To boost awareness, the NBA broadcasts all D-League games live and free of charge on its Futurecast website, and it recently finalized a deal to have 16 games aired on Versus. The D-League schedule runs parallel with that of the NBA, and personnel can be moved between the two leagues throughout the season.
“Last season, 20 players were called up,” Reed says. “Twenty-seven of the 30 NBA teams have D-League players on their rosters. Every referee from the NBA has come exclusively from the D-League. We’ve called up 22 coaches.”
Like other professional sports leagues, the NBA heavily scouts college teams for future talent. But sometimes players take a different path to play pro basketball. And for them, that’s the D-League.
“We cast a pretty wide net,” says Chris Alpert, vice president of basketball operations and player personnel for the D-League. “We sign guys who get released from NBA teams. We go to all the draft camps, the summer leagues. We go overseas and scout the top European players.”
For example, last year’s star for the Bighorns was 24-year-old point guard Russell Robinson, who was drafted after ¬playing at the University of Kansas and leading his college team in points, steals, and assists. He attracted big attention from the NBA, but after stepping up to play Summer League with the Orlando Magic and then preseason with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was cut from the league. He’s now back with the Bighorns.
“That was a good experience,” Robinson says after the Bighorns’ practice ends. “That was all due to my play here last year. So, I plan on building off that and having a better year this year.”
Like every D-League player, Robinson knows the scouts are watching. At any moment, the phone could ring. “You know they’re there,” he says. “It’s a matter of playing well, and then if [they’re interested], they talk to your agent. And you take things from there. You just go out there and hope for the best.”