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ANYTHING WEIRDER THAN A-ROD BUYING THE TIMBERWOLVES?
Matching baseball’s impetuous bon vivant with a failed NBA franchise — in Minnesota, of all places — is so bizarre that Alex Rodriguez should think twice about the $1.5 billion purchase.
So here we have the non sequitur of all sports non sequiturs: Alex Rodriguez finalizing a deal to purchase the Minnesota Timberwolves. If there is even one common denominator between these parties, please speak up. At least Donald Trump was swinging in the same state when he tried to buy the Buffalo Bills.
A-Rod? The land of 10,000 lakes meets the man of 10,000 lies. He comes from baseball, a sport he scandalized with steroids usage and cover-ups and now butchers as an analyst on ESPN and Fox. He has led a glamorous life, in New York and Miami and points between, cold-calling Warren Buffett to be his mentor in what has become a relentless, post-career entrepreneurial whirl. He is still with entertainment megastar Jennifer Lopez, I believe — oops, not anymore — and they tried to buy the Mets in the city where both were born, which made sense.
The Timberwolves? They are a nondescript, unglamorous basketball team in MinneSOOOOOOOODA, home of ice fishing, county fairs, venison jerky, the headquarters of Target and that creepy, cult-like Skol chant/horn blow before Vikings games. I remember covering a Yankees-Twins playoff series, in the inflatable Metrodome, when the locals heartily booed Rodriguez, even when they’re known as nice folks. It’s safe to assume they don’t like him because, you know, America doesn’t like Alex Rodriguez.
Feelings aside, he’s the new front man of a franchise owned dubiously the last 27 years by Glen Taylor, a native Minnesotan, and coached to its only Western Conference finals by the late Flip Saunders, who oozed Minnesota. I, for one, cannot imagine Rodriguez moving to Minneapolis, though it would present an opportunity to wear an extravagant fur coat for photo ops. Nor can I see Lopez joining him there unless she seeks a Paisley Park seance with Prince. A-Rod’s partner in the proposed $1.5 billion deal is a close pal, e-commerce king Marc Lore, who sold his first major web project — which included Diapers.com (an A-Rod joke in there somewhere) — to Amazon for $545 million, then got Walmart to pay $3.3 billion for another startup.
Resources? Check. Starpower? Check. But in what is quite possibly the most provincial state in all the land, the disconnect is overwhelming. I would suggest Rodriguez hold his first press conference not at Target Center and not in a Gucci suit, but in a flannel shirt and jeans at Loon Cafe, down the street, where he can start with the Minnesota Wild Rice Soup before diving into the Crusted Walleye Sandwich.
Order and guzzle a Grain Belt Premium on draft. Then go blow the Gjallarhorn, which is what they call the Skol horn, even if they have to transport it from U.S. Bank Stadium. Then burst into “Little Red Corvette.’’
That way, maybe the boos aren’t as nasty.
The positive angle, of course, is that Rodriguez brings his Latino heritage to a pro sports industry that sorely needs diversity in the upper ranks. Another real-world responsibility looms: Once the transaction is completed within a 30-day exclusive negotiating window, Rodriguez and Lore immediately assume roles as civic leaders amid ongoing racial tensions in Minneapolis. As the prospective owners were preparing their visit, clashes between police and hundreds of protesters followed the fatal shooting of a black man Sunday, with the National Guard called in not far from where George Floyd was choked to death by police. The NBA is a predominantly Black league. Ready or not, Rodriguez has to be involved in all community issues as Timberwolves owner.
As a sportsman, he’s determined to succeed, meaning he won’t stand for losing. But it’s a massive stretch to think A-Rod, despite his three MVP awards and World Series title ring, is the magical corporate leader who will repair the underachievement and dysfunction that has relegated the Wolves to the NBA dregs. What does he know about basketball when he makes mistakes in the booth every baseball broadcast? He’d better learn quickly, because at 14-40, the Wolves are plunging toward the NBA’s worst record for the third time in 11 years while assured of their 15th losing season in 16 tries. Not that there aren’t valuable pieces on the roster — a prized big man in Karl-Anthony Towns, a former All-Star guard in D’Angelo Russell, a rising scorer in Anthony Edwards, a young two-way stud in Jaden McDaniels. Hell, Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs could arrive in the draft.
