Head coach D.J. Bakker can recall many fond memories from the inaugural season of the Motor City Cruise.
The Cruise, the Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate, finished second in the league and reached the second round of the playoffs in its first season. The franchise was one of three teams to reach the playoffs and the G-League Showcase Cup tournament, a mid-season scouting event held in Las Vegas. Cruise players filled in admirably with the Pistons when a COVID outbreak sidelined many regulars.
But Bakker, who grew up near Chicago, has a specific memory that comes to mind when he is asked about the upcoming season, which begins Nov. 4 at the Cleveland Charge.
The Cruise was playing the Windy City Bulls when he noticed a father and his son seated nearby. He told the boy to remember the evening because he was getting an up-close look at professional basketball.
“I told the kid I would've done anything to be able to go to a professional basketball game when I was growing up during the Michael Jordan era,” Bakker said recently. “We couldn't afford tickets to go see the Bulls when Jordan was playing.
“But the G League is a great opportunity for families and anybody that loves basketball because the G League is made up of future NBA players. Every game that we play, you're going to have two, three, four, sometimes five NBA guys on the court at once. To see them up close and personal when they're in the developmental phase of their career, it is a great opportunity for fans.”
The G League is also a great opportunity for players, something to keep in mind when the Cruise will hold open tryouts Thursday at the Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center. Players will be competing for an invitation to the Cruise’s training camp, which begins in November. Pistons and Cruise front office personnel and coaching staffs will supervise drills and scrimmages while performing complete player evaluations.
Bakker offered some advice.
“When you're coming in for an open tryout, the first thing we look at is conditioning,” he said. “The second thing is competitiveness on both sides of the ball. The third thing we look at is unselfishness, someone who is playing the right way.”
The Cruise represents the third piece of Pistons and Cruise owner Tom Gores’ decision to move the franchise back to downtown Detroit. First, the Pistons decided to play home games at Little Caesars Arena beginning in 2017. Second, the Pistons would build a new headquarters that would house basketball and business operations. The headquarters opened in 2019. The last step was to bring a G League franchise to Detroit to offer an improved developmental experience for young players while also bringing an affordable entertainment option for city residents.
Gores and the Pistons purchased a G League franchise from the Phoenix Suns in 2020, and moved the franchise to Detroit. The Cruise played its first season last year with home games played at the new Wayne State Fieldhouse.