Toe-To-Toe With 'The Body': Minnesota's Biggest and Baddest Fan

Sep 29 2011 7:33PM
"Print this: On TV on Sunday when the Vikings were done playing, I sat around and watched the WNBA instead of watching Green Bay and Chicago. I left NFL Sunday to watch the WNBA on Sunday." -- Jesse Ventura

Former Minnesota governor and pro wrestler Jesse 'The Body' Ventura has been sitting behind press row during the Lynx' historic run all year long. He can't make it for Games 1 and 2, but he's hoping you'll take his place. All of you. We saw you courtside during the last round. What got you into this team?

Jesse Ventura: First of all, let say that Iíve been there all season long, so Iím not a Johnny-Come-Lately.

Iíve suffered through many, many years of the Timberwolves, and the reason Iím not a Timberwolves season-ticket-holder anymore is I live in Mexico all winter. So, the only basketball I watch is when Iím in the US in summer, so that fits into the WNBA.

What got me hooked is I did a book tour last winter, and it was during the Final Four of the Womenís NCAA Tournament. They were three of the most exciting basketball games I ever saw. Iíd watched womenís basketball off and on occasionally, but never really paid attention to it, but last springís Final Four hooked me in.

Then obviously the WNBA screwed up big-time, because Minnesota never gets the No. 1 pick. If you look at all our sports, they never get the No. 1 pick. We can have the most ping pong balls in there, and we ainít gonna get it.

So when I learned that somehow the Lynx had gotten the No. 1 pick, of course I knew who that was gonna be. Having watched the NCAAís, I knew that was gonna be Maya Moore. That piqued my interest even more. I already knew we had Seimone Augustus, and I thought with that combination Ė in addition to bringing in our hometown Lindsay Whalen, who happened to play for the [University of Minnesota] Gophers when I was Governor, it was the right combination. Youíre a real passionate guy whoís always been an evangelist for the things you care about Ė how much of that do you do for the Lynx?

Obviously the WNBA screwed up big-time, because Minnesota never gets the No. 1 pick.
Ventura, on what brought Maya Moore to Minnesota.

Jesse Ventura: Not much, because I actually bought a single season ticket this year. My wife, the first lady, she donít like sports, my kids are all grown up and gone now, so itís more or less me going down there by myself, enjoying basketball.

I met some people sitting next to me. Like any season ticket, you get to know the small group that sits next to you. Throughout the summer, I play golf in the afternoon, come home, eat dinner and itís nice to go to a game at night, because Iím never there in the winter Mexicoís a little more hospitable than Minnesota in winter, huh?

Jesse Ventura: Iím a swimmer, so Iíve never done anything dealing with snow and ice. I never liked it.

But swimmingís a winter sport. I used to love basketball but I had to switch to swimming.

In junior high, grade school basketball, I went against the kid who was gonna see me as a classmate friend in junior high and high school basketball, Danny Carpenter, and he would destroy me.

I knew I could never be a starter, so I switched sports. I switched to swimming and it led me into the NAVY SEALS.

Iím a lot like [Olympic gold medalist] Tom Malchow. Heís big and tall and long and everyone assumes he can play basketball. I didnít have the coordination for basketball, but I did for swimming.

In this 2002 photo, Ventura talks to an NBA official about how good his seats are at Lynx games. Photo: NBAE via Getty Images Going to games all year, have noticed any uptick in the excitement around games Ė maybe a long-suffering, skeptical fan base coming around?

Jesse Ventura: I think itís improving, and itíll get even better when people start paying attention.

I noticed people at the airport greeting the ladies at two in the morning. Thatís outstanding. That shows you the base is growing. Iíd have never expected them to have people waiting for them.

I come from the pro wrestling world, and nobodyís waiting for the villain. [During his career in the ring, Ventura lived by the motto "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!"] And you were a great heel. As the No. 1 seed, are the Lynx the villains here, or are they an underdog story?

Jesse Ventura: They made some great trades, and whoever orchestrated this team deserved kudos for it. [Lynx GM Roger Griffith] and whoever made the calls of assembling this group of women, signing free agents, making trades that would create great interest, getting Lindsay Whalen deserves a lot of credit.

Everyone was angry when [Whalen] got drafted by Connecticut. Now sheís back. A hometown girl Ė how can you be any better than that?

I learned a lot about other players, like Taj [McWilliams-Franklin] whoís remarkable at Age 40, who can dive for a basketball and get up Ė itís one thing to dive for a basketball, itís another thing to get up

Sheís a remarkable player, and you hate to bring up age, but age defeats all athletes. Age defeated Muhammad Ali. It defeats everybody. You canít beat Father Time.

But any time you can see a human go out and extend the battle out there, itís remarkable. I met her daughter the other day at the game and said isnít this kind of strange Ė shouldnít you be on the court with your mom watching?

She just laughed and said 'Yeah, I should be!'

