With roots dating to the late 1800s, basketball has a storied history in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities community. Around the city, you'll find plenty of options to take in some hoops history or watch the next generation of basketball stars hit the hardwood.
From the nation's first ever intercollegiate game in the late 1890s to four WNBA Championships in the mid 2010s and from the NCAA championship game in 1951 to the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2022, Minnesota is home to a rich and memorable basketball history. And as the state's largest city, Minneapolis has contributed mightily to the story of hoops in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Around the city (and in surrounding communities), you’re sure to find a court to play a game of HORSE or test your mettle against the neighborhood's best. Here are a handful of experiences every resident or visitor who loves basketball should add to their Minneapolis to-do list.
1. Cheer on the Four-Time WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx
Despite being founded just over 20 years ago, the Minnesota Lynx is the state's most successful active professional sports franchise, at least in terms of championships won. Since 2011, the Lynx have won four Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) titles, raising the championship trophy in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. With four rings, the Lynx are tied with the Houston Comets and the Seattle Storm for the most titles in WNBA history, and they have won more Western Conference championships than any other franchise. Minnesota currently holds a WNBA record 10 consecutive playoff appearances. Playing their home games at downtown's Target Center, the Lynx routinely draw some of the WNBA's largest crowds during a season which runs from May until early October. Notable current and former players include Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Napheesa Collier, Teresa Edwards, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Katie Smith and Lindsey Whalen.
Pictured above: The 2022 Minnesota Lynx
2. Watch a Gopher Game at Historic Williams Arena
No basketball tour in Minneapolis is complete without a stop at "The Barn." Steeped in history and tradition, the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena originally opened in 1928, making it one of the oldest athletic buildings in the country. Featuring a raised court two feet above the benches and scorer's table, The Barn is currently the home arena of the Golden Gopher men's and women's basketball teams.
The original arena housed basketball and winter football practice facilities. When the basketball season was completed, the portable floor was taken out and replaced by a pair of tennis courts and an indoor track. Remodeled in 1950, it was divided into a hockey arena on one end and a basketball arena with a seating capacity of 18,025 on the other. From 1950 until 1971, Williams Arena had the largest capacity of any collegiate basketball arena in the country. The capacity has since been reduced to 14,625 due to renovation (when Mariucci Arena opened across the street in 1993, the hockey rink in Williams was converted into the Maturi Sports Pavilion), fire-code restrictions and handicapped-seating construction.
A long and illustrious list of some of college basketball's greatest players have run the Williams Arena hardwood through the years - from Whitey Skoog, Kevin McHale and Amir Coffey to Linda Roberts, Carol Ann Shudlick and Lindsay Whalen. The historic arena carries a mystique unmatched by nearly all other gyms across the country and provides a true home (raised-) court advantage when the Gopher faithful pack The Barn.
Pictured above: Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota (photo: Brad Rempel)
3. Howl During a Minnesota Timberwolves Game
Featuring a roster of exciting young stars, the Minnesota Timberwolves are a franchise on the hunt for glory on the NBA hardwood. Founded as an expansion team in 1989, the Wolves have yet to appear in the NBA Finals, but have been trending up in recent seasons with the addition of standout players like Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and D'Angelo Russell. Notable former players include Jimmy Butler, Sam Cassell, Kevin Garnett, Tom Gugliotta, Kevin Love, Stephon Marbury, Sam Mitchell, Isaiah Rider, Ricky Rubio, Wally Szczerbiak and Andrew Wiggins. After an inaugural season in the since-demolished Metrodome (now the site of U.S. Bank Stadium), Minnesota plays its home games at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. Opened in 1990 but thoroughly renovated in 2017, Target Center has a capacity of nearly 19,000 for basketball games and features one of the largest center-hung arena scoreboards in the nation.
Pictured above: Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards
4. Visit the Former Homes of the Minneapolis Lakers
Long before the Timberwolves came to town, Minneapolis was home to one of the most storied franchises in all of sports - the Lakers. In 1947, Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen purchased the disbanded Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League (NBL) and christened the new team as the Minneapolis Lakers. After one championship-winning season in the NBL, the Lakers moved to the Basketball Association of America (which soon became the NBA) and promptly won championships in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. Minneapolis was blessed with star-studded rosters, including eventual Hall of Famers George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Clyde Lovellette, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin and head coach John Kundla. After struggling financially in the late 1950s following Mikan's retirement, the Lakers relocated to Los Angeles before the 1960-61 season.
