The back alleys of Target Center underwent a renovation last fall. At the behest of majority owners in waiting Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, an opulent private owners’ suite was added just down the hall from the Minnesota Timberwolves locker room.

The suite features marble flooring, a private bathroom, a bar, a dining area, plush furniture and flat-screen televisions. It was designed as a gathering place for Timberwolves leadership with Rodriguez and Lore wanting it to entertain guests, conduct business on game nights and add some pizzazz to the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

In some ways, that room encapsulates the battle between the Lore/Rodriguez group and current owner Glen Taylor for control of the Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx that exploded into public view on Thursday. It is a symbol of the differences that developed between the two sides over the last three years of a partnership that has collapsed in recent days.

Taylor and his wife, Becky, viewed the expensive renovation to be an unnecessary flex that goes against their pragmatic and practical sensibilities. They rarely visited it this season, preferring to eat their pregame meal in a common area where the media and other gameday staffers are served, as they have done for years.

Lore and Rodriguez, limited partners who were under contract with Taylor to succeed him as the controlling owners if they could complete a three-step process to purchase a majority share of the Wolves and Lynx, saw it as a way to project a more modern image for the franchise with clients and business partners.

“They wanted that private room for themselves down there,” Taylor told The Athletic. “I didn’t think that was a very good idea. But I OK’d it and paid for it and stuff like this. So I bent the corners a little bit and stuff like this here. But, I mean, that was more of their priority that they had that room than, ‘Who are we trading for?’”

“I would expect to hear that from like, a teenager, not from someone who’s so mature and so astute and who has been so successful,” Rodriguez said in a video call Friday. “Not only is that a cheap shot, but it is disingenuous and disappointing.”

That exchange shows the depths to which the relationship between the three partners has plunged, beginning with Taylor’s announcement on Thursday that Lore and Rodriguez’s option to buy the final 40 percent of the team they needed to become controlling owners has expired.

Taylor said Lore and Rodriguez have consistently missed deadlines and obligations detailed in the contract, with the final being a March 27 closing date. In his eyes, that means he retains control of the Wolves and Lynx going forward.

“The Timberwolves and Lynx are no longer for sale,” Taylor said in the statement on team letterhead.

Lore and Rodriguez vehemently disagree with Taylor’s stance. They say they have checked all the boxes and have the money, and say the contract stipulates that they are entitled to a 90-day extension so the NBA can go through its approval process. They were stunned when Taylor made his announcement on Thursday.

“We thought we were on good terms and we had a good relationship, and they were happy with all the time that we’ve put into the team to help get the team to where it is today,” Lore said.

“They seemed appreciative of that and then boom. It’s really like a nuclear bomb went off, completely unexpected and very, very disappointing.”

The opposing positions indicate that a long, messy fight for the team is just getting started. Taylor believes Lore and Rodriguez have not fulfilled the contract. Lore and Rodriguez believe Taylor is having seller’s remorse and wants to pull back on the deal because the team has skyrocketed in value and emerged as a real contender in the Western Conference this season.

Neither side appears ready to back down.

“It is now personal,” Rodriguez said. “We can be in this (fight) for five years, 10 years, whatever. We’re not going to let go.”

Added Lore: “We will use every ounce of effort here to enforce the contract that Glen broke. So that means time, capital, whatever means necessary.”

Taylor said he views it as a simple business deal that has not materialized. He has acknowledged that he has a commitment to his other limited partners to get the best deal possible after agreeing to terms with Lore and Rodriguez in 2021 on a $1.5 billion valuation for two franchises that now are likely worth close to $3 billion.

But he also says that they have reached this point not because of any personal issues with Lore and Rodriguez, but because they were unable to close the deal on time.

“If they would have had the money on the 27th, the deal would have been all done and they would have had control,” Taylor said. “But they didn’t.”

As soon as he issued his statement Thursday, Taylor’s attorney also informed Rodriguez and Lore that they were no longer allowed to be in the back hallways of Target Center where that owners’ suite is located, and that they were not to communicate with president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, CEO Ethan Casson or any of the principal leaders of the basketball and business departments.

“It feels very much like a slap in the face and much more personal than even just about the money,” Lore said.

Again, Taylor’s side views it as standard operating procedure.

For the last three years, Rodriguez and Lore were granted more latitude than the typical limited partner enjoys because of the plan to eventually take over. They had access to the entire arena, weekly calls with executives and other privileges that were allowed under the idea that it would help everyone get on the same page when they took over.

Now that Taylor sees them as standard limited partners going forward, they have been asked to adhere to the parameters of the limited partner contract. Limited partners typically do not have direct interaction with decision-makers or regular access to locker rooms and other areas of Target Center, including that owners’ suite.

The dispute emerges in a renaissance year for the Timberwolves (50-22). They have been at or near the top of the Western Conference all season long, rare air for a team that has made it out of the first round of the playoffs just once in its 35-year history.

