SI Vault
 
Curtains?
Steve Rushin
December 22, 1997
In only five years the sports mecca of Minnesota has said goodbye to its NHL team and, by voting down proposals for new stadiums, has all but lost the Twins and begun to alienate the Vikings. The way the economics of sports works nowadays, this could happen to any city in America
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 22, 1997

Curtains?

In only five years the sports mecca of Minnesota has said goodbye to its NHL team and, by voting down proposals for new stadiums, has all but lost the Twins and begun to alienate the Vikings. The way the economics of sports works nowadays, this could happen to any city in America

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

Pohlad declined to speak to me, and to be fair, the man has taken a beating of late. His home phone and address are listed, and not long ago an escapee from some radio Morning Zoo doorstepped Pohlad's wife, Eloise, and asked her the monumentally tasteless question, "Is he out buying a cemetery plot?"

In the demagoguery of the stadium debate Pohlad was reduced to an irresistible alliterative epithet, billionaire banker. When I mentioned the phrase to Headrick, a New Jersey native, he said, "Oh, yeah, that's part of the culture of Minnesota—pinpointing anyone who is different, particularly in terms of wealth."

Different and wealthy are not compliments in Minnesota, and Pohlad is both, if you believe the famous lines of St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."

As a state, Minnesota is both very rich and very different. It has the highest property-tax rate in the nation and enjoyed a $2 billion budget surplus in 1997. "We are not like a lot of other states," says Taylor, a former minority leader in the Minnesota senate. "We want to be thought of as a very progressive state, but we don't want to be thought of as a big state. We're willing to pay more taxes for certain things, and we're very prideful of those things." He mentions schools and parks but not $411 million retractable-roof stadiums. What is the source of such reasonableness? "It's probably something historical, in our upbringing or from the immigrants who first came here," Taylor says. "It's somehow in the fiber."

Minnesota, as I have written before in these pages, is the Don't Show Me State. The Norwest Center in downtown Minneapolis was designed to be a few feet shorter than the state's tallest building, the nearby IDS Center. Minnesota has 12,034 lakes, but it rounded the number down to 10,000 for the inscription on its license plates. In 1899 a Minnesota resident, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen, coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption," which aptly describes what Minnesotans find objectionable about so many exotic (which is to say non-Minnesotan) cultures. "Ten to 15 years ago, you wouldn't find many limousines in Minnesota," said Headrick. "Now you see a few more. But I'd say most of those are hired by players and some of the entertainment people, who don't come from the same culture."

Taylor is very much from the Minnesota culture. He agreed to my interview request by saying, "Well, you're from Minnesota, I can trust you." ("You betcha," I wanted to reply.) He's a billionaire who seems to belie Fitzgerald's assessment of the very rich. "I don't think I'm different from a lot of people," he said. He still lives in the small southwestern Minnesota town of Mankato, 70 miles from "the Cities," which he speaks of as if they were Gotham. "I like where I was brought up and how I was brought up," Taylor says. "I like the small town. I know the people. I feel very comfortable there. I feel if you go to the Cities, you get lost a bit. I don't belong to any clubs. I think I get the best of both worlds: I can be involved in the Twin Cities' sports, theater and shopping and still get in my car and drive home and know all my neighbors."

Taylor is the largest employer in Mankato. His company, Taylor Corp., prints half of all the wedding invitations in the A U.S. "In Mankato," he said, "when I go to the supermarket or I go to the mall, I hear everybody's opinion." He's self-made, and he's self-aware enough to know how decadent the NBA appears to his neighbors. Consider: On top of the $125 million that he will pay Garnett, Taylor recently paid the league $25,000 in fines because Da Kid and his teammates like to wear their shorts an inch longer than the league allows.

Just how sybaritic have professional sports become? While waiting in the Timberwolves' reception area to see Taylor, I read a small item in the Minneapolis Star Tribune's sports section about ex-Wolves coach Bill Musselman, now an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers, a team owned by the aforementioned Paul Allen.

According to Forbes, Allen is the 15th-richest person on Earth. His fortune reportedly increased by $975 million in the same year that the state of Washington gave him $300 million to build the Seahawks a new stadium. The Blazers have practiced in Allen's home gymnasium before games in Seattle, and they fly to and from games in his $95 million Boeing 757 jet. "You should see our plane," Musselman gloated in the Star Tribune. "They cater Ruth's Chris Steak House on it. And we're the first plane to have a satellite dish."

The second plane (I read slack-jawed) was Air Force One.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6