As President of the NBA G League, Malcolm Turner oversees the business and basketball operations for the NBA’s official minor league. During his tenure as President of the league, attendance has consistently been over 1 million fans, the number of teams has expanded from 18 to 26, and most recently, in partnership with the NBA and Gatorade, he helped usher in a rebranding of the NBA D League into the NBA G League in which NBA teams can now sign up to two “two-way” players to NBA contracts. These contracts allow “two-way” players to be with their NBA parent team for up to 45 days, spending most of the season in the NBA G League. I had the pleasure of speaking with Malcolm Turner about these changes and what they mean for the league as well as how the NBA G League’s success story can inspire other entrepreneurs.
Jay: What’s the current state of the NBA G League under the recent deal announced with Gatorade and the NBA?
Malcolm: The NBA G League is the official minor league of the NBA and while player development is really the genesis of this league, development actually happens in a lot of different places within our league from the players to the front office to the referees. We currently have 26 teams on the floor with our ultimate and very achievable goal of having 30 teams total. Each of our teams has a direct one-to-one affiliation with an NBA team and, by-and-large, NBA owners are now NBA G League team owners. Three years ago, only 20-25% of our teams were actually owned by the affiliated NBA team, but today 85-90% of our teams are not only affiliated with but are also owned by an NBA team.
Jay: Creating a stronger link between the NBA and the NBA G League seems like a no-brainer, but can you tell us what really sparked this revamped synergy between the two leagues?
Malcolm: I remember during my first season as president, I got a call from Larry Bird, at that time the Pacers did not have their own NBA G League team, and he believed that they were at a direct competitive disadvantage without one. And one of the things he talked about was his belief that he had three or four young players on the end of his bench who could be productive NBA players for the long term, but, he couldn’t get them enough NBA minutes and you don’t get better by sitting. All of this to say that’s why we need a NBA G-League system where the head coach of our NBA G League team is an extension of our NBA coach and they’re using the same system, the same terminology, the same philosophy, the same NBA style training, and the same culture.
The bottom line is that we have clearly become not only an effective and efficient place to develop talent but we’ve also become, without question, the second best league in the world when you consider the talent level that’s in and out of this league on a daily basis.
Jay: Can you tell us more about the partnership with Gatorade and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and how the NBA G League is taking innovation to the next level?
Malcolm: The innovation piece is two-fold. First, our relationship with The Gatorade Sports Science Institute represents actual tools and resources with the underpinning of all of Gatorade’s insights and innovations in this space to help our players accelerate their performance goals, and that’s really powerful in development.
For example, each of our players will go through a specific sweat testing program and receive customized hydration plans, and each of our teams will have specific sports scientists and nutritionists assigned to that team to help talk about diet and nutrition and how to prepare for a game and how to recover. So this is more than just a name change for our league. We’re creating and adding value for one another through this relationship.
The second piece to the innovation is that the NBA is now able to use the NBA G League as a canvas to experiment with research and development. We are a place where we can test playing rules. We’re currently testing a coach’s challenge rule within our league so we’ll continue to gather data and perspective and report that back to the NBA. We’re also a great place to test things like wearable technology which allows our referees to communicate in real time during the game and for the entire month of November we’ll be testing four-person officiating crews within the NBA G League.
Jay: It’s incredible to see that kind of innovation applied to the sports world in a partnership that seems to be benefiting everyone, but at the end of the day the NBA G League is still a development league. You mentioned that the NBA G League is developing more than just young players, can you explain what you meant?
Malcolm: Well, Jay, as you mentioned, from a rookie development standpoint rookie development is taking place at unprecedented levels with well over 50% of NBA draft classes over the last five years spending time in the NBA G League. Beyond the young players, we’re seeing veterans coming down for rehab assignments, and we have over 50 or 60 coaches at the NBA level who previously had time in the NBA G League. Every referee hired at the NBA level since 2002 has been hired from our pool of NBA G League referees. The list goes on from there from players to coaches, to referees, to trainers, and to front office staff.
We’re also seeing a trend of former NBA players using the NBA G League to advance to management roles, so for example, Elton Brand, Malik Rose, Anthony Parker and Dee Brown are all first-year GMs in the NBA G-League and former NBA players Scott Roth and Aaron Miles are first year head coaches. So, yes, we’re an entry point on the front end of careers and ultimately we’re a strategic asset that’s creating value throughout the NBA system.
Jay: From a business standpoint this is a very exciting example of how a partnership can benefit every party. There is so much cross pollination between the sports world and the business world. In your experience what is there for entrepreneurs to learn from athletes?
Malcolm: Yeah, Jay, just from my own growing up in sports, I know there were a lot of lessons that I have learned: It’s everything from the hard work and the dedication and the commitment to being a good teammate to showing leadership and all of those things that are critical building blocks for success. It’s also why a league like the NBA G League is so important for players and coaches to grow in their leadership capacity.
We are a proving ground for high potential young people to develop and really continue their journey to achieve their ultimate career goals of participating in the game of basketball at the highest level. I always like to say that part of our mission is to help NBA dreams come true whether you’re a player, whether you’re a coach whether you’re a referee, if you want to work at the highest level of the game in the NBA, we can be a launch pad to help make that possible.
Originally published at thesbjournal.com