Basketball

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NBA’s D-League Bringing New Economic Opportunities to Mid-size Cities

22 Feb, 2017

By: Michael Popke

With all the talent on display at the NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, it’s easy to forget how some of that talent develops.  

No, we’re not talking about the University of Kentucky’s infamous one-and-done college basketball program, but rather the NBA’s Development League — or D-League, for short. Pro basketball’s version of the minor leagues, the D-League debuted in 2001 with eight teams and has grown to 22 teams — all with one-to-one affiliations with NBA franchises. Teams play 50-game schedules from November to April.

The D-League is poised to expand to 25 teams for the 2017-18 season with the recent announcement of three new affiliates. According to the league’s official website, the Milwaukee Bucks purchased an expansion team that will be based in Oshkosh, Wis.; the Memphis Grizzlies purchased an expansion team in Southaven, Miss.; and the Orlando Magic bought the Erie BayHawks in Pennsylvania and intend to rename the team and relocate it to Lakeland, Fla.

Additionally, the Atlanta Hawks purchased an NBA D-League affiliate that will begin play as the Erie BayHawks before relocating to College Park, Ga., in 2019-20. And the Minnesota Timberwolves announced a letter of intent to purchase the Iowa Energy, the Grizzlies’ current affiliate.

“You’re looking at tens of millions of [dollars in] economic development spin-off,” Rob Kleman, the senior vice president of economic development for the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce, told WBAY-TV following the Bucks’ announcement.

A 3,500-seat arena will be built on the site of a former furniture company, where local officials and project developers also hope to host boat shows, concerts and conventions. “In the long term, leaders hope the $15 million privately financed project brings more people to Oshkosh and revitalizes the area around the arena,” the TV station reports.

That sounds enticing to officials in Grand Junction, Colo., who recently proposed a $62 million, 5,200-seat event center they hope will attract an independent hockey league team and a D-League affiliate. “The [Denver] Nuggets and the [Utah] Jazz both are looking at an NBA D-League, and honestly speaking, they are looking at here,” Mike Anton, who sits on the committee overseeing plans for the new arena, told local reporters, who say the venue would create more than 400 jobs and bring in an estimated 80,000 visitors to the Grand Valley every year.

Residents will determine the facility’s future when the question of whether to fund it with a quarter-cent sales tax increase is put to voters in an April referendum, but local officials are optimistic.

Optimism is alive and flourishing in Orlando, too, where leaders say the acquisition of the BayHawks will help extend the Orlando Magic brand across Central Florida. “Having another major sports partner in our county portfolio will have nothing but a positive impact, both on our image nationally as well as on our local economy,” Mark Jackson, director of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We continue to enjoy an 80-year relationship with the Detroit Tigers [who hold spring training in Lakeland] and look forward to building that same type of relationship with the Magic.”

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