Posted: Friday June 2, 2006 10:30AM; Updated: Friday June 2, 2006 3:14PM
Celtics rookie Gerald Green improved dramatically after two stints in the D-League.
Brain babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
By Chris Mannix, SI.com
Gerald Green remembers the bus. Or more specifically, the bus ride. That five-hour mission he took as a member of the Fayetteville Patriots to Roanoke, Va., to hone his skills in a game against a team called the Dazzle.
He remembers the planes. No, not the charter jets with their catered meals and plush leather seats that spoiled him during his first three months with the Boston Celtics. We're talking about the aircrafts with cramped quarters and the stale peanuts that are so often found on commercial airlines, flights Green and his fellow Patriots -- sometimes sitting in middle seats -- took on a regular basis. Say goodbye to that posh Boston bachelor pad, too. In Fayetteville, his home was the Holiday Inn.
"Riding that bus was tough," says Green, the 18th pick in the 2005 NBA draft after graduating from Gulf Shores Academy outside of Houston. "I felt like I was in high school again. And the planes? Man, Boston is a first-class organization that flies private planes. Down there we were flying coach in small planes that made your legs all cramped up!"
Down there is where the Celtics rookie forward spent more than a month of his inaugural NBA season, a guinea pig in the experiment the NBA likes to call the D-League. The brainchild of NBA commissioner David Stern in 2001, the D-League began as a six-team pseudo farm system that was a refugee camp for mediocre talent.
In its first four years, the D-League was little more than the NBA's version of Gatorade, a way for teams with injury-riddled rosters to temporarily replenish themselves, with disposable talent. Sure, there were the occasional success stories. Bobby Simmons was a Mobile Reveler in 2003 before he was the NBA's Most Improved Player with the Clippers two years later. One of Simmons' teammates in Mobile was Rafer Alston, the hyperactive streetballer who averaged 14.2 points with the Toronto Raptors in 2005 and started 63 games for the Houston Rockets last season. Simmons and Alston were exceptional, but they certainly were exceptions; the talent in the D-League in its first few seasons was marginal, and the league was bleeding financially.