The last time the downtown Minneapolis arena hosted a pro basketball mid-season All-Star Game was the 1991 NBA All-Star Game. This Saturday, nearly three decades later, the newly renovated center will host the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game (WASG).
The WASG annually is remarkably unlike the NBA star-studded contest for many reasons. “These players and coaches are pretty special people,” Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx Chief Strategy Officer Ted Johnson noted.
“They understand that they are still building a league. They [the players] are more accessible to the fans than other leagues are. You’ll get to see the stars from the rest of the league at one location,” said Johnson.
“We are going to do things that have never been done before” at previous WASGs, added Carley Knox, Lynx business operations vice-president. This includes hosting two youth clinics, one more than usual, inviting 2,500 youth groups and selecting 10 “Junior All-Stars.”
“They will be involved [with] the practices [on Friday], get introduced, and meet the whole team. They will be part of the media junket we will have between the two practices,” Knox pointed out.
More importantly, according to Knox, Saturday’s game (2:30 pm local time) will spotlight “a societal shift” in how women’s sports should be seen and supported. “It’s going to be a historic event where some of the best athletes in the entire world [will be showcased],” she predicted.
The Lynx organization “really wants to show the country and the world what we are about in Minnesota, how diverse our team is [along with] our fans… We want that to be a story throughout the weekend.”
Perhaps the “MVP” — the person who Lynx fans should thank for Minneapolis as the first-time host of the WNBA’s annual event — is the same person who has been instrumental in bringing last February’s Super Bowl and next year’s Men’s Final Four to the city, among other high-profile sporting events: Meet Minneapolis and Sports Minneapolis President-CEO Melvin Tennant.
The WASG is part of “a summer of high activity” in the city. “Those outside of our industry might have anticipated a letdown in our business levels after Super Bowl LII,” Tennant said in a June press release. In an MSR phone interview, Tennant briefly explained the genesis of the successful bid to host Saturday’s All-Star Game.
“It begins with the local franchise… The fact that the Lynx have been in the WNBA for 20 years and have been a leader in the league in attendance and enthusiasm, and the size of the fan base – all these things came into play when the WNBA was looking for a site for 2018,” he recalls.
“I can certainly say the renovation and transformation of Target Center really put us in the position to host the event. It was the newest arena in the WNBA, and I think that was the focus of the team” in the bidding process. The league announced last fall that Minneapolis would host this year’s event.
“We have a great team,” Tennant said of his organization. “We have been involved in every major event that has come to town. But I look at this as a journey.”
Saturday’s WASG also will serve as a site visit, as the NCAA Women’s Final Four selection committee is expected to be in town. Minneapolis submitted a bid to host the April annual event. “We are pushing for 2022, 2023 or 2024,” Tennant said. “It’s an opportunity for us to show the NCAA how excited our community is about women’s athletics and women’s basketball.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.