Grand Rapids gets basketball team

The Grand Rapids Drive, a minor league basketball team affiliated with the Detroit Pistons, is about to make its first appearance.

Grand Rapids is already home to two successful minor league sports teams, the West Michigan Whitecaps, and the Grand Rapids Griffins, who feed into the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, respectively. But then the Drive came to Grand Rapids after the SSJ Group, headed by Steve Jbara, purchased the team and moved it from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Grand Rapids.

Tryouts for the team occurred last Saturday at the Van Noord Arena at Calvin, with 89 potential players vying for an opportunity to make their way onto the team. Players from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience were present at the tryouts, including some who have played in Europe or other D-League teams in the U.S., with some local players from Grand Rapids and Hope College also trying out.

The team will be composed of players that were chosen from those tryouts. This includes those who are cut from the Piston’s final team roster, draft picks from the Development League Draft coming up on November 1 and Drive players who were on the Springfield team last year.

As the Pistons whittle their way down to a final 15-man roster this week, there are two players, Josh Bostic and Lorenzo Brown, who are most likely to be the first members of the Grand Rapids Drive roster.

NBA teams have the option to send down two or three players at a time to the development leagues, and according to the NBA D-League, 30 percent of players in the NBA have had a stint in the Development League.

The success of the Drive is still up in the air. Grand Rapids has held multiple minor league basketball teams in the past, including the Hoops and the Flight, both of which folded in the past 10 years. The Grand Rapids Rampage, a team in the Arena Football League, ended its twelve year run-in 2009 after various struggles of its own. These failures likely resulted from combinations of administrative and financial issues as well as difficulty finding a solid fan base in West Michigan.

Despite the challenges, Drive leadership is optimistic about its role in Grand Rapids. Steve Jbara, the new owner of the Drive, said, “The NBA D-League is becoming an integral part of the NBA’s future and, after two years of working to make it happen, we are ecstatic to have the opportunity to bring high-level professional basketball to the Grand Rapids area.”

The team’s season starts on November 15 with an opening game against the LA D-Fenders. The team will play their games at the DeltaPlex in Walker. Tickets start at $10.