Measured by the miles, the 2020 NBA Finals taking place between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers is a long way from the Sanford Pentagon.
The Pentagon is right next door, though, when measured by the number people in the Miami Heat organization who have spent time with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
The Heat has six players on its NBA Finals roster at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Bay Lake, Florida. They also have five coaches who have spent time in Sioux Falls as head coaches or assistant coaches.
Skyforce alumni Duncan Robinson (2018-19), Derrick Jones Jr. (2017-18), Chris Silva (2019-20), KZ Okpala (2019-20), Gabe Vincent (2019-20) and Kyle Alexander (2019-20) have all contributed this year with the Heat. Robinson and Jones in particular have played prominent roles.
In addition, joining Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra on the sidelines for this series are Chris Quinn (2014-15), Dan Craig (2015-16), Octavio De La Grana (2013-16), Anthony Carter (2016-18) and Eric Glass (2019-20).
“Development is what the franchise is built on,” said Skyforce president Mike Heineman. “It goes through their business staff, their basketball staff and their basketball team. They were the first franchise to really delve into the whole developmental experiment. Of all the NBA teams they’re the one that uses the G League the best and the most.”
An assist from Sanford Sports Performance
Before this NBA season began, Sanford Sports Performance certified strength and conditioning specialist Hunter Glascock and certified athletic trainer Ian Lackey were at a preseason Miami Heat dinner in Boca Raton, Florida, that served as a banquet of sorts at the beginning of training camp.
They did not know they were sitting with a group that was going to get into the NBA Finals. They also did not know that this series was going to be played in October in a virtual bubble in front of no one.
Pre-pandemic, it was just Lackey and Glascock helping out at the Heat’s training facility as representatives of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Heat’s G League team.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was running the show, introducing everyone who works for the Heat. On this night the introductions included the Skyforce strength and conditioning specialist and their athletic trainer.
“He brought us up and told everyone we were up there because we matter,” Glascock said. “He gave two-minute bios for both of us, telling everyone there what our roles are. The whole team is sitting there with their eyes on us.”
A part of the team
The point was, within the Heat organization, the minor-league element is woven in what is going on in Miami. Players who report to Sioux Falls are going to be heard from again based on the way this franchise does its business.
At Lackey’s first-ever Heat practice he showed up early and was walking on the court when Spoelstra saw him and came over.
“He shook my hand and said ‘It’s awesome to meet you. Great to have you here,’” Lackey said. “In the Heat family, they want to know you. They want to know everything about your work and your family. They want to know who they’re working with because they depend on each other for everything.”
When Spoelstra introduced the pair formally to the rest of the organization, it was an extension of that philosophy. And in its own way, a message from the organization to the players, some of whom would be heading north to Sioux Falls.
“With this franchise, the Skyforce is not just some place off in South Dakota where you have to go play and no one is ever going to look at you again,” Glascock said. “It’s kind of a cool feeling to know that you matter to them. There are some organizations where things like strength and conditioning and the support staff aren’t as valued as much as some of the other assets within an organization. But it makes your job that much more enjoyable when you know that’s not true.”
Sanford relationship includes full staff
Some things to remember:
The Heat’s emphasis on developing players via its minor league team remains distinctive within the NBA. This relationship has been recognized nationally by several media outlets covering the league.
Also consider that Sanford Health’s partnership with the Skyforce includes providing a full medical staff while also providing Sanford Sports facilities and access to the certified performance staff.
In 2013, the Heat entered into a single affiliation partnership with the Skyforce. In 2017, the Heat bought controlling interest in the team from the Heineman family.
When Mike Heineman and his father, Greg, were in negotiations for an affiliation arrangement with the Heat in 2012 – just a year before the Pentagon opened – it was not just the new arena they were selling. It was everything and everybody that came with it.
“We had a great building but we also had a dedicated strength and conditioning element – we had things like Sanford hydration and nutrition specialists at our disposal,” Heineman said. “Sanford’s presence was a huge selling point to get Miami to trust us to be their affiliate.”
The Sanford staff providing care includes Dr. Stephen Foley, Dr. Chad Kurtenbach and Dr. Verle Valentine, in addition to Glascock and Lackey and the rest of the Sanford Sports Performance staff. They are a team of sorts by themselves but are also, in this case, part of a bigger team.
“It’s been pretty cool this year with the way that it’s gone for the Heat. We’ve worked personally with about half the players on the roster,” Lackey said. “The Miami team physician listens to what our physicians say. He trusts us. We stay in constant communication with the Heat medical staff. Both sides know they’re working with the best of the best.”
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