Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

72 hours before Game 7, a Timberwolves fan in Japan bought game, plane tickets to Denver

A man at a basketball arena
Mitsuaki Ohno flew from Japan to Denver, Colo., to see the Timberwolves play the Nuggets in Game 7 on Sunday night.
Courtesy of Mitsuaki Ohno

Updated May 21, 6:52 a.m. | Posted May 20, 8:09 p.m.

Mitsuaki Ohno became a Timberwolves fan 35 years ago, when his family moved to Rochester after his dad got a job at IBM. He became hooked on the newest team to the NBA at the time.

He moved back to Japan, but his fandom didn’t falter. Ohno has been a season ticket holder since the 2003-04 season. Every year since, except during travel restrictions during the pandemic, he has made a pilgrimage to Target Center. He gives his other tickets to Japanese exchange students at the University of Minnesota.

Ohno’s most memorable game was 20 years ago, when Kevin Garnett led the Timberwolves in a Game 7 win over the Sacramento Kings to advance to the Western Conference finals.

Exactly 20 years later, Ohno has made a new memory: watching the Timberwolves once again advance to the Western Conference finals in a Game 7 matchup against the Denver Nuggets.

Ohno told MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer that the atmosphere at Ball Arena Sunday night was made better by the amount of Timberwolves fans at the game.

“I thought for an away game, there was a couple fans I expected, but there is huge fans flying to from Minneapolis or the other cities,” Ohno said.

But likely no fan made as a big of a trip as Ohno. He bought plane tickets and game tickets on Thursday night in Japan, just 72 hours before the game.

“I talked with a friend and he said ‘are you seriously going to the game?’ If I’m not going, I’m going to regret it,” Ohno said.

After nearly 6,000 miles and 16 hours, Ohno landed in Denver just before midnight on Saturday — 14 hours before tipoff.

At the game he arrived early to get autographs from players, cheered with a crowd of Wolves fans and was likely the very last person in the arena. He savored every moment of his few hours of in-person fandom.

Ohno is already in Minneapolis and has tickets to Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night at Target Center. He thinks they could win it all.

“I think in three weeks, I will come back again to Minneapolis,” Ohno said.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Correction (May 21, 2024): This story has been updated to accurately reflect the timeline of Ohno’s arrival for the game.

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