Anthony Edwards has become one of the brightest young stars in the league, Rudy Gobert is back to his dominant defensive self after a disappointing first season in Minnesota and the Wolves have sold out every home game.

Now a blood feud appears to be percolating between three men who started things three years ago on such promising ground.

In early April of 2021 after nine long years of searching for a successor, the Taylors were presented with an audacious proposal.

Entrepreneur Marc Lore and former MLB star Alex Rodriguez were interested in buying the teams. At first glance, the match made little sense. Two big-city guys with no experience in the NBA wanted to do business with one of the league’s longest-tenured owners, a small-town printing and agriculture magnate who presided over a nondescript franchise with an old arena and one playoff appearance in the previous 17 seasons.

Taylor had discussions with several prospective buyers over the years but never got close to selling. Former Memphis Grizzlies limited partner Steve Kaplan could not come to an agreement with principal owner Robert Pera on an exit plan that would allow him to purchase the Wolves and Lynx. Current Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia considered it but had no interest in riding shotgun for a few years until Taylor was ready to relinquish full control. Numerous other candidates approached Taylor with gobs of money, but many of them had the intention of moving the team, which was a non-starter for him.

Then, Lore and Rodriguez came along. The two were outbid in their attempt to buy the New York Mets and had pivoted to the NBA when the Timberwolves opportunity landed on their desks.

Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez fist bump after the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Miami Heat at FTX Arena on March 12, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

But where so many of the other potential buyers blanched at the many stipulations Taylor had for a sale, Lore and Rodriguez were agreeable. They did not hesitate on Taylor’s $1.5 billion asking price. They promised they would invest in Minnesota and keep the teams there. They agreed that a gradual ascension to majority ownership – purchasing 20 percent to start, another 20 percent in 2023 and finishing with a 40 percent purchase (over $600 million) to give them majority status this year – was the right path to take.

Both men made pilgrimages to the Taylors’ winter home in Naples, Fla., for visits to establish a rapport, something that was important to break the ice with an owner who preferred to do business with handshakes and legal pads instead of lawyers and emails. In the early stages, Taylor warmed to their ambition and effort to connect.

“All of a sudden you meet the right guys and say, ‘I think this is it,’” Taylor told The Athletic.

Lore and Rodriguez seemed equally elated. They had both long been in pursuit of becoming owners of a pro sports team. They also viewed the process of buying the team in three steps over three years to be beneficial for them. It allowed them to learn a league with which they were unfamiliar and get their finances to make such a significant purchase.

A fast trust seemed to form.

“We all shared a common set of values,” Lore said at the time. “It was just nice. It wasn’t lawyers. It wasn’t bankers involved. It was principal to principal. There was trust involved. We were all vulnerable. We shared things. We were open. And we also didn’t treat it like a typical private equity deal.”

The goodwill appears to be gone now, but some signs of trouble started to materialize over the last few months, ever since Lore and Rodriguez exercised their option to buy the final 40 percent at the end of December.

Taylor grew increasingly concerned about their ability to complete the deal starting in February. He said Rodriguez and Lore missed several benchmarks in the past few months that were required by the contract, including moving the closing date.

“They said they’re going to get it done in February,” Taylor said. “And they gave us that date in writing that that was when they’re going to do it. And that date came and went past. And then they asked to extend it until March 27. And that date came (Wednesday) and they still didn’t get it done.

“So we’re just saying we had a contract with you guys, you’ve had plenty of time and this is the end of the contract and we’re just going to go on running it the way we’ve been running it.”

Meanwhile, Lore and Rodriguez were frustrated with several interviews Taylor did with local media outlets that suggested they were having difficulty coming up with the money to finish the deal. They vehemently dispute Taylor’s characterization of their situation. They maintain that they do have the money, have met their obligations for the deal and are awaiting league approval to take full control.

“We were ready to close on March 27,” Rodriguez said. “The NBA was not ready.”

The Athletic has reached out to the NBA seeking comment.

Lore and Rodriguez did have a late change to their financial puzzle. They had been working with The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that pledged $300 million to join their group. But earlier this month, The Carlyle Group had to pull out of the deal because it could not resolve some issues to meet the NBA requirements.

Rodriguez and Lore quickly pivoted to Dyal Capital, a firm pre-approved by the NBA, to help make up the difference and filed their commitment letters last week.

Much of the dispute comes down to the interpretation of a particular passage in the purchase agreement related to potential extensions of the closing date that states that the buyer is entitled to a 90-day extension if they are waiting on NBA approval.

Lore and Rodriguez say the extension is automatically triggered when they are awaiting NBA approval, and thus have until June to work through that process with the league.

Taylor believes that because they did not meet all of their obligations before the closing the deal has expired, and they are ineligible for that extension.

“Under certain circumstances, the buyer could have been entitled to a limited extension,” Taylor said. “However, those circumstances did not occur.”

