The Retired Jersey Project is chugging along! (Read this if you need to catch up on the rules.)
Debuting in the 1989-90 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the long-awaited return of the NBA to Minnesota after the Lakers fled for Southern California in 1960. A couple of feeble attempts by the ABA to rejuvenate pro ball in Minnesota failed, but we’ll get to that below.
Only one jersey has been retired by Minnesota: #2 for the deceased Malik Sealy.
Of course, there’s an elephant in the room…
Kevin Garnett not having his jersey retired by the T-Wolves served as one of the main sparks for this whole series back in February. At the time, I knew there was some… funniness… between KG and Minnesota.
Nonetheless, I was ready to argue till I was hoarse about how silly it was for the Timberwolves to not have retired Garnett’s #21 the day after he played his final game let alone four years after.
"[Timberwolves owner] Glen [Taylor] knows where I'm at. I'm not entertaining it. First of all, it's not genuine. Two, he's getting pressure from a lot of fans and, I guess, the community there," Garnett told The Athletic. "Glen and I had an understanding before [former team president] Flip [Saunders] died, and when Flip died, that understanding went with Flip.
"For that, I won't forgive Glen. I won't forgive him for that. I thought he was a straight-up person, straight-up businessman, and when Flip died, everything went with him."
So, if Garnett doesn’t even want the team to retire his number right now, despite knowing the fans desperately want to celebrate his career, just to spite Glen Taylor, how the hell can I sit here and get all huffy?
Guess I can’t.
Anyhoo, onward to…
Stop! Banner Time
So, this is one of the more hilarious (sad) stories in pro basketball history. The ABA formed in 1967 and looking for some cache, they hired George Mikan to be the league’s commissioner. What better way to signal that you were a big basketball league rivaling the NBA than to hire the NBA’s first star as your leader/figurehead ?
Well, Mikan had a law practice at the time and refused to leave Minneapolis for the ABA gig, so the ABA reasoned they would locate a franchise (reasonable) as well as the league office (uh, more questionable) in Minnesota to help appease Mikan.
That’s how we get the Minnesota Muskies!
Coached by former MPLS Laker Jim Pollard, they were actually pretty damn good going 50-28 in their only season. Rookie center Mel Daniels was raw, but beastly (22.2 PPG and 15.6 RPG, but just .408 FG%). Forward Les Hunter and guard Donnie Freeman completed an All-Star troika with Daniels that got Minnesota to the East Finals, where they lost to the eventual ABA champion Pittsburg Pipers led by ABA MVP Connie Hawkins.
Well, in the offseason, the Muskies gave Mel Daniels away to the Pacers for a song… and the franchise itself left Minnesota to become the Floridians.
Never fear! The Pittsburgh Pipers, despite their title, failed to cause enough excitement in Pennsylvania and were thus dumped on Minnesota for the 1968-69 season.
Hawkins again was leading the Pipers to a great record… until he hurt his knee midway through the season. At one point sporting a 20-9 record, the Minnesota Pipers then limped to a 36-42 finish. Hawkins returned in time for the playoffs, but the Pipers lost in seven games to… the Floridians.
Pittsburgh may have been underwhelming financially, but it didn’t compare to the hardships of Minnesota. So, the Pipers changed their names to the Condors and went back to the Steel City. In the process, though, they lost Connie Hawkins to the NBA as the Hawk finally beat that league in his blackball lawsuit and joined the Phoenix Suns.
(The Condors nickname woulda been much better when Connie Hawkins was on the roster).
So that’s a brief, miserable history of Minnesota’s ABA time.
Which players to remember?
The Muskies players, I suppose. Freeman, Daniels, and Hunter. But they lasted just one year. And George Mikan sucked as ABA commissioner. He resigned after two seasons in the gig.
Hey, at least he was the one who insisted on the league using a red-white-and-blue ball, which became one of the defining features of the ABA.
Other than that, this whole Minnesota article has been depressing.
Sorry for making y’all read.