Thatís a remarkable story in itself. Taj has 3 children, and sheís running up and down the court. Sheís in fantastic condition, and sheís been an asset to the game. Sheís not along for the ride. Sheís a great contributor out there. A lot of the reason why this team is even here is [owner] Glen Taylor, who stuck with the Lynx when a lot of people were telling him to sell.

If youíre a Minnesota professional sports fan, this is the only team here, in my opinion, right now capable of winning a title.
Jesse Ventura.
Jesse Ventura: To me, clearly Glen is successful because heís a bit of a bulldog. He doesnít have a give-up attitude. Heís patient enough and fortunately, hopefully, he has the resources to play the game in pro sports and be successful Ė although I canít understand why these Playoffs arenít completely selling out to the rafters right now.

The Vikings are 0-3. The Twins are in last place, risking losing 100 games this year [they finished with 99] -- the season never panned out because of injuries, but they could win the division next year if they get some pitching.

For the Wolves, what type of season are they gonna have? Theyíre still young and growing, and theyíve gone through a big transition period. And of course the hockey team, the Wild, they havenít done particularly great, and theyíre going through a tough transition, too.

If youíre a Minnesota professional sports fan, this is the only team here, in my opinion, right now capable of winning a title.

That doesnít mean you shouldnít support your teams when they donít win Ė Iím no fair-weather fan, and I was a fan of the T-Wolves through some of the worst times possible. If they can win it this year, what effect would a title have on the Twin Cities?

Jesse Ventura: I would hope itíd be a very positive one. Hopefully itíll wake people up to how exciting the games are.

Theyíre truly exciting in a strange way because thereís no dunking. Itís a game where a lay-up is more challenging, because itís not gonna go in every time. In the menís game, itís turned into a great deal of threes and slam dunks and pick and roll. In the ladies game, because thereís not the dunking, itís a straight shooting game. Itís an interesting game played under the rim, instead of over the rim. John Wooden, later in his career, used to talk about he preferred the style of play in the WNBA. What are your thoughts on it?

Ventura and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spin a yarn in this 2003 photo. Photo: NBAE via Getty Images

Jesse Ventura: Now thereís too much emphasis on the slam dunk [in the menís game]. More power to the guys who can do the vertical stuff, but that really isnít the game of basketball. When it was started with the peach crate on the wall, nobody was dunking.

Thatís what the WNBA is. Whoís gonna argue with John Wooden? If thatís what he says, itís true.

The WNBA game is much more a throwback game in days of old. I grew up to Bill Russell, who did dunk and all that, and Wilt, but I watched a game the other day on ESPN Classic or NBATV and I remember watching Bob Cousy go down the court on a fast break. He did a left-handed bank shot on the board! Cousy drives in, and instead of dunking, heís 10 feet out to the side and he does a left-handed bank shot off the backboard and I thought ĎWow, how many players would do that?í

Thatís what Iíd correlate back to the womenís game today. Itís much more of what basketball used to be. Alright, before we let you go, how about a quick elevator-speech pitch to the fans in Minnesota about why they should come out this weekend.

Jesse Ventura: One reason, because the games are so fun. They entertain you in time-outs, and youíd never have to worry about bringing kids to the games.

They have so much going on, plus we have a winner here. Even if we donít have a [championship] here this year, weíre gonna win. Thereís no doubt in my mind. But I do think weíre gonna win this year.

Now, itís a matter of how we have to put the dynasty together Ė and dynasties require fans. This is an opportunity for a dynasty, and you donít see that often today. But for the next three-to-four years we could have a dynasty here. Mr. Governor, thanks for the time today Ė any parting shots?

Dynasties require fans. This is an opportunity for a dynasty, and you donít see that often today. But for the next three-to-four years we could have a dynasty here.
Jesse Ventura.

Jesse Ventura: Print this: On TV on Sunday when the Vikings were done playing, I sat around and watched the WNBA instead of watching Green Bay and Chicago. I left the NFL Sunday to watch the WNBA on Sunday. Iím surprised you could do anything after that Vikings gameÖ

Jesse Ventura: With the Vikings Iíve already come to grips they will never win a title in my lifetime. I figure Iíll be dead by the time they win Ė and donít forget, I lived through Bud Grant, who brought the Vikings to four Super Bowls.

I really hope the [WNBA] does exceptionally well. Theyíre talented athletes who get paid, but they ainít getting paid like Michael [Jordan] and them get paid, and to me as a fan thatís always an enjoyable part Ė that people play for the love of the sport. They play a great game of basketball, plus it ainít often that I walk around in the world and Iím looking girls eye to eye. Iím 6-3 Ė well, I was 6-3, but Iím getting old Ė so I donít go through that very often. At WNBA games, thatís commonplace.

Mr. Ventura regrets that he won't be able to make Games 1 and 2 in Minnesota because "duty of my career calls and itíll tick me off to no end, but if they go 5, I'll be there."

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