Major League Baseball has its affiliated minor league teams. Although not nearly as extensive, the National Basketball Association also has its minor league – the NBA Development League or for short, the D-League. There are nearly 200 minor league baseball teams in the US, but there are only about 15 teams in the D-League. Some have a relationship with just one NBA teams, but others have multiple relationships. There are teams in places stretching from Portland, Maine to Ft Wayne, Indiana, to Reno, Nevada. And there is also a team in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas – the Vipers. Gary had never been to a D-League game and wanted to experience one so we took in the Vipers along with our local friend John.
The players in the D-League are an interesting mix. Sometimes an NBA team will send down one of its players for some playing time to rehab an injury or maybe to get playing time for a rookie who is otherwise sitting on the end of the bench. Many of the players are just short of NBA skills and with development may eventually be called up to a NBA team. Others are very good players, but have little or no chance of ever getting to the NBA but won’t give up the quest.
The biggest “name” on the court was Glen Rice Jr of the Vipers. He played some college ball at Georgia Tech but had been kicked off the team after numerous disciplinary issues with the final one being his involvement in a shooting incident outside an Atlanta nightclub.
Except for the players on an NBA contract sent down for a stint, the rest of the players make very little money. Salaries range from $12,000 to $24,000 a year. These guys must have other jobs in the off season and/or the financial support of family. They most all could make a lot more money playing overseas, but then they could not live the dream of a mid-season call up. And likely some just don’t want to live overseas or are not allowed to with their criminal records.
So in a word, what is a D-League game like? SLOPPY! The game was filled with turnovers. The game was played at a very fast pace, a much faster pace than a college game would be played at. Presumably the NBA wants these guys playing at the pace they would experience if called up. But in some stretches it was race to one end for a traveling call to race to other end for a stolen pass to race to the other end for an offensive foul to race to the other end for a palming call. It is frustrating to watch at times. For every spectacular play, and there were a few amazing alley oops, there had to be 10 turnovers. There was only one player, a tall German, who appeared to be showing NBA caliber skills.
The Vipers organization does put on a good show. They have a dance team – The Snake Charmers and their chief mascot is Fang, shown here with me. (He reports that his favorite move is… what else -- Snakes On A Plane.) They also have a Chick-fil-A cow (in case you were wondering about that picture above). They have lots of local groups performing at intermissions likely to help fill up some seats with their friends and family. They have a powerful PA system, fan cam (we were up on the screen at one point capturing Gary in a yawn), and a player introduction production almost worthy of an NBA arena. If only the players could up their game a bit……..