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Parks Own Jim Petersen

Five things to know about Minnesota hoops legend Jim Petersen

Jim Petersen, affectionately known as "Jim Pete," has lived a full basketball life from St. Louis Park to the Gophers to the NBA and WNBA.  

By Patrick Reusse Star Tribune


OCTOBER 25, 2023 — 7:49PM


November 1982: Jim Petersen picked the Gophers over Duke, among other considerations.

Five things to know about Jim Petersen, a St. Louis Park native and former NBA player who serves as a television analyst for the Timberwolves:

From Park cheers to Barn hoots

Jim Petersen was a 6-10 standout who sky-lighted a period of glory for St. Louis Park High School. The Orioles went to three straight Class AA tournaments in Minnesota's two-class tournament from 1978 to 1980. They lost a 44-33 defensive battle in the final vs. Prior Lake in '78, when Petersen was a sophomore.

He was Minnesota's "Mr. Basketball'' and the state's first McDonald's All-America in 1980. He went to the Gophers, who were then playing in a Williams Arena full of fans with sizable expectations.

"They wanted me to be the next Mychal Thompson, the next Kevin McHale, the next Randy Breuer or Mark Olberding,'' Petersen said this week. "I was none of those. I became the Rodney Dangerfield of the Barn.''

"Some boos, but no respect.''

Petersen said this with a laugh — and he did have the last of those on his Gophers critics … playing eight seasons in the NBA.

"Not bad for a kid with a mediocre college career,'' Petersen said.

Summers at Fonde Rec

Petersen was the Gophers' captain as a senior in 1983-84, averaging 11.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He was drafted in the NBA's third round — 51st overall in a 23-team league — by Houston.

That gave him a chance to back up both Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson and reach the NBA Finals in 1986. It also gave him a chance to play four summers in what had to be some all-time pickup games at Fonde Rec in downtown Houston.

"Moses [Malone] lived in Houston in the offseason and he was there; Hakeem, Clyde [Drexler] … you name a connection to Houston basketball and that guy was there,'' Petersen said. "Hot, small, funky gym — one game trying to guard Hakeem, the next Moses in 90-plus-degree heat. It was great.''

How good was Malone? "Unstoppable — and Hakeem was even better,'' Petersen said.

Rewards for double duty

Jim Pete spent nine years as an assistant coach with the Lynx — meaning long summer days preparing and assisting with the players, and the rest of the year analyzing Timberwolves games.

"The Lynx won three of their titles when I was an assistant, and it was a chance to work for a Hall of Fame coach … Cheryl Reeve,'' Petersen said. "She helped me see the game that I didn't see as a player.

"And to appreciate the preparation coaches put in — hour after hour in a dark room, looking at tape. I was a vampire, but being around those great athletes as they fought for championships was worth every missed round of golf.''

Start of a media career

"My dad had cancer and I moved back in 1998,'' Petersen said. "I needed a dentist at one point and found Mike Sudit. He had a son playing seventh-grade basketball in Hopkins. Bob Stein's nephew was also on the team.

"They talked me into coaching those seventh-graders. I loved it — and with Bob's past connection with the Wolves [as team president], I found out about an opening for a radio analyst.

"I got an audition, with play-by-play guy Chad Hartman and me sitting in a dark room, looking at video on a small screen, and describing the game.''

Hartman and the Timberwolves' connections to the broadcasts approved and put Petersen on the air.

"Right away, Chad gave me the advice I needed,'' Petersen said. "You start when the ball goes through the net, and you have until it gets over half-court. That's your sweet spot as an analyst.''

Hartman said Tuesday: "He wanted to be great right away. We just clicked. We had a lot of fun. And NBA teams and stars were easier to deal with then. You could get almost anybody for a pregame or postgame interview.''

Petersen: "Chad and I spent hours together on the road.''

Does that count golf in any road location where it was possible? "Definitely,'' Petersen said.

Choosing a college

"Whenever Jim Pete goes too far in expounding on his far-reaching basketball knowledge, I do have a card to pull out,'' Chad Hartman said. "It starts with him being widely recruited high school senior and taking a serious look at Duke, where Bill Foster was the coach.''

Duke was an upset winner in the ACC postseason tournament and reached the NCAA's Elite Eight, losing 68-60 to Purdue. And then Foster resigned to take the job at South Carolina.

"As Jim Pete tells it, he wasn't sure about the new coach Duke was bringing and said, 'I'm going to stay home and play for the Gophers,' " Hartman said.

That new Duke coach was Mike Krzyzewski, as in Coach K.


Patrick Reusse is a sports columnist who writes three columns per week.