Those circumstances include not yet going under a final review from the NBA’s finance committee and not receiving a letter of approval or a vote from the board of governors. No money has been exchanged yet, either.

Once again, Lore and Rodriguez disagree.

“There’s no wiggle room because we do have an ironclad contract,” Rodriguez said. “But at least you don’t do this publicly, which now we have to defend ourselves.”

Glen Taylor and his wife Becky Mulvihill greet Alex Rodriguez after the team defeated the Golden State Warriors at Target Center. (Bruce Kluckhohn / USA TODAY Sports)

Lore and Rodriguez believe Taylor is trying to nix the deal because he is having “seller’s remorse.” The valuation of the franchise has skyrocketed since the two joined the ownership group at the $1.5 billion valuation. Most believe Taylor could sell the team today for north of $2.5 billion, though he told The Athletic that he has no plans to put it back on the market.

“I just think, we’ve built this team. We’ve got the players now. And it appears to me that we should have a very positive run for a number of years,” Taylor said, “and I want to be a part of that.”

In an interview with WCCO radio, he said that he has “a responsibility to my (limited partners) to get the best deal I can for them.” He also noted that the majority of the money from the final 40 percent purchase would have gone directly to his limited partners and not him personally.

“The league never even got around to their approval because they didn’t get their stuff in time,” Taylor said.

The Timberwolves also are on the rise from a competitive standpoint. When Taylor welcomed Lore and Rodriguez aboard in 2021, the team was coming off of a 23-win season and had one playoff appearance in 17 years. Now they have reached the 50-win plateau faster than any team in franchise history. They play the Denver Nuggets on Friday night and a win would put them in at least a first-place tie in the West, depending on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s result on Friday night.

Lore and Rodriguez believe they deserve some of the credit for the turnaround. Taylor empowered them to suggest changes that would make the planned transition to their regime smoother. They recruited Connelly away from Denver, conversed with him regularly on trades and free-agent signings and have been a regular presence at home and road games, sitting courtside and meeting with players and coaches.

But Taylor said they have been more concerned with superficial changes like the owners’ suite than delving into the business and basketball decisions. Lore and Rodriguez disagreed, defending the need for the suite for private business meetings with key stakeholders and a revamped room for players’ families to hang out during the games. Both said they had numerous conversations on player acquisitions and staffing decisions over the last three years.

“It’s just a cheap shot, just ridiculous,” Lore said. “Alex and I are on top of every trade. I’ve personally built my own NBA modeling to be in the know on exactly what players are worth.”

Taylor did have the final say on all things Timberwolves and Lynx. He had to approve Connelly’s unique compensation package before he was hired. He was integral in getting Naz Reid’s $42 million extension done. He sat on the dais at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas when the Wolves announced Edwards’ max contract extension.

“Those were decisions that I needed to make, and I continue to make them,” Taylor said.

Along the way, Taylor said Lore in particular was not as engaged. Lore is in the middle of a massive startup project with Wonder, a company that began as a food truck delivery service but has since shifted to brick-and-mortar restaurants in the Northeast that specialize in delivering upscale food quickly.

He recently announced a $700 million capital raise to build more stores, a venture that he believes will be worth billions in just a few years, he recently told The New York Times.

“I asked him how it was going and he says I’m 24-7 on Wonder,” Taylor said. “He says I don’t have the time for the Timberwolves.”

Lore said that after he was more visible in his role early on, he was advised by some Taylor confidantes to take a step back while he was still a limited partner.

“Look around any league, every owner, they typically have a day job, some business that they run or are involved in,” Lore said. “And this is no different with me. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that once we take control, I’m all in on whatever is necessary to get this team to a place where we’re consistent and create a consistent culture of winning and bringing home a championship.”

The biggest question Lore and Rodriguez have faced throughout the last three years is: Do they have the money to not only buy an NBA team but run one? Neither has the wealth of a Steve Ballmer or Ishbia, and Lore is still getting Wonder up and running.

“Financially, I’ve never been in a better place,” Lore said. “I’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of liquid capital sitting in the bank ready to invest should it be necessary.”

Added Rodriguez: “Not only are we in strong shape, but we cannot wait to get this thing closed. We want to keep the team in Minnesota, we want to build an arena, and we want to have a championship competitive team for years to come. And we want to own this asset for the next 50 or 60 years. This is not a short-term thing for us.”

The purchase agreement calls for mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes. That means a neutral third party will have to look at the way each side is interpreting the contract and make a ruling as to who is in the right.

It is unclear how long the process will take to play out. For now, Lore and Rodriguez retain the limited ownership stake they have already purchased. They said they still plan to attend games while this plays out.

“It’s about just old-fashioned greed,” Lore said. “We’ve created real value in the team over the last two and a half years, and he wants that value back and is willing to break the contract.”

Taylor said he is not breaking the contract, but abiding by it.

“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have assumed that everything would have worked out,” Taylor said. “But they had difficulty raising the money, I guess.”

(Top Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports)



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