The Tulsa 66ers, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder, are set to begin their 9th season in Tulsa next month, with their home games to be played for the second straight season at the SpiritBank Events Center in Bixby, OK.
The NBA Development League or “D-league” has been in operations since 2001 and was known then as the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) and consisted of 8 teams. The name changed in 2005 to the NBA D-League and this season the league will have 17 teams. At the end of the 2010-11 season, 23% of NBA players had spent time in the NBA D-League.
The 66ers have been in operation since 2005, when the Asheville Altitude were purchased by Southwest Basketball, LLC. The Altitude were one of the founding members of the D-League in 2001 and in Asheville the team won two NBDL Championships. After the move they were renamed the 66ers in honor of U.S. Route 66, which runs through Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma, and the 66ers original arena was the Pavilion at Expo Square which is a mile away from the historic highway which is now 11th Street in Tulsa.
The 66ers have played in three venues in Tulsa thus far, the Pavilion, the Cox Business Center (Formerly the Tulsa Convention Center) and the SpiritBank Events Center.
In 2008 the 66ers were purchased by Clay Bennett, who also owns the Oklahoma City Thunder, and they became the third direct affiliate to an NBA team in the D-League, the other two being the Austin Toros who are owned by the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles D-Fenders owned by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since their inception the 66ers have produced 17-call ups to the NBA, the first being the son of basketball legend John Lucas who went to the Houston Rockets and most recently Jeremy Lamb, who traded time between Tulsa and Oklahoma City last season. Players in the D-League do not sign contracts with teams, but with the league themselves. They can be called up at any time by any NBA team.
By far the best season the 66ers had since the move from Asheville was in the 2009-10 season when after the team finished in 5th place in the D-League West they defeated the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the first round and the Iowa Energy in the second round, only to fall in the NBA D-League finals to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers .
That team was coached by Nate Tibbetts, who is credited for taking a sub-.500 66ers squad and turning them around and into the finals the next season. Tibbetts coached the team for two seasons and moved on to an assistant coaching position with the Portland Trail Blazers. In his two seasons Tibbetts led the 66ers to a 64-41 record. Last season, Serbian native Darko Radovic was named head coach and in his first season led the team to a 23-27 record.
In the NBA this season, 15 former 66ers are on NBA opening night rosters. Rasual Butler (Indiana Pacers) and Hollis Thompson (Philadelphia 76ers) secured roster spots as free agents after spending the 2012-13 NBA D-League season with the 66ers while former Oklahoma City Thunder assignees Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb remain with Oklahoma City and past assignee Daniel Orton begins the year with Philadelphia.
Butler joined the 66ers in January when the team held a 9-10 mark. Following his acquisition, the 66ers went 18-13, securing the seventh seed in the 2013 NBA D-League Playoffs. In 31 games with Tulsa (23 starts) Butler averaged 17.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 32.7 minutes en route to being named the NBA D-League Impact Player of the Year. A 10-year NBA veteran, Butler will be making his return to the NBA, where has previously played in 637 career NBA games, averaging 8.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 23.4 points.
In his first season out of Georgetown, Thompson averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 20.0 minutes in 48 appearances (10 starts). Thompson originally signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2012 and spent the preseason in OKC before joining the 66ers.
Thunder point guard Jackson spent three games with Tulsa last season on two separate assignments, averaging 28.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.3 rebounds. In a two-game stretch in December, Jackson combined for 64 points, 14 assists and 16 assists and went on to be named the NBA D-League’s Performer of the Week. Following Russell Westbrook’s knee injury in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Jackson started nine postseason games for the Thunder and averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
In his rookie NBA season out of Baylor, Jones averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 15 assignment games (15 starts) with Tulsa. Fellow Thunder assignee Lamb averaged 21.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals in 21 games (21 starts) in a 66ers uniform.
The 66ers were given the 11th pick in the 2013-14 D-League Draft, which will be held this Friday. The team will be hosting a draft party at Savastano’s Pizza, located just across the parking lot from the SpiritBank Events Center. The party will take place in the “Friendly Confines” bar area and is limited to fans 21 or older only.
Tulsa will have the opportunity to make up to 10 selections in the 2013 Draft. The 66ers will have the 11th pick of all eight rounds (including 11th overall) along with the sixth pick of the third round and the 14th pick of the fourth round. In addition to providing coverage and updates throughout the NBA D-League Draft, Savastano’s will also air the Oklahoma City Thunder’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7 p.m.
The 66ers will tip off the 2013-14 season at home with a pair of home games with the Iowa Energy on November 22 and 23.