Whilst I remember days of Dome Dogs and Chuck Knoblauch (seriously, just check his pic out) in a less legendary light, some choose to (rightfully) point out the historic value of having such a humongous arena in which to greet a fledgling NBA franchise such as the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 1989-90 season.
Steve Aschburner had the Wolves beat for the Star Tribune during the Kevin Garnett. Over at nba.com, he’s got some great stories about the soon to be gone Metrodome…
…for one memorable season, the Metrodome was a basketball Mecca, drawing more customers to the NBA than any other arena before or since.
With Target Center under construction for what would be the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves’ secondseason, the Dome (as it was known in the Twin Cities) became the new team’s temporary digs for its 1989-90 inaugural home schedule. Like other domed stadiums turned into makeshift gyms – the Superdome in New Orleans, the Pontiac Silverdome north of Detroit – the configuration for basketball wasn’t ideal.
The court had to be snugged up to one section of the permanent grandstand, with portable bleachers on the other sides. The vastness and lighting messed with shooters’ backgrounds. Then there were the locker rooms, accessed through the baseball dugouts, followed by a long trek up into the bowels of the concrete structure.
A crowd of 35,427 showed up for the Wolves’ home opener, with Jordan scoring 45 points for the yet-to-be-champion Chicago Bulls. Boston, with Bird and state hero Kevin McHale, pulled in a crowd of 35,713. When the Lakers came to town on St. Patrick’s Day and narrowly escaped with a 101-99 victory – with Wolves coach Bill Musselman pestering Johnson with 7-foot-3 center Randy Breuer defensively – there were 43,606 in that building that night.
“The Wolves used the visitors’ [baseball] clubhouse, on the other side of the laundry room,” said Clayton Wilson, the Timberwolves’ longtime equipment manager, who worked for the Twins before switching over with the move to Target Center. “Tom Kelly [Twins manager] could sit in there and listen to Musselman rip into the players. ‘Lohaus, you [bleep]!’ Muss would get in their faces a little bit.”
Kelly was a season-ticket holder, like Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
“T.K. loved the Xs & Os,” Wilson said, “so he would go in pregame and listen to them, and then [during the game] he’d say, ‘OK, see how the coaches said they were going to deny this guy the ball and get it to that guy? That’s what they’re doing.’ “
There were more than a few nights, Wilson said, that Kelly – rattling around his Dome office in the middle of a Minnesota winter – would give the regular laundry guy a night off and wash the Wolves’ sweaty uniforms and socks.
“Most of us had not played in the NBA,” Mitchell said over the weekend. “And the guys who had been on NBA rosters, hell, they had barely played. So I would have played in a brier patch. It didn’t matter to me. I would have played butt-naked, outside and barefoot. Just give me an NBA jersey.”
The team’s attendance had been strong all season. It went 17-24 at home and outscored visitors by 0.4 points, vs. 5-36 on the road with an 8.8 points deficit. But that huge Lakers crowd put Minnesota within reach of something special. The NBA’s home attendance mark belonged to the Pistons, who drew 1,066,505 fans in 1987-88 – the first Detroit “Bad Boys” club to reach The Finals.
After 38 home dates, the Wolves were at 937,148, averaging 24,662 per game to Detroit’s 26,012. That’s when president Bob Stein, marketing whiz Tim Leiweke (now the Toronto Raptors’ top exec) and the rest of the front office shifted into another sales gear. Targeting the NBA record, the Wolves packed in 45,458 for Orlando’s visit on April 13, 40,415 to see Utah two nights later and finally 49,551 for the home finale against Denver on April 17. More than 135,000 tickets – some at wildly reduced rates, many with horrible upper-deck sightlines – were sold for a team that lost 60 games and eight of its final nine. Their final count: 1,072,572, an average of 26,160.
It’s a record that still stands, even if the building in which it was set – the Vikings played the final Metrodome game there Sunday and demolition already has begun – soon won’t be.