If you’re a true basketball fan, you know all about the NBA Gatorade League (formerly known as the NBA Development League) – the place where NBA hopefuls get their start and the place where NBA superstars go to recover. There are currently 26 teams playing in the G-League, the minor leagues of the NBA. 22 of those teams are owned and operated by NBA franchises. In fact, at the end of this basketball season, 44% of all NBA players held NBA G-League experience.
When the San Antonio Spurs bought the Austin Toros, San Antonio Spurs fans were throwing a fit. They thought the team was moving to Austin because the Austin Toros were now the Austin Spurs! Little did they know the Spurs had an entirely other league living in Austin. Many NBA teams are starting to change their G-League names to match their mascot to better affiliate the teams. People wouldn’t recognize the Toros, but they would definitely recognize the Spurs. The Austin Spurs are now celebrating 10 years.
If you walk into the Austin conference room, you’ll notice photos of players lining the walls. Each of those framed photos are former Austin Spurs members who made their way into the NBA. It’s not just players, though – it’s coaches and athletic trainers, too. The Austin Spurs have turned over a number of star basketball players to the NBA and even to San Antonio – Danny Green, Jonathon Simmons, and Cory Joseph just to name a few. Even though the Austin Spurs family is proud of all their players moving on to greatness, they are out of wall space!
Jonathan Simmons is one of the most notable Austin Spurs players. His story has even been called “the greatest story in basketball.” Simmons went undrafted out of high school and began hopping around from team to team to play basketball. Then, he dropped out of school to help support his family. He later joined a semipro team, the Sugar Land Legends. Shortly later down the road, Simmons paid $150 for an open tryout to join the Austin Spurs in September 2013 – possibly the best investment he could’ve ever made.
Simmons played in Austin for two seasons, but the pay wasn’t much. Even his mom tried to convince him to quit basketball and become a barber. Simmons stuck it out, and was signed to the San Antonio Spurs in 2015. Simmons is still with the Spurs, but is now a free agent. Reports are even saying that the Spurs are preparing to offer him $9 million annually.
Only two Austin players received NBA call-ups in the two seasons before the Toros became the Spurs. Since the new ownership, 26 players have been called up to the NBA, and 28 players from San Antonio were assigned to play in Austin. The Austin Spurs won three division championships and took home the NBA D-League Title in 2012.
So what makes the Austin team so special? Austin Spurs General Manager Andy Birdsong said when San Antonio needs to find new guys, they come to Austin to gather players who already live their culture. “The same Spurs principles of Pounding The Rock are in Austin, and it has become the lifeblood of our development program.”
It’s surprising that not many people understand the G-League. If you’ve ever wondered where your favorite Spurs player was during the season, he could’ve been in Austin! Last season, San Antonio made 28 assignments, including 11 assignments each for rookies Bryn Forbes and Dejounte Murray. They also had 9 players on their roster who had experience in the G-League. This is the first time in franchise history that a majority of the team played at least one game in the G-League. Last season, NBA teams totaled 479 assignments with 92 NBA players.
The Austin Spurs have come a long way since their beginning. In 2007, they played at the Austin Convention Center, where a small employee break room was used as a locker room. For practices, they used a close by recreation center where some homeless people would come to take showers. After games, the Austin Spurs employees had to stay late to move the 158 wooden pallets that made up the court off the floor – or else they could face a heavy fine. Sometimes, they would even have to call friends and family to come and help so they would get the floor cleared in time.
Once the Spurs took over, big changes were made. The team moved to the Cedar Park Center in 2010, where they could play in a true arena. In the last 4 years, ticket sales have quadrupled. The team is continuing the grow, and fans and NBA players are witnessing and acknowledging their success.
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