Most people know that there was basketball team in Minnesota before the Timberwolves. They were called the Minneapolis Lakers and center George Mikan was their star player. Mikan was so dominant that the league had to double the size of the lane from six feet to twelve feet and while the change came after his retirement, initiate a 24-second shot clock. The Lakers won six championships in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" but one of those was when the Lakers were still within the eventually disbanded National Basketball League. After Mikan retired the team struggled for consecutive years. Attendance dropped significantly and even the emergence of draft pick Elgin Baylor as one of the most dominating players in the league couldn't bring the fans back in time to save relocation to Los Angeles after the 1960 season.
It was only seven short years before the legendary George Mikan returned to Minnesota and he brought wtih him the second professional team that would call Minnesota home. They were called the Minnesota Muskies and were one of the initial teams of the upstart American Basketball Association. Led by Mel Daniels they were incredibly successful on the court going to a 50-28 record before losing to the eventual champions the Pittsburgh Pipers in the playoffs. For all their on the court success they were equally unsuccessful off the court- the franchise lost an impressive $400,000 in that season. Despite a lucrative television contract for the next season and a plan to play home games in multiple venues across the state to increase revenue, management decided to move the team to Florida before their sophomore campaign and they became the Miami Floridians.
Ironically, as the Muskies moved South, the ABA champions Pittsburgh Pipers, who had ended the Muskies championship hopes, moved to Minnesota in 1968. There is no doubt Mikan had some influence in this move. The team had the best record in the league but suffered injuries to the three of its best players. They played the Miami Floridians, who had just been re-branded from the Minnesota Muskies that season, in the first round of the playoffs and lost in seven games. Again, the management failed to live up to on-court success. Head coach Jim Harding physically attached the Chairman of the Pipers at the ABA all-star banquet and was eventually replaced by Gus Young. The Pipers too struggled to get adequate attendance and also lost $400,000 their first year in Minnesota and moved back to Pittsburgh.
The loss of these two teams didn't mean the end of professional basketball in Minnesota. The headquarters of the ABA remained in Minneapolis until 1976 when its attempts to merge with the NBA final succeeded and the Minneapolis headquarters were no longer necessary. Both ABA teams that held brief stints in Minnesota disbanded before the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. It would be 11 years between professional basketball presence and 30 years between professional basketball teams in Minnesota before the Timberwolves came stumbling onto the scene.
Check out my next entry when I give an overview of the how the Timberwolves became an NBA franchise.