That's when I was ushered in to sec Taylor. "The biggest problem here is the accelerated salaries," said Taylor, who has reluctantly left his shoe print on the accelerator. "The money that is being spent, and the ticket prices going up—people are upset, and they don't know how to respond negatively to that. They've picked this"—the stonewalling on a new stadium—"as a way to do it."
Taylor sees in Garnett "wonderful qualities that go beyond the court: his smile, his treatment of people, his willingness to get involved, characteristics we all love." But Taylor added that virtually every member of the public who wrote, telephoned or faxed the Timber-wolves' offices opposed the $125 million offer. "Almost everybody said, 'You shouldn't have offered him more; the first offer was a very generous one,' " Taylor said. But he noted that other owners had been prepared to pay Garnett as much, and in the end the T-Wolves had little choice but to preempt them. As Taylor had said before, "I've already owned a bad team." It wasn't any fun.
Garnett is. I watched him play on Nov. 1, the second night of the season, in a 106-90 win over Charlotte. At one point he hit a jump shot and then pantomimed sucking on an imaginary cigar and blowing a puff of smoke toward the Target Center rafters. Life was good, and after the game he shouted in the locker room, "Smile, people, it's another beautiful night in Minnesota! It's not even snowing yet!" Told that it was, in fact, beginning to snow, Garnett pulled a long face, which grew longer when teammate Chris Carr told him, "They were joking about you again on the radio this morning."
"Another stinkin'-ass money joke?" Garnett said with a sigh. "I don't want to hear it." Soon thereafter, as Carr chanted, "Gimme a dollar! Gimme a dollar," Garnett disappeared into the trainer's room.
When he emerged an hour later, he politely dismissed any questions about his contract. "That's done," he said. "The fans love me, and I love the fans, and I'll leave it at that."
When he signed the contract, Garnett told a press conference, "It wasn't nothin' about the loot." One was tempted to reply, "No, it was about all the things you can buy with the loot." But that would only smack of envy. After the T-Wolves' 129-113 win over the Golden State Warriors on opening night, Garnett wore a watch that witnesses described as breathtaking: silver (perhaps platinum) encrusted with diamonds. It would be cheaper to strap an atomic clock to your wrist. It bothered nobody, least of all Garnett, that the timepiece was four hours off.
The day before the Vikings played a road game against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 5, Headrick was given permission to tour the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks' deliriously lavish new baseball park, a $354 million retractable-roof Colosseum. "There's a hot tub in right-field," said Headrick. "Beer gardens above the hot tub. They've got a front-row restaurant in left centerfield, suite levels that are paid for and advertised on by Infiniti. They've got BankOne's name on the stadium, panels in centerfield that open up to the outside and downtown. It's unbelievable. It's like an amusement park surrounding a baseball game, and you can wander around and watch things that have nothing to do with the game."
That last feature would have been especially attractive in a new Twins ballpark, because Minnesota hasn't had a winning season in five years. The Vikings haven't won a playoff game in a decade. Headrick insisted that his team, which was 8-7 at week's end, cannot compete long-term with clubs that are backstroking naked down new revenue streams.
When Headrick enumerated the inadequacies of the Metrodome, I couldn't help but wonder who his target customer was—Caligula? "There is no stadium club," he said of the Dome. "The suites are without rest room facilities. The entrance to each suite is directly off the concourse, and there's no private entrance."
All of which explains why the Vikings are now 28th (of 30) in league revenue. "And," said Headrick, "if we don't get some improvement in our situation, either in lease changes that would reduce our expenses or in revenue enhancements in our stadium, or possibly a new stadium, we're going to be 30th pretty soon."