David Stern says the NBA is on firm footing in Minneapolis despite an eventual franchise sale.
By JOAN NIESEN FS North
MINNEAPOLIS – In 1994, David Stern and the NBA blocked the sale of the
Minnesota Timberwolves to Top Rank, a group that would have sent the five-year-old franchise to New Orleans. Now, 19 years later and with another sale looming, the commissioner hardly expects to have to pull a similar move.
Stern, who has announced he will step down from his position on Feb. 1, 2014, visited the Target Center on Wednesday in advance of the Timberwolves' game against the Spurs. He spoke at length about the future of the franchise and its facility, both of which are somewhat in question in the early days of 2013.
Owner Glen Taylor, who purchased the Timberwolves after the initial 1994 deal fell through, announced last May that he'd begun to think about selling the team, though he didn't give a specific time frame for his exit strategy. Stern, too, said that the timing of the sale is still uncertain and that Taylor is only in the process of discussing it, but he assured Minneapolis that he isn't worried about it losing its team.
Stern, who's been involved in the early discussions of the sale, said that he's urged Taylor to plan "the orderly succession of the team," but he knows Taylor, 71, doesn't want to sell it tomorrow.
"Eventually it will happen," Stern said. "Glen is not what you would call an anxious seller. ... Sometimes I think he may have seller's remorse even though he hasn't sold it, because he loves the team.
"He wants it to stay here, and all discussions about sale revolve around finding the person or persons who will commit to keeping it a first-class franchise in the Twin Cities."
The real reason for Stern's visit is to meet Thursday with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak about the proposed renovations to the Target Center, which were part of the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill but have been held up in recent months due to financial concerns. Stern was open with his opinion that the Target Center has fallen behind much of the rest of the league's facilities and that something needs to be done about the state of the arena. He sees those improvements as going hand-in-hand with the team's long-term viability in Minnesota.
In addition, Stern said that there's no sense undergoing a refurbishment unless the plan includes a pledge to continue to maintain the arena. He compared what he'd like to see done with that of the renovations to Detroit's Palace at Auburn Hills, which opened in 1988, and Phoenix's US Airways Center, which opened in 1992. Both arenas have been renovated and kept current throughout their existence, unlike the Target Center, which opened in 1990.
"I view this as a reset with a little bit more attention paid, perhaps, than has been paid for the last 24 years in keeping the building current," Stern said. "That's a much easier job."
The issue of the renovations has dragged on for more than nine months, since the Vikings stadium bill passed, and the Timberwolves and the city missed a December deadline to get the Target Center renovations in order. The parties have been unable to agree on the cost of the project, which began at $150 million and has fallen as low as $100 million. Recently, a $130 million price tag has resurfaced, which includes a reserve fund to maintain the building over time.