By DAVID JONES
If you think you have the moves and the savvy to be a professional basketball player but lack only the opportunity, write this date down: Oct. 25. On that date, at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Tulsa 66ers will be holding tryouts for people hoping to join the ranks of the National Basketball Association Development League (commonly known as the D-League). Participants must attend both sessions.
On Nov. 7 Jim Brylewski and some friends (as well as any Tulsa fan who wants to watch at home) will be eagerly watching channel 256 on Cox Cable (the NBA-TV channel for those who have satellite) eagerly seeking news of the birth of a franchise.
On that day, on national television, the D-League will have its draft and the 2008-2009 version of the Tulsa 66ers will be born.
Unlike the NBA draft, with its interminable wait between selections, the D-League selection process is expected to be quick with all 15 teams fully stocked in just a few hours.
“We plan to go into training camp with about 17 players,” says new president Jim Brylewski, “then we’ll cut to our final roster of 10.”
The new 66ers season opens on the road in late November with the first home date set for Dec. 5 at the Spirit Bank Event Center just east of 106th Street and Memorial Drive.
For Brylewski, it will be the fulfillment of a dream long delayed. He has been in sports for decades. A native of the Detroit area and a graduate of Michigan State, he worked for the Detroit Tigers from 1988-1996, then went on to the Baltimore Orioles for four years and then to minor league hockey teams such as the Cleveland Barons and the Worcester (Mass.) Sharks. During his apprenticeship, he learned marketing, sales and just about everything on the business end of sports.
“When I was moved to Worcester the real estate prices were incredibly high in Massachusetts, so my family stayed in Cleveland and I commuted, doing a lot of business also with the hockey team in Youngstown, Ohio.”
The constant traveling took its toll, so when the NBA inquired as to whether or not he’d be interested in their league he was receptive.
“I looked at opportunities in Albuquerque, N.M. and Reno, Nev. before coming to Tulsa. Tulsa was our choice.”
Several things made Tulsa seem like a marvelous area.
First, after years of having an important but subordinate role in the various teams he served, Brylewski is the man in charge: He is president of the Tulsa 66ers.
Second, his team is playing in the new Spirit Bank Event Center, which he considers a luxurious but intimate setting for a basketball game. “I’ve been in arenas all over the country,” he says, “and I’ve never seen one of this size (4,800 seats) to beat it.”
Third, although the new season will be the fourth of the 66ers existence, it will be different at the top. The old 66ers were one of a group of D-League teams owned by one man. The new 66ers are the exclusive property of the new NBA Oklahoma City Thunder, owned by Clay Bennett.
That can be beneficial to both sides. When teams have more than one NBA team feeding them players, the coach often has conflicting styles with the teams having players on the squad. The 66ers will be taught Thunder style.
The 66ers may also get the benefit of the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time players. NBA teams can have 15 men on the roster, and if a first or second year player is sitting too long on the bench and is not getting enough playing time, he can be sent to the 66ers without the local club having to cut anyone. Thus the 66ers can have 10 players of their own and up to two players from the parent squad for a total of 12.
As was the case with the Continental Basketball Association, any NBA club can call any player up from the 66ers who is not contractually obligated to the Thunder.
Just who those players will be will be decided beginning Nov. 7.
But there are other problems to address. In its first three seasons there were games when the vast majority of seats in the arena were unoccupied. How does one kick-start a franchise that too often has seemed moribund. Here Brylewski expects his years of experience to make a difference.
“In the NBA a single name can draw a crowd. Mention LeBron James or Koby Bryant and the people will turn out.
“In our league that isn’t the case, so for one thing, we are going to be far more involved with the community. We are going to make more personal appearances.
“We are going to be more active, visible and accommodating to the media. We’re not going to be a secret. Tulsa-area people will know we’re here.”
There are as yet no plans to televise any of the 66ers games. Negotiations are under way to offer radio broadcasts of the games.
There is a lot to do in a few short weeks but Brylewski is certain that when the first ball goes up the franchise will be ready.
The new 66ers are looking forward to a flourishing franchise in a magnificent new setting.