weren't the first pro basketball franchise in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Lakers of the early 1950s had been the dominant team of that era. Led by 6-10 George Mikan, the first great pro center, the Lakers won five titles in the six years between 1949 and 1954. Four years later, however, the team had fallen to a cellar-dwelling 19-53 record. With the No. 1 pick in the 1958 NBA Draft they selected Elgin Baylor of Seattle University.
The 6-5 Baylor was one of the players who first introduced the acrobatic, above-the-rim style of basketball bravado that Julius Erving and Michael Jordan brought to future generations. In his 1958-59 rookie season, Baylor averaged 24.9 points and 15.0 rebounds and won NBA Rookie of the Year honors. The Minneapolis Lakers made it back into the NBA Finals in 1959 before falling to the Boston Celtics in four games.
The following year Baylor averaged 29.6 points and scored a then NBA-record 64 points in a game against the Celtics. Despite his efforts, the Lakers fell to 25-50 and departed for Los Angeles, where they transformed themselves into one of the NBA's all-time dominant teams.
With the exception of one-season stints by the American Basketball Association's Minnesota Muskies in 1967-68 and Minnesota Pipers in 1968-69, during which time stars such as Connie Hawkins and Mel Daniels graced the Minneapolis hardwood, the state of Minnesota was without a pro basketball team until the 1989-90 season, when the Timberwolves began play.
Local businessmen Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson brought basketball back to the Twin Cities. Friends since boyhood, the pair had made their fortunes in real estate and a health club chain. With the help of a task force headed by George Mikan, they initially made offers for the Milwaukee Bucks, the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz, all of which were for sale. Those deals fell through, but in 1987 the NBA voted to add four teams over the next two seasons. Charlotte and Miami were added for the 1988-89 season, and Orlando and Minnesota were added for 1989-90.
A regional "Name the Team" contest
favored "Timberwolves" over "Polars" by a 2-to-1 margin.
On August 23, 1988, Bill Musselman was named head coach. He had a local following, having led the University of Minnesota to a Big Ten Conference championship in 1971-72. In addition, he had coached in the ABA and in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he had coached four consecutive Continental Basketball Association championship teams.
In the 1989 Expansion Draft, the Timberwolves selected 6-6 forward Tyrone Corbin from the Phoenix Suns as one of their 11 picks. With the 10th selection in the 1989 NBA Draft, Minnesota picked UCLA point guard Jerome "Pooh" Richardson. In the second round, the Wolves selected Villanova guard Doug West with the 38th pick. Later that summer Minnesota signed journeyman guard Sidney Lowe to a contract (three years later he would become the team's head coach).