More than a quarter century ago, Glen Taylor purchased the Minnesota Timberwolves and kept the NBA team from moving to New Orleans.
Last month the North Mankato-based billionaire signed off on the sale of the Wolves (and the WNBA Minnesota Lynx and the G-League Iowa Wolves) to e-commerce magnate Marc Lore and retired baseball great Alex Rodriguez. Pending league approval, which is expected, Taylor’s initial $94 million investment will reap $1.5 billion.
That’s more evidence of Taylor’s financial acumen, not that we needed it.
But the sale also resurrects the possibility of the team leaving the Twin Cities.
Taylor, 80, has been looking for an exit from the basketball business for a while now, and one of his stated criteria has been a pledge that the Timberwolves will remain in Minnesota.
But a lawsuit filed last week by a minority owner claims that the sale contract Taylor reached with Lore and Rodriguez lacks an enforceable prohibition of a team move.
In terms of the lawsuit — which is about when the minority owner gets paid and by whom — the question of a team move is largely irrelevant. For fans, the main issue of the lawsuit is irrelevant but the chance of losing the team is paramount.
The fear for Wolves fans is what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics. Throughout that sale process the new owners insisted the team would remain in Seattle, but the team was moved to Oklahoma City roughly a year after the sale was finalized. A dozen years later, Seattle remains without an NBA team.
A contractual prohibition on a move may not be enforceable, and it may not really matter. The league has its eyes on the Seattle and Las Vegas markets for expansion teams, with an expected entry fee of $2 billion; it makes little sense to let the Wolves desert the 14th largest market in the nation to poach one of those cities.
Lore and A-Rod have been largely silent about their intentions and are likely to maintain that discretion at least until the NBA approves the deal. That, plus their lack of personal ties to Minnesota and a potential dispute about Target Center, helps fuel anxiety about the team’s future. But there was no Glen Taylor 2.0 for Taylor 1.0 to sell to. If Taylor is right about the league’s willingness to prevent a move, a truly Minnesota owner isn’t necessary.