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St. Louis Park Native, Former NBA Player Going Strong After Heart Attack

Former Orioles star Jim Petersen talks about his health scare, what the city means to him and much more.

Many successful, well-known people have called St. Louis Park home. From writers to politicians, athletes to filmmakers, the city has a wellspring of noteworthy natives.

At 6’10,” Jim Petersen (, class of 1980) may be the tallest of the bunch.

Petersen starred on the basketball court at St. Louis Park, where he helped the Orioles reach the state tournament from 1978-80. He finished his high school career with 1,081 points, which is the fourth-most in school history. In 1980, he became the first Minnesotan selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, an annual showcase for the nation’s outstanding high school players. In 2005, he was part of the inaugural class of inductees into the St. Louis Park High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Petersen went on to play at the University of Minnesota, where he was a member of the Golden Gophers’ 1982 Big Ten championship team. He played in the NBA from 1984-92 as a member of the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.

Petersen is currently in his 12th season as a broadcaster for the Minnesota Timberwolves, providing color commentary during the team’s Fox Sports North telecasts. In addition to his broadcasting duties, he has spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

On Nov. 24, 2010, Petersen suffered a heart attack at his home. However, he was able to get to the hospital quickly and was back at work three days later.

St. Louis Patch recently caught up with Petersen for an e-mail interview, where he talked about growing up in St. Louis Park, his career, his heart attack and more.

St. Louis Park Patch: How, if at all, has your heart attack changed your life? 

Jim Petersen: The whole experience changed my life. On one level it was kind of like going to my own funeral with the response I received from friends and family. The number of people that reached out was amazing and was sort of humbling to know how many people cared about my well- being. It also was a wake-up call for me and other men in my age group. I had so many people tell me they had to rethink their diet and exercise regimen. If I can have a heart attack at 48 ... many other guys in my age group all of a sudden felt vulnerable. 

St. Louis Park Patch: You told Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, “I feel perfect,” after returning to work just three days after your heart attack. How do you feel now?

Petersen: I felt really good right after (doctors) knocked away the 100 percent blockage of my right coronary artery. I was feeling a little phantom pain right after, which I understand is somewhat normal. The only thing that really reminds me of the episode is the fact that I have to take four medications now — a blood thinner, a beta blocker to lower my heart rate for a few months, a cholesterol-lowering medication and good old aspirin. My biggest hurdle is not high LDL (bad) cholesterol, but low HDL (good) cholesterol. Doctors have told me the only way to raise HDL is to exercise.  I have really tried to get back into the yoga room and on the treadmill on a daily basis. That has been really great. 

St. Louis Park Patch: What are some of your favorite memories of growing up in St. Louis Park?                                               

Petersen: Wow, that is a big question. Too many memories to fit into this article. I loved growing up in St. Louis Park. I still have a ton of friends from high school and wouldn't trade growing up where I did, just two blocks from the high school. My best friend Justin Gamble (and I) would spend hours playing on the football fields and watching basketball practice back when Marc Trestman was in high school. My first agent in the NBA was former NFL player and Timberwolves President Bob Stein. I remember seeing his Park High football jersey in the display case in the front foyer when I was younger and always looked up to him. When I got to know him at the University of Minnesota, he became one of the three most important  mentors in my life. He is still a close friend to this day. As far as the places I went, it would be easier to tell the places I didn't go. As a kid I got my hair cut at Guzzy's on Minnetonka Boulevard. To this day I can't drive past Louisiana Boulevard and not think of Guzzy's ... I spent most of my childhood in all of the city parks and playgrounds. Aquila Park was big, and the playground at Lenox Elementary where I went to school. I spent so many hours playing baseball in the summer on that playground. I also learned how to shoot on the basketball court next to the school.

St. Louis Park Patch: How did growing up in St. Louis Park help shape you as the person you are today, both personally and professionally?

Petersen: St. Louis Park produced a ton of incredible people. My high school basketball coach, Augie Schmidt, was probably the most important man in my life other than my father. He really made me believe in myself, and I firmly believe I wouldn't have accomplished the things I have without him. Just an amazing person. I already mentioned Bob Stein and Marc Trestman ... News anchors Mark Rosen and Jeff Passolt are also guys I looked up to and see frequently. There were so many great role models in the community for everyone to admire. Here is another huge factor that shaped me big time: My parents always taught me to be tolerant of other people's beliefs and growing up in St. Louis Park really nurtured this idea. If you look at the names I mentioned, you will notice most of them are Jewish. Growing up with a large number of Jewish kids made me a bigger person. As I got older I never understood the ignorance of anti-Semitism or racism. Most of my friends growing up were named Fishman, Lifson, Bank, Fischbein and Yarosh. I grew up admiring their families and religion, and it made me a better person having been exposed to their culture.  

