For many basketball players, the D-League is used as a platform of sorts to springboard themselves into The Association. For veteran guard Antonio Daniels, however, an opportunity in the D-League happened to simply come about in the right place at the right time.
"My motivation for joining the Texas Legends was simply that I love the game of basketball," the guard told RidiculousUpside.com. "It's my passion, something that I've always done. San Antonio is home for me. Having two little girls, the D-League schedule definitely works for me. I had the opportunity to come home on days off and see my girls."
Still, as nice as it was to play in a league that fit his schedule so nicely at this point in life, Daniels still recognizes the ultimate goal of players joining the D-League. "When your going into the D-League, you have to go in with the right mind set," he said. "You have to work hard, and for me, it was humbling."
"There are so many things, as an NBA player of so many years, that I was used to. Private flights, nice hotels---just so many amenities that you've come to know. It wasn't humbling in that sense, because I'm not an arrogant guy, but it was sort of like going back to college. With so much experience under my belt, I was able to pay it forward to some of the younger guys who were still fighting for a chance" Daniels added.
Obviously, while minor league squads often benefit from the hunger and desire of players trying to break into the NBA, they also benefit hugely from bringing a player like Daniels in. His experience proves to be invaluable, especially when it comes to player development and preparing them for life in The Association. So what kind of things did Daniels look to pass on during his two year stint in the D-League, exactly?
"You want to remain professional at all times, because you never know who may be watching," he said. "I've tried to instill a certain work ethic in all the players. When I joined the Legends, everyone knew who I was, but I really gained their respect by how hard I worked. Even at 35 years old, I was the first one in the gym every morning, and the last one out of it. I tried to show the guys that what you get out of an experience is what you put into it."
After two years of putting in tireless hard work and effort, the only taste of the NBA Daniels has since gotten was a four game stint with the 76ers (which was unfortunately cut short by injury) during the 2010-11 season. Having said that, Daniels has still thoroughly enjoyed his time in the D-League.
"I got so much out of it," the guard said. "Whenever I'm done playing, I want to coach. Being with the Legends, I got to learn from two of the best coaches in the game. Nancy Liberman and Del Harris are each two legends in their own right. Every experience I had there was a good one. I made some great friends that I still stay in touch with to this day, guys I almost counsel. I believe everything happens for a reason, and my great experience there just further proved that to me."
Following his stint in the D-League, during which he learned so many things that could benefit him during his post-playing career, is Daniels ready to move on? Not quite.
Daniels' agent, Colin Bryant of Dutt Sports Services, is keeping all doors open for his client. He believes the guard can still compete in the NBA, telling RU, "Antonio is at a crossroad in his career. He has always been in top physical condition and we believe he can still play at a high level. He is not retired and we contunue to seek playing opportunities. However, he has been preparing himself for life after basketball. We have been approached about potential coaching and broadcasting opportunities. Whether he plays or begins his post playing career, Antonio's future is bright"
"I'd like to play until my body won't let me," Daniels added. "I'm in fantastic shape. I'm in better shape than I was when I came into the NBA fifteen years ago. You only have so much control over what happens, though. My job is to remain in shape and be ready."
"I've been prepared for life after basketball for quite some time," he lamented. "I've done various coaching internships and have visited sports camps and universities. I know what I want to do when it's all said and done, so when it's time to make that transition, I'll be ready for that too."
Having spent two years in the D-League following an storied career that's included such accomplishments like an NBA championship, Daniels' participation in the minor leagues has helped spark an ongoing debate as to whether or not veterans should be able to compete against the up and coming young guns. When considering this debate, Daniels presents an interesting point of view.
"Basketball is basketball," Daniels said. "If there's a veteran looking for redemption or trying to come back, and his play justifies it, so be it. Basketball should just be that the better player plays, regardless. If that means that a player who hasn't made it yet is outplaying a veteran of so many years, so be it. I don't believe anybody should be shorted when it comes to having the opportunity to accomplish your dreams."
Looking back at his NBA career, Daniels cited the opportunity to play with some of the best players to ever hit the hardwood as one of the biggest highlights for him. The guard surrounded himself with great players and even better people for over a decade, playing with the likes of David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Ray Allen.
While that competitive fire still burns, the veteran guard isn't so sure another season in the D-League is up next.
"After two years, you almost get the feeling like I don't want to be taking anyone's position. Everyone is fighting for an opportunity to do something, whether it be a call-up or something like that. I'm not saying no or crossing anything out. I've kept all of my options open and I've stayed in shape. Now we'll just see what happens."
Whether he ultimately decides to the hit the D-League hardwood once more or not, there's no doubt Daniels' future prospects are bright in whatever he decides to do. He's set quite the example for veterans looking for redemption in the D-League, keeping a great attitude and doing what he can to aid the development of younger players. He's certainly proven there's an array of benefits to bringing a veteran in as they too, look ahead to what's next.