The Lakers played their home games at a pair of venerable downtown Minneapolis venues during their 13-year run in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The team's primary home was the Minneapolis Auditorium. Built in 1927, the Auditorium took two years to construct at a cost of $3 million, covered approximately two city blocks, and had an 80-foot-tall ceiling and a seating capacity of 10,545. The Auditorium was demolished to make way for the Minneapolis Convention Center in 1989, the same year the Timberwolves made their NBA debut.
When not playing at the Auditorium, the Lakers called the Minneapolis Armory their home. The Armory was built for the Minnesota National Guard in 1935-36 and was the Lakers' part-time home between 1947-59 and its primary home court for the 1959-60 season. The building is an example of the PWA Moderne style, a design characterized by strong geometry, bold contouring and integrated sculpture ornamentation. The Armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Today, the Armory is a premier entertainment venue that can accommodate over 8,000 guests with an open floor plan, soaring ceilings, multi-level seating, luxury VIP spaces, and cutting-edge event production, service and capabilities.
Pictured above: The Armory (photo: Tyler Allix/owned by The Armory)
5. Attend a Local High School Game
Despite being labeled the State of Hockey, Minnesota is blessed with a plethora of highly rated high school basketball programs. Right here in Minneapolis, there are numerous opportunities to catch some of the state's top teams battling to make it to the state tournament. A pair of private schools in the city have produced some of Minnesota's best teams over the years, with DeLaSalle High School the traditional power (state championships: 12 boys, 4 girls) and Minnehaha Academy the more recent basketball dynamo (state championships: 5 boys, 2 girls). Not to be overlooked is the Minneapolis City Conference, featuring seven public schools which combined have won 27 state titles (21 boys, 6 girls). High school basketball games in Minnesota are played Monday-Saturday from late November until early March, so if you're here in the winter and you can't find a game, you're not trying hard enough.
Pictured above: Minneapolis North High School gym
6. Catch a Rising Star in the Basketball World
Ready to watch the future stars of college and pro basketball? You're in luck as Minnesota - and the Minneapolis metro in particular - has turned into one of the nation's recruiting hotbeds, churning out numerous highly sought-after players in recent years. Just in the past few years, schools in Minneapolis alone have produced standouts such as Tyrell Terry, David Roddy, Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren. Extending further into the Minneapolis suburbs sees top-rated past recruits such as Tre Jones, Kerwin Walton, Dawson Garcia, Taylor Koenen, Paige Bueckers and Jenna Johnson.
Today, 4- and 5-star recruits dot the rosters of many teams across the Twin Cities metro. On the girls' side, the list is headlined by the class of 2023's 27th-rated player, Tessa Johnson (currently uncommitted) of St. Michael-Albertville. She's joined by nearly 10 more 4- or 5-star recruits in the Minneapolis area, including Nunu Agara (Stanford), Taylor Woodson (Michigan), and Alivia McGill (uncommitted) of Hopkins, Kennedy Sanders (Colorado) of Chaska and Olivia Olson (Michigan) of Benilde-St. Margaret's. Likewise, boys' high school basketball in the Twin Cities is stacked with numerous elite players. Top 2023 recruits such as Taison Chatman (Totino-Grace/Ohio State), C.J. O'Hara (Totino-Grace) and Nolan Winter (Lakeville North/Wisconsin) are the most notable seniors currently playing in the state, with underclassmen Jackson McAndrew (Wayzata), Danny Freitag (Bloomington Jefferson) and Chiang Ring (Minneapolis South) some names to keep an eye on.
Pictured above: Hopkins senior Taylor Woodson has committed to the University of Michigan (photo: Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune)
7. Go to a State Basketball Tournament
You've seen some of the best teams and players the state has to offer. Now it's time to see them compete for a state championship. Every March, 32 boys' and girls' teams come to Minneapolis for the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) State Tournaments. From the large suburban schools in Class 4A to the tiny rural schools in Class 1A, fans from around Minnesota descend on Target Center, Williams Arena, the Maturi Pavilion and the Gangelhoff Center (in St. Paul) to watch the top teams face off for high school basketball supremacy. Get to the games early and soak in the atmosphere with bands, student sections and groups of nervous parents cheering on the hometown kids.