St. Louis Park Patch: What are some of your fondest memories of playing basketball at St. Louis Park?

Petersen: When I went to my 10-year high school reunion, they asked us to fill out a questionnaire and asked the same question. I was shocked at the number of people who said their fondest memory was the state basketball tournaments. It was pretty cool to go to state three years in a row. The only regret I have in my basketball career is that we didn't win a state championship. We had all of the talent ... but just never got it done. I still talk with many of my old teammates and see them often. My son Sanjay plays varsity basketball for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, which is in the same conference as St. Louis Park. The gym hasn't changed much over the years except for today’s Park teams don't have the number of fans we did. It was so great playing in front of packed gyms everywhere we went.

St. Louis Park Patch: What was it like to be the first McDonald’s All-American from Minnesota and play in the game with other future NBAers like Derek Harper, Sam Perkins and Doc Rivers? What do you remember about that game?        

Petersen: It was a wonderful experience. I was really honored to be selected to participate. Six other Minnesota kids such as Khalid El Amin, Joel Przybilla, Rick Rickert, Kris Humphries and Cole Aldrich have all played since. Minnesota basketball has come a long way since I graduated in 1980. Amateur Athletic Union summer basketball was not allowed in Minnesota when I was in high school because the state high school league thought metro kids would have an unfair advantage over outstate kids. It was really a short-sighted policy because there were a bunch of good Minnesota players who didn't get the same summer exposure to play Division 1 basketball like kids from New York, California, Ohio and Florida. AAU basketball tournaments are when college coaches get to evaluate high school players. If you consider I was selected in 1980 and the next Minnesota kid didn't make it until Khalid El-Amin was selected 1997 ... you can see how this policy stunted Minnesota basketball big-time. When I went to play in the McDonald’s game, I remember all of the other players knew each other from playing in national AAU tournaments since they were in seventh grade.  I was a little bit in awe because I had never played against a kid from New York like Sam Perkins or Chicago like Doc Rivers.  The most incredible memory I have is getting to meet and have a photo taken with coaching legend John Wooden, who was one of the main organizers of the event.  I started in the game and scored 10 points, which was a huge thrill to know I could play with the best players in the country.                                              

St. Louis Park Patch: Growing up, who influenced you most as a person and as a player?

Petersen: So many people influenced me as a player. My father was 6' 10" and was a great high school player and played college basketball, so he obviously had a huge influence. I mentioned my high school coach, Augie Schmidt, who was the best mentor a young player could have. As a history teacher, coach Schmidt taught to respect the history of the game by talking about players like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Other coaches like Deb Wold and Lyle Hanks taught me solid fundamentals and important traits like discipline and hard work. I spent hours with my buddy Justin Gamble copying the moves of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. We would shoot for hours, which really helped me develop my skills. It was really a mind-bender when I found myself actually guarding Kareem at the (Great Western) Forum in Los Angeles some years later.                                                  

St. Louis Park Patch: What is your favorite memory from your time as a player at the University of Minnesota? What’s your favorite memory from playing in the NBA?

Petersen: My favorite memory at the University of Minnesota was winning the Big Ten Championship in 1982. It was so great to play on a team with such great players like Trent Tucker and Randy Breuer. My favorite memory in the NBA was playing in the NBA Finals against Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in 1986. We lost to the Celtics in six games, but I still see those games being shown on ESPN and NBA TV.  

St. Louis Park Patch: What do you like best about your job as a broadcaster? Your job as a coach?

Petersen: I feel like I have never worked a day in my life because I have always loved the game of basketball. I am so grateful to (Timberwolves owner) Glen Taylor and the Timberwolves organization for allowing me to broadcast games on the Timberwolves side and to coach the most talented women in the world on the Lynx side. On TV I get to work with a great broadcaster and friend in Tom Hanneman. He is a total class act, and I love him and his family to death.  Our whole TV broadcast team is the best at what they do and we have a ton of fun doing the games. Look, I get paid to sit courtside to talk about a game I love. What is not to like? The coaching thing is about loving teaching and fulfilling the competitive aspect I lose by just broadcasting games. Coaching is totally different than just covering the game as a member of the media. Going to practice, putting together game plans and sitting on the bench with the players is hopefully preparing me to be a head coach myself one day. I kind of look at it like I'm just adding more things to my career utility belt.

patrick donahue January 07, 2013 at 05:34 AM
My best memory is when he smarted of to a junior high teacher Mr. Phillips and was slapped in the face and cried like a baby to the office. This was at a time when teachers where not allowed to properly discipline students. I told my parents what happened and they "both" went to the school and told the principal to inform all my teachers that if I every was improper the teachers could discipline me in any way they see fit. Every dog has its day.

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