The Timberwolves run takes me back to a day 35 years ago with Dad

The Timberwolves run takes me back to a day 35 years ago with Dad
The Timberwolves run takes me back to a day 35 years ago with Dad

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Dad was never much of a sports guy.

I don’t know if he’d agree were he still alive, but I could tell. He would nonchalantly mention attending the 1965 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Metropolitan Stadium without nearly as much excitement as I felt in hearing it.

“Do you realize you watched Mickey Mantle play in person?” I, his youngest progeny, all of 12-and-a-half years old and with a brain full of useless sports facts, asked him breathlessly. “Do you realize you watched Willie Mays?”

It was June 1989 and I had just wrapped up my illustrious career as a student at Rippleside Elementary School in Aitkin. We lived about 15 miles to the south of town, along the northwest shore of Lake Mille Lacs where Dad had spent much of his life captaining fishing excursions either for his own business, Dick Siemers Launch Service, or that of his parents, the former owners of Myr Mar Resort.

At this early point in the summer, Little League wasn’t occupying nearly enough of my time. The Twins, two seasons removed from a World Series title, were barely above .500. And I had just spent much of the past two months absorbing every moment of the just-concluded NBA playoffs.

This was the season that transcendent Michael Jordan eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round with what is now referred to only as “The Shot.” It was the season that a Detroit Pistons team, known to friends and enemies alike as “The Bad Boys,” battled past Jordan and the Bulls into the NBA Finals where they swept Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, sending the legendary Kareem Abdul- Jabbar into retirement without another ring.

The NBA was peak human drama for me at this point in life. After most playoff games, I’d venture out to the concrete pad in front of our house where Dad had installed a basketball hoop several years earlier and replay the greatest moments of those playoffs. That Jordan shot over the Cavs’ Craig Ehlo was unartfully re-enacted several dozen times until the street lamp turned on, inviting the first summer bugs to take over.

What made all this more exciting was that Minnesota, where the Twins reached the top, the Vikings perennially disappointed and the North Stars were going to leave, was finally getting an NBA franchise of its own.

I remember it being hard to fathom that the likes of Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing would be playing in the Metrodome next fall against a team of our very own.

Even if he couldn’t personally relate, Dad understood this meant something to me.

One day, he showed me a packet of tickets with the Timberwolves logo on them. They were for the Miller Genuine Draft Party at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I remember being excited, but also a little confused. He explained it to me the best way someone unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of the NBA could: The Timberwolves were hosting a party to celebrate choosing their first player in the college draft.

I didn’t need to ask any more questions. I was in.

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We didn’t drive down to the cities that often. It was usually for a special occasion, like the boat show or someone in the family needing a new winter coat.

Making that two-hour trek on a Tuesday evening in June, just Dad and I, was especially unusual.

We didn’t say much about these drives, at least not that I can recall. I was usually armed with a book or a handful of sports magazines. Dad worked as a school district business manager by day, trapped in a beige office, leaving only for his midday turkey sandwich at the dinner or the occasional meeting. He’d have shared more stories of his day, but I guess he probably figured they wouldn’t be interesting to me. At 12, I didn’t even know to ask.

I don’t think either of us knew what to expect at the convention center that night. I remember it being cavernous, a little confusing, and not as exciting as the weight of the moment in Minnesota sports history suggested it should be.

It started at 6 pm I know this because I still have the royal-blue, bi-fold handout from the event — a scorecard to jot down each pick as they happened. The Timberwolves had the 10th selection and when they announced the pick, I wrote “Pooh Richardson, Guard, UCLA,” in pencil. My handwriting, it turns out, hasn’t improved much in 35 years.

This, of course, was pretty much the entirety of the event. I think Dad was hoping it was more than that, but it didn’t really matter to me. The NBA Draft then wasn’t what it is today. I learned later this was the first time the draft had never been broadcast live in prime time, though the significance of that wouldn’t have registered with me back then. We only had four channels, and TBS, which broadcast the event, wasn’t one of them. That would have required cable, which we couldn’t get where we lived, or one of those satellite dishes that took up your entire backyard and which are now only useful as skateboard ramps.

I continued jotting down the picks until about halfway through the draft’s second round, after the Wolves made their third and final pick of the night. “Doug West, Guard, Villanova,” I wrote.

By this time, it was probably closed at 9 pm and we still had a two-hour drive ahead of us.

We snapped a Polaroid picture of me standing next to life-size cutouts of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, then were on our way home.

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The Timberwolves, as we all know, weren’t very good that first year, or for most of their subsequent years.

That makes this run to the Western Conference Finals behind a young, enthusiastic and charming crop of players all the more exciting for me and the rest of Minnesota.

I can’t say I’ve been there for all of it. Those lean years made it hard to be an NBA fan when your dog in the fight was so listless. But I’m here now, and thinking back fondly to that evening of June 27, 1989, realizing how special it is to say I was there at the very beginning, even if the party wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be .

Dad died seven years ago, and my thoughts are of him, too. Because even if he wasn’t really a sports guy, he understood what it meant to give his son the gift of a memory of a day like that.

Erik Siemers is a journalist and native of Garrison, Minn., who now lives in the St. Louis metro area.

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