The rise of the D-League

Only-OneThis column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.


We wholeheartedly in 2001 endorsed the idea for an NBA-sponsored minor league. Then-NBA commissioner David Stern boldly predicted that it would become “a true minor league farm system” for his league.

The NBA Development League (NBADL), more commonly known as the D-League, is strung out from coast to coast, a training ground for players, coaches, officials, trainers and front-office types — “the league’s research and development laboratory” since 2001, says its website.

Dahntay Jones
Dahntay Jones (Photo by Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Former Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Milt Newton was among the D-League’s founding members. He once told us, “The initial thought process was for each team to have their own development team, not only for the development of players but also staff.”

It started with eight teams; the D-League is now at 22 teams with three new clubs slated to start this fall (Greensboro, NC; New York City; and Hoffman Estates, Ill.). Some are owned by NBA clubs while others are independently owned.

A typical D-League game has all the never-ending bells and whistles typically heard and seen at NBA games but on a smaller scale. Loud music. An arena overhead scoreboard flashing ads, and Pavlov-dog commands for fans. VIP tables and premium courtside seats, along with high-school-style bleachers.

The Only One stopped by the home of the Grand Rapids Drive during our March Madness road trip this past spring. Grand Rapids is about two hours in either direction from Detroit to the east and Chicago to the west. The host Drive, which is the Detroit Pistons affiliate, faced the Toronto Raptors 905, whose parent club is the Toronto Raptors, in the last home game of the 2015-16 season.

D-League action from the Only One’s perspective
D-League action from the Only One’s perspective (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

At times during the contest, we found our first-ever D-League game in person reminiscent of the old Howard Pulley Pro-Am for which, several summers back in the 1990s, the MSR was its official newspaper of record.

Dahntay Jones that night set a Drive franchise record when he scored 45 points — virtually a point a minute as he logged 45 minutes in a 16-point loss to Toronto.

“I was trying to be aggressive all night,” said the 6’-6” forward out of Duke.

Then Grand Rapids Coach Otis Smith added disappointedly, “He was the only one keeping us in the game. His ability to put the ball in the hole when we couldn’t score helped.”

The MSR asked if it isn’t about time every NBA club has a D-League affiliate — all but eight NBA teams have one, and Minnesota is among those who don’t. Before he was eventually fired after the season, Newton told us he saw the Wolves moving in that direction.

“We really haven’t used the D-League that much in the past,” he said. “That’s something we are trying to rectify. If there’s an opportunity for us to utilize the D-League, we will do that. You like to have a team that’s close by where you don’t necessarily have to get on a plane to go see your player or drive six or seven hours to see your player.”

Asked if the current D-League is serving its purpose, Smith responded, “I think so.” Last week he was replaced as Drive coach when he joined the Pistons coaching staff.

Jones, who was the 20th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by Boston and played with seven NBA clubs over 11 seasons, pointed out of the D-League, “It wasn’t for development, but more for getting in shape for what’s next rather than sitting on the couch. Everybody is a pro. It is good basketball. Everybody’s athletic.”


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