Lake City native has helped Timberwolves fans howl since franchise's Day 1

May 22—MINNEAPOLIS — Take a peek at Jeff Munneke's LinkedIn page.

The first thing you're likely to notice: It is littered with game-day selfies he's taken with fellow employees of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lynx and Target Center. And always with a smile.

The second: Where the heck are all the bullet points?

The guy graduated from Huron (S.D.) University in 1988, yet under his "Work Experience" tab only two items are listed.

Munneke was a Sales Executive for one year for the Minnesota Strikers, a Major Indoor Soccer League team in the mid-1980s that lasted about as long in Minnesota as Jimmy Butler.

The other bullet point?

Oh, y'know, just a run of the mill 36 years and counting with the sudden darlings of the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"It's so fun to see the joy and excitement from the fans these days," Munneke said from his Target Center office on Tuesday, as the Wolves organization prepared to host Game 1 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals tonight against the Dallas Mavericks (7:30 p.m., TNT). "When your sports teams have success it really galvanizes the marketplace. That's definitely happening here. Everywhere you go you see more and more Wolves gear — people in Wolves jackets, hoodies, polos, hats. There are signs everywhere in downtown (Minneapolis).

"The Naz Reid phenomenon has taken off. It's so much fun to see how much fun our fans are having. I remember what it was like in 1987 and '91 when the Twins won the World Series. And what it was like in 2004 when we went to the Western Conference Finals and played the Lakers. I'd say (the excitement level) is even more heightened now for us."

It's been quite a run with the Timberwolves for Munneke, the organization's Vice President of Fan Experience, which in a nutshell means he and his team are responsible for everything and everyone a fan sees (aside from what happens on the court) when they enter Target Center on game night.

"It's problem solving, doing everything we can to engage our season-ticket members and our fans, and build relationships with them," said Munneke, who makes it his goal to know the names and faces of every single season-ticket holder the Wolves and Lynx have. "We like to say we're in the 'repeat business.' If a fan comes one night, how can we make sure they want to come back again? Or if a fan has a 10-game ticket pack, what would make them want to upgrade to a half-season or full-season?

"We can't control what's happening on the court, but we do control how we treat our fans. Our goal every night is to treat our fans like they're the most important people in the world. We have a great community to live in, a competitive entertainment market, so when we invite people into our house, we want it to be an unbelievable experience."

It's possible that excitement for the Wolves' product on the court is at an all-time high, but Munneke in some ways is the Lone Wolf.

A 1982 graduate of Lake City High School (where he captained the basketball, baseball and cross country teams), he is the only Timberwolves employee who has been with the franchise since Day 1 — closing in on 36 years now.

He started with the team on June 20, 1988 — a date that is as ingrained in his memory as his birthday — not long after outlasting more than 3,000 other candidates for one of nine ticket sales positions with a club that didn't yet have a nickname.

The job with the Wolves also came not long after Munneke figured a professional playing career wasn't in the cards. Though he was the captain of a 28-3 Huron University team that had reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II Tournament, he and his team had their bubble burst by a future five-time NBA champ.

"I got a chance to play college basketball, and we had a really good team. But I quickly realized that while it was rewarding to play in college, after holding Dennis Rodman to 38 points and 26 rebounds in a game, maybe I'd better have a Plan B," Munneke said with a laugh.

His Plan B has been pretty darn good. It's one he wouldn't trade for anything.

He has been with the Wolves through two (perhaps soon three) owners, 14 head coaches (from Bill Musselman to Chris Finch), 36 first-round draft picks (ranging from Kevin Garnett and Anthony Edwards to Paul Garnett and Ndudi Ebi) and the addition of a WNBA franchise, the Lynx, in 1999.

Munneke — who still makes a point to see a handful of Lake City basketball games in person each winter — witnessed the Lynx's four WNBA titles up-close.

He's also had a front-row seat for 17 Timberwolves seasons in which they won fewer than 30 games.

How in the world does a person whose title is "Vice President of Fan Experience" survive — and in Munneke's case, continue to thrive — while trying to offer a great fan experience for a team that goes a dozen years without a winning record, as the Timberwolves did from 2005-06 through 2016-17?

"I suppose you could say we're due," Munneke said, again with a chuckle. "Our organization looks at it as, this is for the fans. When the team wins and plays this well, the hot dogs taste better and the beer gets colder.

"There is nothing better than seeing our fans walking into Target Center howling like wolves, chanting 'Wolves in 4' or 'Wolves in 7' while high-fiving each other. It's a joy for us to see the joy in their faces."

See, that's the thing about Munneke — and the answer to why he has remained with the Wolves for so long, when literally everyone else who was there on Day 1 has long-since bailed: He loves it. Everything about it. It doesn't feel like work. Never has.

In fact, since he took on his current role, the Wolves have steadily climbed from No. 30 in the NBA all the way to No. 1 in fan-engagement metrics — in other words, the Wolves and Target Center staff are the best in the league when it comes to being helpful resources for their guests and treating fans with courtesy and friendliness.

"It's funny because I grew up a basketball player in Lake City (and later at then-Rochester Community College and at Huron University)," Munneke said, "so a lot of people will say 'well, you love your job because you love basketball.'

"It's that orange ball going through the steel sphere that brings people into our building, but the most fun I have is building relationships with guests and fans. I probably only see 5-7 minutes of the game every night. The rest of the time it's engaging with fans and problem solving."

Don't mistake that passion and joy for contentment, though.

With every blue-and-green fiber of his being, Munneke wants to see the Wolves continue to win. He wants to see the NBA Finals played in Target Center. He wants to see the Larry O'Brien trophy make its home at the place he's called his home away from home for nearly four decades.

That it might make his job a bit easier is just a hard-earned and long overdue bonus. Like their fans, Munneke has waited decades for the Wolves to have a team like this one.

"Now, during the postseason, I get to see a little more of the game," Munneke said, "because people don't want to leave their seats. They're so engaged with the team and it is just phenomenal to see.

"Our fans have made Target Center a really tough place to play for opponents and a really great place to play for our players."