Having been treated to two NBA D-League Finals appearances in as many seasons, it's safe to say the city of Santa Cruz (and the fans of the Warriors) have had it pretty good over the last couple of years.
But before the now Golden State Warriors-affiliated squad was relocated to Santa Cruz, they were hitting the hardwood across the country and were known as the Dakota Wizards. Coincidentally enough, there's been one man who's been along for the ride for the past seven years.
That would be none other than Maurice Baker, the NBA D-League veteran who stands as the minor league's respective leader in both career games played (270) and steals (384). In addition to such impressive marks, the guard's career has also been highlighted by an NBADL All-Star appearance (2009) and a D-League championship back in 2007. What's more, he also five NBA games to his name, dating back to the 2004-05 season.
At 33 years old, it's been nearly a decade since Baker last appeared in an NBA game. Additionally, his workload has decreased in recent seasons. Though he was a part-time starter for Santa Cruz en route to their initial run to The Finals last season, the guard only appeared in 26 contests this past year, averaging just 3.1 points on the campaign.
But for Baker, his dream to play in The Association hasn't exactly faded away just yet, and as such, that minor league grind never stops. He's beloved by his teammates, appreciated by his coaching staff, and well-respected across the Santa Cruz/Golden State organization. Having been around the D-League block quite a while now, he's also quite the notable figure around the community and amongst the team's fans.
One could say Baker has it all, or plenty of "it" anyway, save for more time (and/or money) in the NBA. But alas, he does what he does for the love of the game. It's just that simple.
It goes without saying that a big focus surrounding the D-League over the course of the season remains paying attention to those prospects who may earn respective call-ups over the course of the year. But come postseason, much of that goes out of the window. Instead, appreciating the minor league often becomes more about observing which squads can demonstrate the most progression while coming together as a group when it matters most. In that regard, Baker represents an ideal role model as a consummate teammate.
Even in the twilight of his playing career (or so one would think), Baker would appear to still have the basketball world at his fingertips. What lies ahead for the veteran remains to be seen, but it's safe to assume any number of D-League and/or related professional teams would entertain bringing him aboard in some sort of coaching capacity. He's earned that and more. But really, for what it's worth, the passion Baker plays with, still, to this day, could also mean he's poised to play another six seasons. Who knows.
In any event, at this point in time, Baker's playing days aren't over by any measure, as he finds himself in Santa Cruz's rotation as they gun for an NBADL title.
And as fate would have it, though the Warriors submitted to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in game one at home by a score of 102-92, the veteran guard made sure his impact was still evident throughout the contest.
Santa Cruz fell behind by double-digits early on, and didn't look as though they'd be able to come back as easily. That said, an necessary injection of life came from the Warriors' bench in the second quarter, and Baker happened to lead the way.
In nearly 11 minutes of play, the 33 year old logged just 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Even so, his plus/minus of +6 stood tall as an overall team-high at game's end. He helped Santa Cruz regain some momentum and slow down the tempo a bit as the ball went through him and he dished out those hockey assists in the second quarter.
It's anyone's guess as to what lies ahead for Baker. After such an inspirational career in the D-League, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see him look forward and capitalize on a post-playing career gig in the near future. That said, Baker's perseverance is what keeps him going, and as such, there isn't anyone who can stop him. His effort is admirable, and it's clear that Santa Cruz benefits from it as he remains in the rotation through this continued championship run.