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Timberwolves Become Minnesota’s Latest Loss

From Associated Press

New Orleans, which has lost one NBA team, got another Monday.

Minnesota has now lost two.

Five years after joining the NBA as an expansion team, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced Monday they are moving to New Orleans for the 1994-95 season. Timberwolves owners Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson said a group led by Top Rank of Louisiana will pay $152.5 million for the team.

It was the second major league franchise lost to Minneapolis in the last 11 months. The NHL North Stars moved to Dallas for this season after 26 years in the Twin Cities.

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And it’s the second NBA team lost to Minnesota. The Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.

Ratner and Wolfenson said they had been willing to take $88 million from buyers wanting to keep the team in Minneapolis, but none came forward.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, clearly disappointed by the move after moving to have the league’s 1994 All-Star Game in Minneapolis as a show of support for the Twin Cities, disputed that.

“Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner have received substantial offers to purchase the team and keep it in Minnesota,” Stern said. “Regrettably, they decided against accepting these offers.”

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The latest offer came Monday from Magic Johnson, who said in Tokyo--where he is touring with an all-star basketball team--that a group that included him, singers Prince and Janet Jackson and Minnesota music producers Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis were trying to buy the team.

Another group, led by former Minnesota insurance executive Bill Sexton, also had expressed interest.

But Wolfenson said no one put an offer in writing and that, even in informal discussions, no one came close to paying the money necessary to retire Target Center’s debt.

Wolfenson and Ratner had built Target Center to house the team, but found that with the debt load they were losing about $6.25 million a year, even through crowds were near capacity and the team itself made money.

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This month, the Minnesota Legislature believed it had taken a major step toward keeping the team when it approved a $42 million public buyout of the arena. Gov. Arne Carlson signed the legislation.

But Wolfenson and Ratner owed $76 million on the arena, which they opened in 1990 in time for the team’s second season. They said they were willing to put in $10 million of the difference, but weren’t willing to eat the remaining $24 million.

They said they would use the New Orleans money to pay off the Target Center debt and would continue operating the arena without public subsidies.

“This is a big blow to Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis,” Carlson said.

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The matter now goes before the NBA’s franchise relocation committee, where the transaction is expected to be approved.


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