Contested since 1913, the boys' state tournament was a one-class event for its first 58 years and has since expanded to today's four-class tournament, separating teams based on school enrollment. DeLaSalle (12), Hopkins (10), Minneapolis North (7) and Minneapolis Patrick Henry (6) have won the most state championships, but Minnehaha Academy (5) has captured a title in four of the last six tournaments. The girls' state tournament has been played since 1974 and is also a four-class event today after 20 years as a two-class tournament. Leading the list for state championships won are Hopkins (8), Rochester Lourdes (8) and Minneapolis North (5)
Pictured above: Minnehaha Academy captured the 2021 Class 3A boys' state championship, defeating Alexandria 80-29 in the title game
8. Get in a Pick-Up Game at a Minneapolis Park or Gym
Inspired after watching Minnesota's best players and ready to hit the court yourself? There is no shortage of opportunities in Minneapolis and beyond. According to the the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB), 59 parks in the city have at least one basketball court, and because the longest any Minneapolis resident has to walk to get to a park is a six blocks, you shouldn't have a problem finding a pick-up game somewhere in the city. Or perhaps you're more interested in an organized league. You're in luck as the MPRB offers both youth and adult basketball leagues at various times during the year.
But don't leave without enjoying all that Minneapolis parks have to offer. Featured among 180 park properties are 55 miles of parkways, 102 miles of Grand Rounds biking and walking paths, 22 lakes, 12 formal gardens, seven golf courses and 49 recreation centers. Hailed as one of the best park systems in the nation, you can't visit the City by Nature and miss spending time in one of our acclaimed parks.
Pictured above: Peavey Field Park
9. Visit the Birthplace of Intercollegiate Basketball
Just steps from Minneapolis in the capital city of St. Paul sits Hamline University, a private liberal arts college that stands as the oldest university in Minnesota and the first coed university in the state. But it's also the site of basketball history as the first recorded game played between two colleges took place there in 1895. Then-athletic director (and student) Ray Kaighn, who had played on James Naismith's first basketball team, brought the sport to Hamline after Naismith devised rules for the game in December 1891. On Feb. 9, 1895, Hamline hosted the first intercollegiate basketball game in history, when the Minnesota State School of Agriculture (now the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota) defeated Hamline by a score of 9-3. The game was played in the basement of the university's old science building using Naismith's original "peach basket" rules, and featured nine players to each side.
The site of that inaugural college basketball game is gone now, but nearby sits historic Hutton Arena, the home court for the Piper basketball teams. First opened in 1937, the arena has been the site of many historic victories, including Hamline's NAIA championship-winning men's basketball teams in 1942, 1949 and 1951. Legendary head coach Joe Hutton, Sr., coached the Pipers to 12 NAIA tournament appearances and 19 MIAC Championships (won or shared). A statue of the coach is in the lobby of the building.
Perhaps the most famous basketball player to come out of Minnesota never played the game above the high school junior varsity level. Though he starred on the hardwood at Bryant Junior High and was reportedly an elite practice player for Central High School, Minneapolis native Prince Rogers Nelson's basketball career was short-lived. Partly due to his modest height and slight build - though primarily due to his preternatural musical ability - Prince pursued a career in the music industry over one in basketball ... but he never lost his love of the game. He was a frequent fan at numerous NBA and WNBA games at Target Center and beyond, sitting both courtside with fellow celebrities and in the stands among regular fans. In honor of their most high-profile fan, the Timberwolves unveiled special Prince-themed jerseys in 2018 and the Minnesota Lynx team honored the prolific musician with purple shoes throughout the 2016 WNBA playoffs.
At Paisley Park, his home and recording studio in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, basketball played a significant role for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. He constructed two areas for basketball - one indoors and one outdoors - and often challenged bandmates and visitors to pick-up games. Known for his impromptu late-night concerts, Prince hosted players and VIPs when Minneapolis hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1994, and just 6 months before his untimely death in 2016, he invited the Minnesota Lynx for an all-night victory party just hours after the team captured its third WNBA Championship. There isn't a hoop at Paisley Park today, but it's clear basketball played a big role throughout the life of the iconic Minneapolis musician.
Pictured above: Prince (center) with rapper Ludacris and comedian Dave Chappelle at the 2007 NBA All-Star Game