Former Timberwolves co-owner Harvey Ratner dies at 79

Updated: May 10, 2006, 2:32 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Harvey Ratner, one of the two businessmen who brought the NBA back to Minnesota, died early Friday after a yearlong bout with cancer. He was 79.

Ratner owned the Minnesota Timberwolves with partner Marv Wolfenson until selling the team in 1994. He died at his St. Louis Park home, son Mark said

Ratner and Wolfenson were both born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis. They became known as "Harv and Marv," working together for nearly five decades while managing their collection of apartment complexes and health and fitness facilities.

The philanthropic Ratner's proudest accomplishment, as he recently told one of his sons, was the Timberwolves, who marked the NBA's return after an absence that began when the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

One of four expansion franchises spawned by the league in 1987, the Wolves were bought for $32.5 million and began playing in the Metrodome in 1989. The following season, they went to the other end of downtown into a new arena, Target Center, which was funded by Ratner and Wolfenson.

They complemented each other well: Ratner was the cautious sidekick with the enduring sense of humor while Wolfenson was the aggressive risk-taker.

Ratner was notably anxious when he, Wolfenson and their attorney, Bob Stein, traveled to the NBA governors meeting in Phoenix in 1986 to make their formal proposal for the club.

"He told his friends in particular, and other people, too, that he would be happy if they got the team and happier if they didn't," Mark Ratner said. "He was nervous about owning such a big and public enterprise."

Their ownership was ultimately unsuccessful, ending in debt after five mostly miserable seasons on the court. Minnesota went 105-305 during that time and the franchise was sold to a group of investors in New Orleans in May 1994. The league blocked the sale a month later.

Glen Taylor, a printing magnate and former state senator, wound up finalizing his purchase of the team in March 1995 with his limited partners for $88.5 million after a messy transition that included a widely criticized, publicly funded takeover of Target Center.

Ratner and Wolfenson eventually sold most of the rest of their holdings, including the chain of Northwest Athletic Clubs in 1997. But they were regulars at Timberwolves home games, as the team finally found a way to win and made eight straight playoff appearances from 1997-2004.

"He still acted like an owner," Taylor said, laughing. "He got upset when we lost, and he was very passionate when we won."

Taylor, in a phone interview Friday afternoon, said he found Ratner to be a straightforward, honorable businessman.

"He seemed to be a very good one," Taylor said. "I liked dealing with him. He seemed to be very open. I felt he was somewhat saddened he was selling the team, but he was appreciative they went to us -- and that we kept them in Minnesota and we kept running them in a way that made them proud of the organization."

Ratner is survived by his wife, Barbara, and four children. Funeral services are scheduled for Sunday.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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