Sports Business

Grand Rapids nets Detroit Pistons minor league team

April 16, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Grand Rapids nets Detroit Pistons minor league team
A group of executives in the basketball industry announce the Detroit Pistons’ minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids, which will play in the NBA Development League.

The minor league basketball team for the Detroit Pistons will soon be shooting around Grand Rapids.

A press conference to announce a new NBA Development League team was held yesterday at The DeltaPlex arena in Grand Rapids.

Ownership

Although rumors had been swirling for a few weeks, the conference announced the team's owners: a partnership between the 26-person SSJ Group, led by Steve Jbara and the Detroit Pistons.

The team’s basketball operations will be run and funded by the Pistons. Other business areas will be run by SSJ Group.

No comments were made on the investment by the owners, but the SportsBusiness Journal has reported a D-League team to be worth about $5 million.

The team

The roster will be set some time in early November, when the 50-game schedule begins.

The games will be played at The DeltaPlex, where Jbara said the team expects to stay. He said improvements to the arena will come.

The team hasn’t been named yet, but fans are encouraged to submit ideas to GRDLeague.com.

The team will showcase “the highest level of basketball outside of the NBA, featuring up-and-coming Detroit Pistons,” D-League President Dan Reed said at the news conference.

Reed added that the team will offer “fun, family friendly and affordable” entertainment.

Tickets will be anywhere between $5-$20 at the 5,000-seat venue, depending on seat location.

D League

Three Pistons have D-League experience, along with 30 percent of the NBA.

There are 18 D-League teams, with 15 being single affiliates of NBA teams, but the NBA has said there are hopes to have a single affiliate for all 30 NBA teams.

"The NBA D-League is becoming an integral part of the NBA’s future, and after two years of working to make it happen, we are ecstatic to have the opportunity to bring high-level professional basketball to the Grand Rapids area,” Jbara said. “The media spotlight and increasing viewership will help continue the trend of exciting things happening in this region. We look forward to celebrating the strength of the existing community and positively impacting areas of focus through our NBA/D-League Cares initiatives.”

A minor league market

Jbara said during the news conference the process was about two years in the making, until the group purchased the Massachusetts-based Springfield Armor and relocated it to West Michigan.

Jbara grew up in Kalamazoo and said he wanted professional basketball in the region.

“I thought to myself, ‘What a neat opportunity for the Grand Rapids area to get one of these basketball teams,’” Jbara said. “You’ll be able to see NBA youngsters here, NBA veterans, March Madness players and even international players.”

When Pistons owner Tom Gores took office and he met with Dennis Mannion, CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment and the Pistons, he asked where the affiliate was based. The answer: Fort Wayne, Ind.

“He said ‘Well, that’s odd. Why isn’t it in Michigan?’” Mannion said at the conference. “As we talked about different areas that would be good, Western Michigan was our primary target.

“I’m blessed to be here in Grand Rapids. It’s a dream come true for me and a part of the Tom Gores bucket list. We get to check that off the list. Now, we just need to support it.”

Mannion — who’s worked in all four major sports, including most recently with Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the Pistons — said he’s never seen a sports scene like Grand Rapids, where there’s three minor league teams affiliated with pro teams.

He said there should be plenty of opportunities to share marketing with the West Michigan Whitecaps and Detroit Tigers and the Grand Rapids Griffins and Detroit Red Wings.

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