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Entries about Minnesota history from MNopedia are made available through a partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society and with funding from the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were almost called the ‘Polars’

Timberwolves fanny pack
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
A plastic Minnesota Timberwolves fanny pack with adjustable blue nylon belt from 1990.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have competed in the National Basketball Association (NBA) since the 1989–90 season. The team is the second professional NBA franchise to represent Minnesota, which was home to the Minneapolis Lakers from 1949 to 1960.

After owner Bob Short moved the Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles in 1960, it took almost thirty years for professional basketball to return to Minnesota. In October of 1986, a “Name the Team” contest was held to come up with a nickname for a potential expansion team for Minnesota. A total of 6,076 entries, featuring 1,284 different nicknames, was submitted, with “Timberwolves” and “Polars” being most popular. Minnesota’s 842 city councils selected the nickname “Timberwolves” as the winner.

The NBA’s four-team expansion in 1987 included the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Orlando Magic, the Charlotte Hornets, and the Miami Heat. Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson, local Minnesotan businessmen, paid $32.5 million for the Timberwolves franchise in April of 1987. With a name and logo (designed by Austin, Minnesota, native Mark Thompson) the team prepared to make its NBA debut in the 1989–90 season.

The Timberwolves hired former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball coach Bill Musselman to lead the new franchise. In the 1989 NBA Draft, Musselman selected Jerome James “Pooh” Richardson from the University of California, Los Angeles, with the tenth overall pick. For their first game, held on November 3, 1989, the team traveled to Seattle and lost to the Seattle SuperSonics by a score of 106–94.

The Timberwolves held their home opener at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 8, 1989. The Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, defeated them by a score of 96–84. Their first victory came in their next home game on November 10, 1989, against the Philadelphia 76ers by a score of 125 to 118 with forward Tyrone Corbin and guard Tony Campbell each scoring over 30 points. The Timberwolves would finish the 1989-90 season with a final record of 22–60, good for a thirteenth place finish in the Western Conference. However along the way the team set the NBA’s all-time attendance record, with over one million fans attending home games at the Metrodome.

The following seasons saw the Timberwolves struggle as the team failed to finish higher than eleventh place in the Western Conference through the 1995–96 season. The team moved into the Minneapolis Target Center in October of 1990 and were sold to Mankato businessman and former State Senator Glen Taylor in 1994.

The selection of Kevin Garnett on June 28, 1995, was a turning point for the Timberwolves franchise. Garnett, along with Head Coach Flip Saunders and teammates Stephon Marbury, Tom Gugliotta, and Sam Mitchell, turned the team’s fortunes around. In the 1996–97 season, the Timberwolves reached the playoffs for the first time, despite having an overall record of 40–42.

The 2003–04 season stands as the most successful in franchise history. The team finished first in the Western Conference with a regular season record of 58–24. Kevin Garnett was awarded the NBA’s Most Valuable Player as he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game over the season. Head Coach Flip Saunders and General Manager Kevin McHale helped build and direct a solid supporting cast for Garnett’s MVP season with players like Fred Hoiberg, Wally Szczerbiak, Latrell Sprewell, Trenton Hassell, and Sam Cassell. The Timberwolves reached the 2003–04 Playoffs and advance to the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals.

The following years proved challenging for the franchise as the team went thirteen consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. During this period the team traded star forward Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in 2007, while failing to finish with an .500 or better win percentage from the 2005–06 season to the 2016–17 season. The Timberwolves returned to the NBA Playoffs at the end of the 2017–2018 season with a roster featuring Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler, but lost in the first round. The following season head coach Tom Thibodeau was fired, Jimmy Butler was traded, and the team eleventh in the Western Conference with a record of 36–46.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/17/2019 - 04:20 pm.

    We were at the first game. That day we brought home a rescue dog, a stout little Rottweiler mix who was named Misty. The name didn’t seem to fit her, but we couldn’t think of a better one. When the Timberwolves mascot was introduced, it clicked: our new dog was named Crunch.

  2. Submitted by john lutter on 06/18/2019 - 02:21 pm.

    It didn’t take “almost thirty years for professional basketball to return to Minnesota.” In 1967 the Minnesota Muskies competed in the rival ABA and were followed by the Minnesota Pipers the next year.

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