Season Ticket Review – One Final Spectacle
Four months ago, the Sioux Falls Skyforce stood staring at their hated rivals, a group of familiar faces in an unfamiliar league – opening night for the 2006-2007 season vs. the Dakota Wizards.
Game 24: March 31st, 2007
Colorado 14ers (27-17) at Sioux Falls Skyforce (27-17)
Since that night we’ve seen two of our best big men called up to the major leagues, another choose Korea and several out indefinitely due to injury.
We’ve seen a mediocre start turn into a blistering game of catch-up. We saw a horrible losing streak morph into a seven game winning streak. We’ve seen our hopes go from “oh well, it’s our first year in the league” to “we’re, by far, one of the best teams in the league.”
On day one, I decided to chronicle the Skyforce season through 24 games and numerous call-ups. And in that time, I grew to admire some of these minor league standouts. I’ve learned to hate NBA D-League refereeing. I’ve created a sort of inner respect for the subtleties of the game – the type of subtleties you only gain by watching the same team – the same players, the same coach, the same opponents – every game.
And now, I find I truly love this team. I’m a D-League apologist. I realize I’m watching basketball not quite at the level of the NBA – or college, to be true – but I’m watching some of the hardest working players I’ve ever seen. These people aren’t just playing to win. They’re playing for a chance, for their future. For respect. For a glimpse of the motherland – the big leagues, where they’ve placed all of their bets for years and now struggle to find the payoff.
From that first game, just two players remain – Frank Williams and Antywane Robinson. Our stars were replaced by bigger stars. Our sparkplugs honed and shipped off to be filled in with new sparkplugs. Our team, a constant revolving door of almost professionals, always contended. They always made the plays. They always came out to a fast start. They always faltered in the second and third, only to make a spirited run in the fourth.
Last night, the final home game of the year, was the antithesis of every other Skyforce game. Instead of roaring out with a 16-point lead, only to lose it later in the second, we found the tables turned. Hung-over from a brutal loss and playing a fresh Colorado team that had witnessed the injustice first hand, we looked sluggish in the first half. We were dragging. It was going to be an ugly game.
And then, just like that, we used our second and third quarters to score 80 points on route to the highest regulation score in NBA D-League history – 145 points, 43 from All-Star Stephen Graham, 22 (and 17 boards) from Sioux Falls Savior Amir Johnson. Detroit send-downs Johnson and Will Blaylock looked right at home, sporting the Pistons jerseys supplied to us for Pistons Affiliate Night.
It was fantastic. It was more fun than I’ve had at a Skyforce game all year (save the first 47.5 minutes of last night’s game). We didn’t just blow one of the best teams in the league out. We told them to get the hell out of Sioux Falls, and to take their badly ironed Denver Nuggets jerseys with them.
Just like that, the season was over, for us at least. We have nothing now but to wait. At most, we’ll host two playoff games.
At least, none. The convoluted NBA D-League playoff system only allows six teams – two get first round byes, and the rest play single elimination basketball until a champion is crowned, more on a series of extremely good games than on skill and talent.
But until then, we’re happy. We’ve been blessed with a fantastic team this year. And with the prowess we’ve shown in building successful franchise squads, I’d be willing to guess we’ll have the same wily mixture of athleticism and experience, a shell strong enough to withstand the rotation of players in and out over a long 48 game season.
Sure, we’re happy. Our team looks great. We have a great shot at the title. And it’s just our first year in the D-League.
Even if we lose from here on out, things are looking up. And the team picked a great way to close out the Arena season.