Thursday, December 1, 2011

Austin Toros 101 at Texas Legends 96 (NBA D-League) - November 26, 2011

After a 30-minute drive from Dallas, I found myself next to Dr Pepper Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders of the AA Texas League. Of course, I wasn't there for a baseball game, but the season opener in the NBA D-League, the minor league of the NBA as the Texas Legends play in Dr Pepper Arena, just next door to the ballpark.

Dr Pepper Arena

The Dr Pepper Arena is a multi-purpose facility located in Frisco, a city in the northern reaches of the DFW Metroplex. The venue was built in 2003 and also hosts the Texas Tornado of the NAHL, a junior A circuit.

Like other stadiums that combine hockey and basketball, the court lies in the middle of the rink area, but the open spaces between the basket and end boards are not filled with seats, rather the Legends put a few attractions, such as a climbing pole (below) and a mini basketball court in what is known as the Kidtastic Fun Zone. It makes a game here much more entertaining for the kids and is a smart marketing move. There are no end zone seats behind the Fun Zone, so it doesn't block anything, not that many would want to sit there anyway.

Tickets were $28 for the sidelines, $18 for the corners, and $10 for the real bad seats near the fun zone. I had no trouble sitting where I wanted with the stadium about half full. It should be noted that the Legends' website listed prices $3 cheaper but this seems to be out of date.

There is one food court hidden behind a wall at the far end of the stadium. Two concession stands are here, one with typical arena fare, the other with baked goods and canned soda. Nothing of interest for me, but I did have an RC Cola (only products from the Dr Pepper Snapple group are sold here) and RC is tough to find in Japan.

The arena also houses the Dallas Stars practice facility, team offices, and a team/equipment store. The rink is also used for local tournaments (more on that below) and there was a tribute to GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, in front of the team store.

Essentially, the Legends are the arena's secondary tenants, as the place was not designed for basketball. So it isn't a great venue for fans of the game, but it works well anyway, mainly because of the thought put into it by the franchise. Minor leagues are known for instability and I'm hoping that the Legends can lead the way in making the D-League a more stable circuit, resulting in many more roadtrips in the years to come.

Texas Legends

This is the second D-League game I have witnessed with the first being the Colorado 14ers back in 2009. The 14ers won the championship that year and were bought soon after by Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson, who moved the franchise to Frisco and renamed them the Texas Legends. After skipping a season, the Legends began play last year with Nancy Lieberman as their coach. She was the first female to coach a professional men's basketball team, leading them to a 24-26 record and a playoff spot. This year she moved to the front office so the Legends honoured her before the game with the banner below.

The Legends are what I would hope to see from every franchise in the league. They have ties to the local NBA team, they are run by people with lots of basketball experience, and they reach out to their fans. The ceremony to honour Lieberman featured Donnie Nelson and his father Don, as well as new coach Del Harris and Lieberman, all basketball royalty. The younger Nelson gave a great speech lauding the fans and presenting a blueprint for the season and the future of the franchise. It was very classy and gave me hope that the league will grow to become a true feeder system for the NBA.

The Game

Austin (affiliated with the San Antonio Spurs and wearing white) beat Texas 101-96. I don't remember how this happened because I found myself fighting to stay awake as the jet lag was finally catching up to me. It was a fast-paced game with lots of scoring early on, and there were several lead changes throughout the night.

The 4th quarter began with the Legends up by 3 but Austin started on an 11-0 run to take control. Texas slowly clawed their way back and took a 1-point lead with 4:30 to go. That was their last gasp as the Toros replied with a 12-3 run over the next 2:30 and that was all she wrote for the Legends.

In the end, poor free throw shooting (13-24) hurt the home team, who had outplayed the Toros on the boards and in the turnover department as well. It seemed like a good game, but my brain was in the shutdown mode for most of it, so I can't add much more.

The player I most noticed was 6-11 center Jamal Sampson, who was drafted in 2002 (one slot behind Matt Barnes) and is a cousin of Ralph Sampson. Jamal has a bit of NBA experience but had played in Asia for the past couple of seasons before the Legends drafted him this fall. That's him signing autographs after the game.


After the game, the fans were allowed out on the floor to get autographs and photos with the players and cheerleaders. I always enjoy this sort of activity and it seemed like everyone was having a good time, including Legends' coach Del Harris.

The NBA and its players reached a tentative agreement that was announced that day, which may make the D-League more relevant depending on how things develop in terms of player promotion and demotions. I'd like to see this league function more like the AHL, where players are known to their fans and call-ups and send downs are common.

This was the second of three games I had planned to see, but with the jet lag hitting hard and then spending time on the floor afterwards, I decided to hang out in the rink next door and watch some hockey. The Dallas Stars hold a number of youth tournaments and Thanksgiving weekend saw the 10th Annual Fall Round-Up take place. I saw the Bantam Gold final featuring a team from Calgary taking on a team from California, who won by a score of 5-3. Not quite the tripleheader I had envisioned but then again, I don't think I would have lasted through another basketball game.

Next Up

I'm back in Japan and going to a J League game this weekend in which league leaders Kashiwa visit Urawa Reds with a chance to clinch the championship. Later this month, I'm off to France for two weeks at year-end, which will include a single game in the Championnat National but no other sports. December will be a quiet month for this blog, but check back in early 2012 for news on a hockey trip planned for February.



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