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Life in the NBADL: Paying dues and paying tolls

Daniel Orton and other Thunder players who have spent time with the NBADL's Tulsa 66ers talk about surviving life in basketball's minor league.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 9, 2013

Daniel Orton has journeyed back and forth between the NBA and the D-League a bunch this season.

The Turner Turnpike has become the road most traveled.

Every time the center goes from the Thunder to the 66ers, he takes the toll road between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. He sees the same exit signs, the same gas stations, the same toll booths.

No, he doesn't get to bypass the $4 toll.

And the Thunder issues no special Pike Pass.

“Not at all,” Orton said.

During a season when the Thunder has made more assignments to the D-League than any other team in the NBA, Orton is part of a group of players who have become accustomed to making the trip from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, from the NBA to the D-League. They straddle the two worlds, the glitz of the NBA and the grind of the D-League.

Thunder fans are familiar with that NBA glam.

But what about the D-League?

For Thunder players, most assignments occur when both the Thunder and 66ers are at home. In that case, players can either drive themselves to Tulsa or use a car service.

That decision often depends on how long they'll be staying with the 66ers.

With a short stint of a couple days, players often employ a car service to drive them since they don't have time to do much else other than practice and play. And they don't need a car to get to the arena.

“The hotel that we stay at is literally right next to the arena,” said forward Perry Jones, who's played 11 games with the 66ers. “Practice and everything, you just walk across the street.”

But with longer stints, having a car is the way to go.

Orton, who's played 19 games with the 66ers, likes to be able to get around town. Go to the mall. Find something to eat. Just get out of the hotel.

The hotel where the players stay is nice enough — albeit a serious step down from the fancy places where the Thunder stays on the road — but the walls can still start to close in around you.

“I pretty much go to Applebee's the whole time and watch TV there just to be around people,” Orton said.

Meals are a bit trickier when players are with the 66ers. For Thunder players, food is often provided at the team's practice facility. Before a morning practice, the players can eat breakfast, and once practice is over, they are provided lunch.

When players go to Tulsa, they have to take care of themselves.

“You've got to be disciplined,” guard Jeremy Lamb said. “Right by the hotel is Chick-fil-A, Popeye's, all that type of stuff. It's easy to go right there.”

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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