But there’s something about this operation that seems eternally unfixable. Assuming the deal goes through, Rodriguez and Lore — who already have been disappointed once in losing the Mets to Steve Cohen — don’t assume complete control of the franchise from Taylor until 2023. By then, who knows what the wreckage will look like? If the Wolves don’t finish in the top three of the lottery, they lose the pick entirely. Towns, never happy in Minnesota, continues to be the subject of trade talks. I know little about the coach, Chris Finch, and I do this for a living.
If the fans stop caring — and in the Twin Cities, the Wolves rank behind the Vikings, Twins, Wild, college football and maybe college hockey in interest — might A-Rod want to move the franchise? He can’t go to New York, where the market has two teams. He can’t go to Miami, home of the Heat. But he could take the Wolves to … Seattle, where he played seven seasons for the Mariners and where an arena renovated for the NHL’s expansion Kraken — as in crack, the substance the nickname-chooser had to be using — awaits a breathlessly missed NBA team.
Taylor told the Star Tribune, the newspaper he owns, that language in the pending paperwork will require Rodriguez and Lore to keep the Wolves and WNBA Lynx in Minnesota. ‘‘They will keep the team here, yes. We will put it in the agreement," Taylor said. "At this point we have a letter of intent, but when we make up the contract we'll put that in there. That's no problem. That won't be a problem."
Try telling the courts. Taylor, 79, says he trusts A-Rod and Lore anyway. ‘‘When I met them and talked to them and just in the conversation what they were after — they're bright people, very bright people, very competitive," he said. ‘‘`I could see them challenging me which I liked to have. ... They said, `’We got to learn about basketball. We'd like you to stay around and help us run it for a while. Then we'll switch over.’ Those meet all of my goals."
The agreement materialized in a matter of days, with Rodriguez and Lore approaching Taylor in early April and quickly flying to meet him and his wife at their winter home in Naples, Fla. Evidently, A-Rod is no more enamored of his broadcasting career than we are; he couldn’t wait to jump at this chance, and the networks will need new baseball voices. Is it possible A-Rod, impulsive to a fault, suddenly will pull out because he’s getting scorched in columns such as this? Or because a wiser business opportunity presents itself? For now, he’s all in, awaiting approval by league owners. ‘‘``We look forward to entering this phase of the process with Glen Taylor," Rodriguez and Lore said in a joint statement. ‘‘Our respect for him and the legacy he has built lays an amazing foundation for what’s to come. We are excited by the prospect of getting to know the Timberwolves organization."
The players, who grew up watching Rodriguez on ballfields, were as startled as anyone by the news. Towns went so far to tell a shoplifting story from his childhood, revealing that his mother — one of seven members of his family to die from COVID-19 the past year — helped him pilfer an A-Rod jersey from a New Jersey Walmart store when times were lean and money was tight. When he tried on the jersey and told her it fit, she said, “Great. Leave it on.’’
‘‘``I have that jersey still to this day in my house. That jersey meant everything," Towns said. “``I wouldn't recommend doing that to the young kids watching this. Don't do that. But if you're struggling and really like a player, I'm not going to say anything.’’
Now, A-Rod is positioned as his boss. ``Just to have his charisma and his aura, it's going to make a lot of people gravitate toward here," Towns said. ``The fans, to be able to have such a star like that as an owner, is going to bring an awareness to this team.’’
Finch can’t wait to meet the new boss. “I'm sure he understands sports at a very high level," he said. `”It certainly will bring some sex appeal to the organization, the city, to the team. I think the more skill sets and personality types you can bring to any kind of leadership group, the more it's going to be reflected in the overall mission."
If A-Rod wants to watch practice, will Finch kick him out? “You want them to feel intimately involved with the process, the team and everything else that goes around it. You want them to be an active partner,’’ he said. “``I'm not the type that's going to try to exclude them from their own team. And again, that's super high level. My job is to coach the team and make the players as best as possible. That's my day job, and that's what I focus 99 percent of my time on."
Wasn’t Kevin Garnett, greatest player in franchise history, supposed to be part of a group buying the Wolves? Oh, he didn’t get along with Taylor, and a bid never materialized. If I’m Alex Rodriguez, I’m thinking twice about spending two years of the Life Of A-Rod learning the ropes under an all-time NBA loser. Then I’m wondering about that walleye sandwich and how quickly I’d tire of it.
Then I’m wondering about distressed franchises in Major League Baseball and thinking, yep, I have a better chance of fixing the Pittsburgh Pirates than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Or, he can just huddle his new players in a meeting and give them PEDs.
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of ``Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Spotify, etc.). He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.