D-League's Sundiata Gaines Saves Day for Jazz
You deal with the low pay, and the long travel. You play in convention centers and hockey arenas. You travel to Bismarck, Bakersfield and McAllen, Texas. You listen to your coaches tell you that if you work hard and keep focused, you'll get where you want to go. A shot to play in the NBA. You stick with the NBA D-League, believing in the system, and believing in yourself, believing that you'll get your shot.
Sundiata Gaines got that shot with the Utah Jazz. And with that shot, he took the shot, and won a game for the Jazz over LeBron James and his sidekicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 97-96. There are moments in sports that really speak to the human experience, that reflect the value of persistence, of dedication, of effort, and the underdog making it count. Tonight was one of those stories.
Gaines came out of Georgia an undrafted rookie and played professionally in Italy before head coach Bob MacKinnon's Idaho Stampede of the NBA D-League drafted him this year. Under MacKinnon's fast paced offense, he learned to manage a team and produce points in a professional system. The Jazz signed him to a 10-day contract, then re-upped for his second 10-day just this afternoon. It's hard to focus, not knowing where you'll be in ten days, if the dream will be over and you'll be back in Boise, trying to scrape your way back. But all you can do is all you know how to do. Go out and play basketball.
Gaines didn't play for the first three quarters of the game versus the Cavs. He entered the game in the fourth, sparking the Jazz to a comeback, scoring six points including an and-one in transition. He was subbed after missing a free throw down the stretch and watched from the bench as LeBron James took over, scoring time and time again. The Jazz managed to close the gap to two with five seconds remaining. But no Jazz player could get open. Except Gaines, in the corner, with several Cavs closing in on him.
So often in life, those amazing underdog stories come up short. And it's still possible Gaines could not have his contract extended for the season, that he could not get minutes, that he could fade into a footnote of a subtext in this season. But for the rest of his life, he'll have this moment.