MINNEAPOLIS Bill Edlefsen might be the most loyal Minnesota Timberwolves fan you'll ever meet. He's been a season-ticket holder since the NBA franchise's infancy, more than two decades ago, and he sits in the Twin Cities' version of the "Jack Nicholson seats," right by the visitors' bench.
"They should send a cab for me," Edlefsen joked in reference to his loyalty to the team. But even Edlefsen sounds a bit depressed when the topic of the NBA lockout comes up. After all, the longtime fan knows his team's perceived offseason momentum has slammed to a halt.
"I think it's really, really sad for the Timberwolves," said Edlefsen, a manufacturer's rep. "Because they've got a quality coach (Rick Adelman), and with (point guard Ricky) Rubio coming in and (rookie forward) Derrick Williams and everything, people were excited.
"It's kind of a shame."
With the first month of the NBA schedule already canceled and the growing possibility more games will be lost, others in the Minneapolis area are starting to share Edlefsen's concern especially those with businesses that have a symbiotic relationship with Timberwolves basketball.
This lockout affects far more than millionaire players and billionaire owners. Plenty of relatively blue-collar locals could see their bottom lines take a hit if the NBA's labor dispute lingers.
Yusuf Ahmed, who works as a parking-lot attendant near the Target Center, said the NBA lockout has become a concern for his business.
"When the Timberwolves play, it's really super busy," Ahmed said. "But now I don't know. If the Timberwolves play, (the parking lot) would be full. We used to make a lot of money. But now I don't see it
Plenty of Minneapolis pubs rely on the presence of NBA stars in the nearby Target Center to get their business flowing.
"In here, that's the first thing they want to talk about, is the lockout and how terrible it is," said David Klarich, marketing director for Hubert's Sports Bar & Grill, located in a corner of the Target Center.
"It's not something we want, by any means," Klarich said of the lockout. "There's no doubt that the Timberwolves bring a few million dollars to downtown every time they play. That's a pretty substantial number."
Dermot Cowley, owner of O'Donovan's Irish Pub across the street from the Target Center, echoed that sentiment. He said Timberwolves game nights typically provide a boost of 5,000-15,000 for his establishment.
"That's hard to replace, when you lose that type of revenue," Cowley said. "It has an impact all around the arena no doubt it affects all of downtown when (the Timberwolves) aren't playing. It's very disappointing now because it affects a lot of people."
Even the Mall of America, which represents all things capitalism, is starting to feel a slight pinch because of the NBA's work stoppage.
The walls of sports-memorabilia retailer Pro Image are lined with countless clothing items representing the Minnesota Wild, Vikings and Twins. But, at the moment, only a few Timberwolves jerseys are scattered throughout Pro Image's racks, like the Wesley Johnson one in the back.
"To the best of my understanding, when they started to miss (NBA) games, some of the shipments got held," explained Pro Image manager Jesse Fronek. "So, until they are able to sign that agreement, or figure something out (with regard to the lockout), a lot of shipments aren't leaving the specific vendors, like Reebok.
"We carry jerseys in probably at least half of the NBA teams. So, you know, I miss sales everyday. There's still visitors that come to this mall and want to find that stuff, especially people from overseas . . . And we don't have stuff to sell them, so I miss some sales."
There's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind element to all sports work stoppages that can hurt teams like the Timberwolves, who fight for attention in Minnesota with the Vikings, Twins, Wild and Gophers. Fronek's thoughts seem to illustrate as much.
"If they're on a lockout, we're not likely to focus as much on that (NBA apparel)," he said. "Because sports customers, I think, in general see what's on TV they see who's hot, and what teams are winning and that's what they ask for."
Though the NBA lockout of 2011 hasn't yet seriously hurt Twin Cities businesses like Fronek's, Minnesotans aren't eager to see the work stoppage stretch into December.
And Cowley, for one, shudders at the thought of a year-long lockout.
"We'd be somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 in lost revenue over the season," said the pub owner. "We would survive, but that's still a lot of money to lose because the (NBA) season isn't there. There's nothing else we could do to replace that. In this economy we're all worried. I'm earning all my gray hairs these days."
Klarich, of Hubert's Sports Bar, agreed.
"It's definitely tough," he said. "Hopefully you can lick your wounds and come back."
The lockout is trying most folks' patience, to some extent especially die-hard fans.
"I've had season tickets for years," Edlefsen said. "It's still the best athletes in town. There was a hell of a lot more buzz about the NBA (recently). But now it's getting down to crunch time."