The Other League That Can Benefit From The NBA Lockout

The fiscal term “Black Friday” is known in America as a day when thousands of shoppers wake up extra early to catch door-busting sales at countless department stores around the nation.

NBA D-LeagueThe Friday after Thanksgiving is also a very busy day in college football as numerous games are scheduled to be played as most Americans have a “food hangover” after filling their stomachs with bulks of food on Thanksgiving.

But did you know professional basketball also returns on Black Friday?

“No it doesn’t!” you say? “The NBA is in a lockout. Games have been cancelled for the month of November. Why did you have to remind me?”

But there is NBA basketball, only you have to add “D-League” to the end of “NBA.” The NBA D-League will continue its 2011-12 season regardless if the NBA can’t come to a compromise on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The D-League is already coming off a very successful previous season as attendance numbers were at an all time high of 1,125,583 fans. That’s 7.9% higher than the previous season according to the D-League official website. In fact two D-League teams, the Bakersfield Jam and Maine Red Claws, have now sold out all of their home games over the past two seasons.

Last season, the League also gained some popularity as 37 NBA players were sent from their NBA teams to 25 D-League teams for different reasons. At one point last season, every NBA team had at least one player who was affiliated with the D-League once in their career. Popular former NBA names like Antoine Walker, Antonio Daniels, and recently Jamaal Tinsley are players you can see with a D-League club. If you want diversity, the Texas Legends even hired the first NBA-affiliated female coach Nancy Lieberman. The D-League is also considered the R&D division of the NBA, so you can take a look at not only potential NBA players, but also new rules, uniforms, basketballs and more before they are adopted by the NBA.

One very important aspect of the D-League game is to recognize each team in the D-League is modeled after one or three NBA franchises. The way drills, plays, and schemes are taught on the NBA level are taken to the D-League level.

A team like the Austin Toros runs the same scheme sets as the San Antonio Spurs just as the Tulsa 66ers run the same sets as the Oklahoma City Thunder. The athletes in the D-League are right on the cusp of being considered at the NBA level. The professionalism is there from the development of the players’ skills to the attitude they are set to bring.

For those that aren’t enthusiastic about college basketball until March, or those who aren’t into watching European basketball, the D-League is one of the best alternatives to watch basketball at a high level. If you’re a high school or small town college coach, watching how a D-League game is conducted is a cheaper route than attending a major college game or looking for videos online. You’ll be getting experience right from NBA influenced coaches. Some of the D-League coaches are even former NBA players, such as former Detroit Pistons player Darvin Ham who was the head coach of the Idaho Stampede last season.

The D-League could also gain more popularity on the online and TV market. Many reporters such as myself will be flocking to Austin from San Antonio several times during the season since the Spurs still aren’t sure if they’ll be playing basketball. More media members at games means more coverage of these “unknown” D-League athletes through social networking like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

The D-League also extended its contract with the television network VERSUS to air more games next season. Some local cable stations also have contracts to air D-League games. So if you’re flipping through your television on a lazy night and there’s no college football on or you’re not into college basketball, you could watch some basketball with a D-League game on the tube.

The D-League is very inexpensive as opposed to an NBA game. For locals from towns like Canton, Ohio, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Reno, Nevada, there’s a great opportunity to continue going to D-League games. The presentation of these games is tied very closely to the way the NBA format carries itself. New fans that will be looking for another avenue for live basketball might also begin to start attending D-League games, even if it means making a 30-minute trip from a major city for the weekend. As D-League numbers were at an all-time high last season, those numbers should continue to increase, as the NBA has no immediate decision on its future.

One of the last bonuses a fan can get from watching a D-League team is getting to see potential NBA players making their mark early on. Let’s say a player from the Sioux Falls Skyforce has a really stellar opening month in the D-League, and the NBA is still in its lockout. This player is gaining wide recognition for his on court performances. Now imagine that the NBA finally settles on a deal and basketball returns in January. This player has created a great opportunity for himself because not only is he continuing to explode in the D-League, but his filtering NBA teams like the Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Orlando Magic will have him atop their waiting list should one of their players get injured in the shortened season. As a fan, you just watched an unknown player go from being unnoticed, to gaining popularity because of a locked out NBA to potentially making an NBA squad should the league return.

Not only is the D-League setup to spike in attendance but it’s also a great avenue for those future “mystery” guys to make their mark in a situation that wouldn’t be as apparent had there not been an NBA lockout.

So when “Black Friday” rolls around and you’re looking to watch some basketball after spending hours fighting the crowds for that $200 laptop, don’t forget that there may be some professional basketball being played in a city near you.

Sure, it’s not the NBA, but there’s nothing wrong with watching the future now.

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.