Jim Brylewski, President of the Tulsa 66ers, was kind enough to give me a few minutes to ask him about the state of the 66ers and the relationship between them and the Thunder. Among many interesting things, one is that the 66ers will be unveiling a new logo and new colors to match the Thunder within the month, Brylewski said. But there’s lots of good info like the advantages of having a D-League team so close, the way the franchises integrate between each other and how the 66er franchise sees itself within the Thunder organization.
Daily Thunder: How big was it for the 66ers to move to downtown Tulsa?
Jim Brylewski: For us right now, the growth of downtown Tulsa, by April every team will be playing in downtown Tulsa. So we think it’s instrumental to the growth of the city and we think there’s some synergy now for everybody to be playing essentially within blocks of each other.
DT: And the team is playing in the… Civic Center?
JB: We’re playing in the Tulsa Convention Center. It is in the process of being renovated and will be completed by early November.
DT: Are there any aspirations to ever move to the BOK Center?
JB: Right now, from a financial standpoint, what the other teams pay in rent is not feasible from a cost standpoint.
DT: The Thunder made a slick move when it purchased its own D-League franchise. Why do you think other teams haven’t done this?
JB: I don’t know. I think that Houston just entered into an agreement where they’re handling the basketball operation in Rio Grande Valley. It’s a slow approach but I think once some of the other NBA teams see the value from a developmental standpoint that you’ll see that grow. I think that initial expense may hold back some. But from a developmental standpoint, but for us on the basketball side, if Shaun Livingston pans out the way that it looks like he’s going to, that’s the value of the franchise. So I think once other NBA franchises see that and see the benefit, that you’ll see it slowly turn that way.
DT: The Spurs use an approach in using the Toros as part of their player screening process. They’ll sign a player and then assign him to the Toros as part of an extended interview for their 14th or 15th roster spot. It’s an approach that allows them the opportunity to look at a player’s skill set within their system alongside prolonged assessments of character, basketball intelligence and professionalism. Is this something the Thunder and 66ers do as well?
JB: That’s something that’s handled through Sam [Presti] and on the basketball side. We saw a little bit of that last year and I think you’ll see more and more players assigned moving forward. Things are a little but more established in Oklahoma City than they were a year ago and moving forward I think you’ll see it integrated more and more.
DT: What is the relationship between the two clubs? Do you see it developing into a true Triple A, Big League Club baseball type of arrangement with players being sent down, called up and rehabbing injuries in Tulsa?
JB: Yes. From a basketball standpoint, yes. From a business standpoint, it’s almost like we are another department within the company. We’re an extension in the Tulsa market and moving forward this year, we have somebody starting next week selling tickets for both properties out of Tulsa. We’re slowly starting to integrate both things together.
DT: How do you market the franchise? Do you market it as “See the Thunder’s future stars” or do you look to market it as its own team and own franchise?
JB: We try to use the brand. Really to see future NBA players for as little as $8 a game and the future of the Thunder, but we’re also re-branding the logo and the colors to match. And that will be unveiled in the next month or so.
DT: Will it stay the 66ers? There’s been rumors that might change.
JB: The name is staying the same.
DT: How has the economy affected the team?
JB: It’s been a little tougher. People are tightening their belts but there’s still a good interest, a sold interest. Having the Thunder name associated with us helps legitimize us. You know with us being in that owned and operated situation and being an NBA property now or a division of an NBA property, it puts us in a better situation than in the past.
DT: In a way, can you take advantage of that because the team is a heck of a bargain?
JB: We’re kicking around promotions now that we’ll unveil shortly where kids will be able to come to games for as little as five bucks. That’s the thing about this building because it’s a little bigger than where we played last year it’s going to allow us to be a little more flexible and lenient that way. We were somewhat limited with the ticket inventory in the last facility.
DT: What about more options now with in game entertainment and game production?
JB: A little bit. It will be similar. They’re installing high-definition video boards. It’s going to be one of the better facilities in the league still. Which helps us out. Being an SMG property and essentially the same people managing it that manage the BOK Center is definitely a benefit to us as well.
DT: Are the 66ers a stand alone franchise or does almost all support come from the Thunder money wise? How does that relationship between the two work?
JB: Like I said, we’re a department within the organization. Where there, there is a marketing department, and we’re like the 66ers department.
DT: Within the TrueHoop Network, last year we came up with All-Star Weekend reforms, with one being the All-Rookie team versus D-League All-Stars. How would you like to see the NBA and the D-League work together more to maybe market the D-League better?
JB: I think that’s a great idea, but I don’t know what the thoughts are from the basketball guys. I think anything that helps our league get any exposure is positive. But I don’t know and I can’t speak with the basketball guys about their feeling on that specific thing.
DT: Mike Taylor was the first player ever drafted from the D-League and he’s kind of been the flag bearer for the league and the face of the league as he’s gone forward in the NBA. How excited are you about Shaun Livingston potentially being the face of the 66er franchise in the future?
JB: We were really excited for the opportunity he was here. You could really see when he was on the floor that his passing skills were unparalleled. We’re really excited to see what he can do for them moving forward. If he does pay off, that’s huge for us. Also, the second prong to that from quote “a recruiting standpoint” if other guys see that as a path and an opportunity, you’ll have more players considering the D-League and considering us.
DT: How advantageous is it to have a place like Tulsa just up the road to be able to work between the two franchises?
JB: It’s huge. Austin is similar, but if you look at what baseball has done over the last 15 to 20 years with the placement of Double-A and Triple-A franchises, they try to be in driving distance where it wasn’t really something in the past that was taken into consideration. From a business and basketball standpoint, one it gives us the opportunity to co-brand in both markets. Then from a basketball standpoint, they can see guys, the Thunder player personal guys can be at almost every game here because it’s a short drive. We take our guys there and practice there, occasionally take them to Thunder games… it really becomes an extension where like I said, it’s another department within the corporation. We really are highly integrated.
DT: Like with Moses Ehambe participating in the Thunder Caravan this summer.
JB: It legitimizes us here as a franchise and helps us extend the brand almost 365 days a year, helps extend the Thunder brand here in Tulsa.
DT: In a way when players like D.J. White and Kyle Weaver are sent down to Tulsa last year, is the 66er organization excited about that? I mean the player isn’t really excited to be sent down, but how does the organization see that situation? Do you guys get excited about a player being sent down because of the potential draw and exposure they can bring?
JB: Absolutely and they were great about it too. It was more of a rehab assignment for D.J. and I think Kyle just played a couple of game. You can see the skill level of both of them and we had people from Oklahoma City come to see them and I mean fans. It helps legitimize the franchise when NBA players are assigned and you see other teams in the league do that throughout the season. I think we have something like five or six guys that are actually eligible to be assigned this season.
Again, huge thanks to Jim for speaking with me. Tulsa 66er season tickets are on sale now and you can actually get tickets for as low as $8. Get sum.