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Published in Economic Development
Grand Rapids Drive announce new affiliation with Denver Nuggets COURTESY PHOTO

Grand Rapids Drive announce new affiliation with Denver Nuggets

BY Tuesday, April 27, 2021 01:00pm

GRAND RAPIDS — NBA G League team the Grand Rapids Drive has entered into a new affiliation partnership with the Denver Nuggets beginning with the upcoming 2021-22 season, the organization announced on Tuesday. 

The Drive — which was formerly affiliated with the Detroit Pistons and plays home games at the DeltaPlex Arena — expects to roll out a name change and complete rebranding in the coming weeks.

The Drive is one of only two teams in the G League that maintains a hybrid partnership with its NBA parent. Under the single affiliation partnership structure, the Denver Nuggets will control all basketball operations within the team while the Drive’s local ownership manages business operations and community engagement.

Chatter of a partnership between the Drive and the Nuggets emerged in the winter with reports that the two had struck a deal. Drive President Steve Jbara told MiBiz that the search for a new NBA affiliate essentially started and ended with the Nuggets.

“We only had a few dance partners out there and Denver really showed the most initiative to get together and try to figure if there was a way, even with the distance, that we could figure out this partnership,” Jbara said. “They were really the only ones I talked to. We kind of figured it out from there.”

The distance between Denver and Grand Rapids is a potential barrier for the teams. A majority of NBA teams are located in the same state as their G League affiliates. In the case of the Pistons, the organization wanted its G League affiliate located directly in Detroit.

That’s why the Pistons purchased the Northern Arizona Suns, the former G League affiliate for the Phoenix Suns, and renamed it the Motor City Cruise. The Cruise will play its home games at a new 70,000-square-foot arena at Wayne State University when it debuts next season.

Still, Jbara said that the two teams can work through the distance issue, pointing to the successful dynamic between the NBA’s Miami Heat and its G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“We started looking at logistics — there are direct flights from Grand Rapids,” Jbara said. “They wanted more of a fully-baked market. Obviously we have been running for seven years so we already have a lot of things in place that will help them as they’re getting introduced to having a (G League) team. We have learned a lot of things over the past few years that can make it a lot easier for them.”

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