The Albuquerque Thunderbirds are my hometown's NBADL team. They're a lot of fun. They had a great first season. But since then...well, they've kind of suffered. (By the by, just as a sidenote, God, that Wiki page is so so so messy. I'm making a pledge to fix it up this weekend, if it's not already taken care of.)
I'd like to see the D-League be a bigger thing here in ABQ, especially given the polarizing nature of basketball in this state. And we keep on talking about building a new stadium either Downtown, or at the Fairgrounds, or somewhere, but all the talk that I see focuses on 12,000 vs. 15,000 seating capacity... The Thunderbirds had their best attendance ever at 4,000-something the other night for this season's opener. That's big time troubling. If we're going to invest so heavily in something like this (and don't get it twisted: I think we should), we've got to be able to sustain it, so that it doesn't...ya know...leave.
The Thunderbirds were helped along in their first season by semi-local star, Michael Cooper. However, since he's left, the team's floundered quite a bit. For various reasons, I think, as the D-League is wont to do. We do now have, though, a former Lobo playing for the team which should, theoretically at least, give the home team some sway in pulling in some more crowds.
I think one of the problems with the D-League, however, is that a lot of people just see it as so vastly inferior to the NBA. (Again, don't get me wrong. The WNBA faces the same stigma, and perhaps even more so, but that's a point for another time.) And, to a large degree, they're right. The NBADL isn't marketed to the extent that it could (or should, maybe, versus the WNBA?) be, and no matter how many press conferences the NBADL has with their top brass talking about how it's still the best way to get into the Association, the big news stories are still focused on the players who spurn the D-League versus the ones who are actually staying and playing in it. (I'm not even going to get into the LeBron 2010 stories that are dominating the League headlines right now.) Maybe David Stern needs to put a bug in some reporters' ears regarding the D-League. Maybe they're not paying attention.
What it all comes down to, though, is that there has to be a pretty fervent fan base. I used to think that Albuquerque was one of those places, but even with discounted tickets, and the season opener, they could only manager 4,000-something? That, to me, is disappointing. If we can't manage to pack that place to the brim, then perhaps we don't deserve a new stadium. I'd rather we focus on in-building or infrastructure or something else. Part of it has to do with talent. I'm ready to acknowledge that. But part of it has got to be there no matter what. I mean, Rocky Long was pretty pissed at our lack of support and just because he said it in a mean way doesn't mean that he's not right.