On late Tuesday morning, the NBA G League announced via press release that league president Malcolm Turner would be stepping down from his role on January 11th, 2019 to become the new Athletic Director for Vanderbilt University. NBA Vice President of Basketball Operations and former Reno Bighorns (now Stockton Kings) general manager Shareef Abdur-Rahim will step in to take over as the President of the G League.
Abdur-Rahim will have big shoes to fill as outgoing president Malcolm Turner helped grow the G League in a plethora of different ways. Before we look towards the future and predict what Abdur-Rahim will do in his new position, it’s only appropriate to look back at Malcolm Turner’s biggest accomplishments that helped make the G League what it is today.
The NBA Development League Turning Into The G League
Undoubtedly, the biggest move during Turner’s time as president of the NBA’s minor league was overseeing its naming-rights solid to Gatorade and thus rebranding from the D-League to the G League. This was significant due to it representing the first time that a professional sports league in the US had an entitlement partner.
Although the move was initially panned by people that were uneasy about their favorite league getting rebranded by the world’s best known thirst quencher, it has definitely paid dividends. For one, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), the corporation’s sports science wing, does a lot of work to help players improve their performance. To get more in-depth knowledge on what GSSI does with the G League, go to our piece from a few days ago.
Number of G League Teams Growing
Aside from the huge deal with Gatorade, Turner’s biggest accomplishment as G League President was how he increased the amount of teams in the league When he got hired for the job in October 2014, the league had 18 teams, after the introduction of the Westchester Knicks. That number grew tremendously during Turner’s four-year stint as the league currently has 27 teams for the 2018-19 season. The number increases to 28 if you factor in the Pelicans’ incoming G League affiliate that will start play in Erie for the 2019-20 season before moving to Birmingham, Alabama in 2022-23.
The G League being able to add ten teams in the course of just four years is a real testament with Turner’s ability to build relationships with people from different industries and being able to promote his product. Those two traits work hand-in-hand as he needed to build instant relationships with team executives, mayors and local politicians. After he built that relationship, Turner needed to inform team executives about how the G League will help their team’s on-court future while letting the politicians know about how the introduction of a minor league franchise can help grow that certain city.
Additional broadcasters showing G League games
When Turner took over as the president of the G League in 2014, the only way for fans to watch games was through YouTube or the archived “Game of the Week” that aired on NBA TV every Sunday afternoon. That changed over the course of the last four years as Turner did a great job of getting numerous media outlets, whether online or cable, to start showing live G League games.
This process started in 2015 when the league reached an agreement with ESPN to allow the sports media behemoth to show playoff games live on ESPNU and ESPNEWS. Since then, the relationship between the two parties has grown to the point where regular season games are aired weekly on ESPNU/ESPNEWS. In addition to the cable companies, the Worldwide Leader also gives fans an opportunity to watch G League games on ESPN+, their new over-the-top video streaming subscription service.
In addition to additional games airing on the ESPN family of networks and NBATV, the likes of Twitch, Eleven Sports, Facebook Live and local channels have or are currently airing G League games. Among those networks, the move to Facebook Live was definitely the most controversial due to it happening suddenly just hours before the start of the 2016-17 season and how lackluster the quality of the streaming service was compared to YouTube. However, those concerns has mostly dissipated due to how the increased quality of streaming on Facebook Live.
Turner pushing for the league to be on more cable or online services has been extremely beneficial as it has helped bring in more money to the league and has allowed more ways for basketball fans to both discover and follow the players and teams.
Professional Path Program
In one of his last moves as G League president, Turner was the leader behind the construction of the Professional Path program. For those of you not in the know, this program is meant to attract elite high school prospects to the G League thanks to a $125,000 salary and additional benefits that are described in this piece.
While he won’t be there when the program actually starts to get implemented in the spring, Turner was there to help organize the outline for the program and also hire Rod Strickland and Allison Feaster. Strickland will help guild the players and their families through the program while Feaster will lead an NBA-centric group that will identify the prospects that should be eligible for this initiative.
Increased salaries & benefits for G League players
For the longest time, one of the biggest arguments against the G League was the lack of pay and benefits for players. That was a reasonable complaint as the salaries during the G League in 2014-15 were separated into three low-paying tiers: $25,000, $19,000 and $13,000. While the G League also offered free housing and a $40 per-diem for food, the majority of players receiving below the federal minimum wage was still unacceptable.
Turner definitely saw the faults in that as he made gradual improvements to the salaries in his four years as G League President. In 2016-17, he changed the salary structure that turned into a two-tiered system: $26,000 and $19,500. Although that was obviously as miniscule as possible, the slight progression was a decent sign of things to come. That progression continued two years later as salaries increased to $35,000 for all G League players prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.
Alongside those increased salaries, a tremendous benefit that sprung up during Turner’s stint as G League President was building a partnership with both Arizona State University and Game Plan, a student-athlete development centered company. In regards to their deal with Arizona State, all G League players will have an opportunity to take free classes and earn their degree through the school’s various online undergraduate and graduate schools. While they do that, those players could also utilize Game Plan to determine what they should major in while figuring out which career path to go in once their basketball careers are over.
While the salaries for G League players needs to continue increasing, both to allow the league to be more appealing to top unsigned players and create a more comfortable well-being for the players, Turner did a nice job of at least getting the ball rolling. Those increased salaries combined with the aforementioned education opportunities, playing in the G League is sounding more appealing. Because combined with those two things, the league also offers in-season housing, travel day per diems, life skills development offerings and health insurance.