By Mark DeHaan
A new professional sports franchise is beginning play in Grand Rapids this November, and Calvin College is involved in the team's day-to-day operations.
The Grand Rapids DRIVE, a professional basketball team which will be affiliated with the NBA's Detroit Pistons, will begin its inaugural NBA Development League season mid-November.
The team was bought by Grand Rapids ownership group SSJ Group and moved from Springfield, Massachusetts, where the team was an affiliate of the New Jersey Nets.
The DRIVE will play its home games at the DeltaPlex downtown. But, because the DeltaPlex uses its facilities for other events such as concerts and conventions, the Drive needed a location where the team could practice.
Enter Calvin College.
Lacking a space for its practices, the DRIVE contacted local colleges to inquire about using gym space. Calvin then invited team representatives to come visit the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Athletic Complex, and they were impressed with what they saw.
"When the assistant general manager of the Pistons and some of their front office people came for a visit they were blown away by our facilities," said men's athletic director Dr. Jim Timmer. "Because they practice in the morning when our building isn't being used, it was a situation that worked out."
In return, Calvin will receive advertising space in the DeltaPlex for DRIVE home games as well as opportunities for the sports management department and its students to connect with the team, and learn about the day-to-day operations of a professional franchise.
"As part of this deal, I there will be opportunities for our sports management majors," said Timmer. "Some very formal, in terms of internships, some very informal, just meeting some people, working the tryout and meeting Otis Smith, a former NBA general manager and now the head coach of the DRIVE.
So we thought as long as it didn't impact our students using our facilities, being connected with a pro franchise which is connected to the NBA was a great opportunity for Calvin."
The DRIVE'S future use of Calvin's facilities isn't the only MIAA connection the franchise has. Two members of the ownership group, Steve Jbara and Wes Weir, are former MIAA athletes.
Jbara, who will be running the franchise, played baseball at Trine, while Weir was a basketball player at Trine and played in the inaugural game at Van Noord Arena.
Despite the connection to the sports management department and the college, there will no connection with the Calvin basketball programs, as that would be against NCAA rules.
"There has to be a clear demarcation between professional sports and amateur sports," said Timmer. "It's a Calvin College project with an NBA franchise."
Having said that, Timmer sees the partnership as a positive one. "The members of The DRIVE organization have been great to work with," said Timmer. "I see a lot of positive things happening with this partnership."
The DRIVE begins its season on November 15, with a four-game road trip before returning to Grand Rapids and hosting the Los Angeles D-Fenders on November 26 for their first home game at the DeltaPlex.