Minor league basketball could soon be coming to Pensacola in the form of a new development league team affiliated with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
Pensacola is one of six communities that have submitted proposals to host the Pelicans’ new development league team, which is set to begin play in the 2018-2019 season. Mobile, Ala. and Jackson, Miss. also submitted proposals, along with Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana.
The league’s development league — commonly called the “D-League” — is the NBA’s official minor league organization. The league will rebrand as the G-League next season as the result of a sponsorship deal with Gatorade.
The team would be owned and operated by New Orleans’ Benson family, which also owns the Pelicans as well as the New Orleans Saints football team.
“We are excited to the see the excitement which this process has generated among the six locations,” said owner Tom Benson in a statement. “All of them have stepped forward with legitimate and sincere interest and are going to make a case via their proposals for why they would like to be the home of our NBA G League team in 2018-2019. The process is underway and we know that this will be a very significant addition for a city/parish near us as it will add global exposure and bring professional basketball to their town.”
Founded in 2001, the D-League currently features 22 teams with direct affiliations to NBA teams. An additional three teams are expected to join the league for the 2017-2018 season. The Pelicans announced their intention to field a team for the 2018-2019 season last month.
D-League seasons run from November to April and include 50 regular season games plus a postseason. Almost 40 percent of current NBA players have D-League experience, with NBA officials calling the league “a proven developer of NBA-caliber talent.”
Calling it “a wise and necessary investment into the future of the Pelicans,” Benson said a D-League team would provide the organization with a better platform to develop young players and staff.
“It also will allow us the opportunity to widen the spectrum of fans that come in contact with our organization on a regional basis,” Benson said. “In addition, it will provide us with the opportunities to further promote the game of basketball and further our community support to the region.”
The six finalist cities are expected to submit complete and comprehensive proposals to the Pelicans by June 7.
The D-League is a developmental basketball league that has grown across the country as teams establish their own affiliates. The Pelicans announced their intentions to start a D-League team last month. The selected sites are expected to submit competitive bids by June 5.
If Pensacola is chosen, it won’t be the first time the city has been home to a semi-pro basketball team. From 1985 through 1991, the Pensacola Tornados called the Pensacola Bay Center home, playing in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association. After the 1991 season, the team moved to Birmingham, Ala. and later Rochester, Minn. before folding in 1995.
From 2001 to 2003, Mobile was home to the Revelers, one of the D-League’s charter franchises. Despite winning the league championship, the team folded after just two seasons due to low attendance.
Requests for comment from Pensacola city officials were not immediately returned.