“My life is really crazy,” Trybánski says. “I started playing basketball when I was 17, I came here, and I signed a contract, so I told my parents I’ll stay here. They can’t believe it happened so fast. I just left and never went back.”
BESIDES BEING A TRAINING stop for players, coaches, and referees, the D-League keeps local communities excited about basketball. As Reed puts it, the league offers “a fan-friendly experience at affordable prices.”
And in many ways, it is like the NBA. The D-League does an official draft, gives out MVP Awards, and hosts an annual All-Star Game. Teams may have peculiar names — Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Iowa Energy, Dakota Wizards — but they all boast mascots and cheerleading squads, and they sell official clothing. Fans can become “virtual scouts.”
Despite the backing of the NBA, though, nothing is really certain. Eleven D-League teams have either moved or folded in the past nine years. The 2009 champions, the Colorado 14ers, called it quits one month after winning the title. (The league has since moved the team to Frisco, Texas, and will relaunch it with a new name, logo, and colors this fall.)
But the athletes who have played in both the NBA and the D-League appreciate either opportunity, and they understand that at the end of the day, it’s all just basketball. Still, there’s a world of difference between playing pro and with a farm team. The D-League salary is peanuts, at least comparatively. The gymnasiums are small. Even with something as basic as commuting to games, players are constantly reminded of where they are in their career and where they are not.
“In the NBA, the team owns the plane. You got space. You can sit, lie down,” Trybánski says. “It’s different here. We bus, or we just go to the airport with everybody, take the plane, regular airline. Sometimes it’s hard for me to fit in the chair.” The seven-foot-two player laughs. “They always put me in the emergency-exit row!”
The D-League season continues through April 3. Visit www.nba.com/dleague for more info and schedule listings.