February 10, 2013

Frisco, Texas: D-League Assignment

After my overnight stop in Dallas, I was excited to head north to Frisco and take in my first NBDL game, a 3:00 p.m. matinee featuring the home Texas Legends taking on the Tulsa 66ers. Watching D-League ball is, after all, the primary reason for this trip.

Frisco is a suburb of Dallas located about 20 miles up the Dallas North Tollway. The area was first settled in the mid-nineteenth century along the Shawnee Trail, one of the trails used to drive cattle from their grazing grounds to the railway where they could be sold for slaughter. The present town, originally called Frisco City, was established as a stop on the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway which was built nearby the Shawnee Trail. The town took it's name from the railway which had given it life and later dropped the "City" from its name becoming simply Frisco.

Today, Frisco is one of the fastest growing communities in Texas, boasting about 130,000 residents. If I had to compare it to something around my adopted home town of Washington, DC, I'd say it's sort of like a more populous Reston, Virginia, an affluent suburban community 20 or so miles from the city with a town center with shops and restaurants and, in Frisco's case, three professional sports teams: FC Dallas, the Texas Tornado minor league hockey team and the Texas Legends. Frisco has managed to make itself into more of a tourist destination than Reston (which pretty much has zero tourist appeal; sorry, Restonites) through its sports teams and an active public art program. The highlight of the public art for me was a series of full size bronze cattle drive depictions paying homage to the town's and area's roots. They have clearly spent a lot of time and money on these things and it pays off, although I have to wonder how much time people spend appreciating these things. There is also signage documenting the history of cattle driving through the area.

The Texas Legends have been playing in Frisco for three seasons. They started out as the Colorado 14ers in 2006 attempting to join the Continental Basketball Association but they never got started in the CBA. They were technically one of the five teams that jumped from the CBA to the NBDL the year they were founded but, unlike the other four, the 14ers never played a single game before joining the D-League. They lasted three seasons in Colorado before being sold to the Dallas Mavericks organization who moved the team to Frisco after a year hiatus. Nine of the 16 current NBDL franchises are either owned by or affiliated with a single NBA team. The Legends were the one of the first to be owned by an NBA team.

The reason I wanted to make this D-League trip is to see how life in the NBDL compares to life in the NBA or get at least as much of that as I can see from a seat in the arena. My perspective on live professional basketball games is formed from my experiences in Verizon Center and the other basketball arenas I have been to in Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, Indianapolis and, most recently, Dallas. All of those arenas seat around 20,000 people for basketball. The current capacity of Verizon Center, home of my beloved Washington Wizards, is 20,308 which includes the recently added standing room only spots. The Dr. Pepper Arena, home of the Texas Legends, seats between 4,000 and 4,500 for basketball so it's considerably smaller.

It's also considerably cheaper. My season tickets in section 109 of Verizon Center cost me $50 per game as a season ticket holder but the list price of those seats is $80 to $100. The price for a ticket where I sat to watch the Legends play the 66ers (first row behind the hockey boards, center court) at Verizon Center would cost between $200 and $300 depending on the night and opponent, meaning Tuesday night games against the Milwaukee Bucks are $200 and Saturday night games against the Miami Heat are $300. My center court seat at Dr. Pepper Arena cost me all of $28, so 10 to 20 percent of the cost of an NBA ticket. The other important cost metric at arenas is the cost of a beer. A 20 oz. Budweiser costs $8 at Verizon Center; a 24 oz. Budweiser costs $7 at Dr. Pepper Arena, so beer is about 75% of the price of beer at VC. Oh how I wish NBDL beer was 10 to 20 percent of the cost of an NBA beer.

The Legends - 66ers playing in the third quarter. No, most of the crowd is not on a beer run.
With this afternoon's game in the books, I have to say the NBDL game experience is a huge step down from the real NBA. It's making me appreciate just how good I have it as a spectator at Verizon Center. The arena is poorly lit, there are bouncy playthings in the ends of the arena (including a very very slow semi-bouncy mechanical bull) and the arena was way less than half full. I can't imagine how some of the NBA veterans playing in this league can stand it. Maybe it's a sign that what I would consider the three true NBA veterans on the Legends team didn't play: Delonte West left the team last week and is apparently not coming back; Rashad McCants was let go by the team for conduct detrimental to the team (according to the PA announcer's side comments before the game); and Luther Head was hurt. On the 66ers side, everyone played, including Chris Quinn ,who played five years in the NBA, and 11 year veteran Rasual Butler, who is hoping to parlay this effort into a new NBA deal. Former Wizard Mike James tried a similar strategy earlier this year and was snapped up by the Mavericks after just one game. Based on his performance this afternoon, I'm not sure Butler's going anywhere.

The game itself was competitive for a while, although the Legends pulled away in the third quarter and ended up winning by 24. The stars of the show were Jared Cunningham, the Mavericks' 2012 first round draft pick who is on assignment to the Legends from the parent team, and Justin Dentmon, who poured in 36 in his 41 minutes. Dentmon spent a little time a couple of years ago with the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors. It was clear at times when he was on the floor that Cunningham had more talent than others on the floor, although I'm sure at one time Rasual Butler would have looked just the same against the talent out there this afternoon.

Tomorrow is a day off from hoops on this trip for me. I'm hoping the two games I have left on this vacation are better attended than this afternoon's contest and the experience is better for me. Maybe the afternoon start time was just too much for people to handle. One final note: this is the first game I have ever attended where we were asked to stand and honor "God and America" before the game. I can tell I'm in Texas. :)

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