Season Ticket Review: Camping out

When I last saw my darling Sioux Falls Skyforce – scourge of the winter sports season and sweetheart to a couple of new parents from central Sioux Falls – they were pretending to be in the playoffs. I say pretending because the NBA D-League playoffs are a fractured, horrifyingly short playoff-light; a group of games that would seem more akin to regular season ball had it not been for the playoff cameras and national broadcasters.

I wished them well, and they promptly lost before they made it back to Sioux Falls. The season was over. Long live the season!

SkyforceSeveral months later, I’m gearing up for the upcoming season. We’re season ticket holders again, though this time we’re bringing extra baggage – an infant who has no desire to watch basketball. But after NBA D-League draft night – hosted in Sioux Falls by the local Buffalo Wild Wings branch – I’m left staring at a roster sheet I can barely recognize.

It’s this way every year with the Skyforce, but this year it’s even more confusing.

We bring back three players from past years that I can remember: Elton Nesbitt and Antywane Robinson served as our 11th and 12th man last season, and David Bailey was a Skyforce player during the 04-05 post-championship season – our first dedicated season as Skyforce Fans. Oh, and Nic Caner-Medley was a rookie prospect in my first online basketball sim league.

And with that, I’m done. Finished, without a clue. These guys are as random and unknown as can be.

The team is allowed to bring its ten draft picks, and seven additional players to training camp. The additional players are either holdovers from last year’s team, players allocated to the team thanks to local interest, or local invitees and walk-ons. The current training camp roster:

Sioux Falls Skyforce:
From Draft:

1- Nik Caner-Medley
2- Carl Elliot
3- Jason Klotz
4- Evan Burns
5- JC Mathis
6- Ronald Allen
7- Milone Clark
8- Michael Joiner
9- Sammy Monroe
10- Fred Robinson

From Last Year/Allocation/Invitee

David Bailey – 04-05 Skyforce (local allocation)
Marcus Bailey – 04-05 Skyforce, waived early in the season (local allocation)
Ben Jacobsen – University of Northern Iowa (local allocation)
Elton Nesbitt – 05-06 Skyforce
Antywane Robinson – 05-06 Skyforce
Derrick Wimmer – local invitee

And in perusing this list, you see why being a semi-pro fan can be so difficult. This cast of characters is relatively unknown. Sure, you’ve heard of some of them if you follow basketball closely, but for the most part they’re all strangers, lost in the shuffle, not good enough to stick around on an NBA level team and not adventurous enough to head to Europe.

Which is where most of our stars ended up. There are two players from last year’s team in the NBA – Andre Brown and Amir Johnson – and the rest of the stars are overseas, playing the Dirk Nowitzki or Yao Ming role of crazy foreigner on some Italian or Greek team.

And this happens throughout the year. From the beginning of last season to the end, only Frank Williams and Antywane Robinson stayed on the roster continuously. We have a new coach, a new group of players and, probably, an entirely new style of playing basketball.

The NBA is star-driven and personality-centered. You know the All Stars. You search for names. It’s been that way since Magic and Bird and Jordan. You’re comfortable with them – you know what to expect, and you anticipate their moves and tendencies. You become familiar with the team, and in that way you begin to love them and follow them devotedly.

The D-League isn’t like that. With this dusty little league, you have to have pride in your system and in your city. Not in the team that takes the court.

The team that suits up tonight is not the same one that will suit up tomorrow, and it’s especially not the one you’ll see at the end of the year. Your memories from last year are scattered throughout the globe. Even the opponents you hated with a passion last season are safely out of sight and out of mind.

It takes two games just to get the jersey numbers down again, a month to recognize patterns and an entire season to feel comfortable with how your team will do. And then, just like that, it’s the confusing, too-short playoffs.

Since the dawn of the team – back in 1989 – Skyforce fans have realized that their team is fleeting, and that everything depends on how the off-season shaped up. Everything is different, all over again. The team needs to be re-learned. Refined. And then embraced.

So as I gaze over this random list of names as if it was a cross section of the phone book and not a professional basketball club, I realize I’m in for another learning experience. I’m in for all 24 home games, for the entire 48 game season, for countless call-ups and injury cuts and moronic promotions.

I’m ready. Let the re-learning begin.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 2nd, 2007