The realization of an NBA dream is a moment unique to every prospect. For some, it comes straight from college – hearing their name called by the commissioner on draft night. For others, brief stops overseas jumpstart them on their path to the NBA. For G League prospects, competing against one another day in and day out for the next open spot on an NBA roster, that moment comes over the phone – a Call-Up from an NBA front office.
“You go through situations where you wake up and get that tremendous call you’ve been waiting on all year,” said Tim Frazier, former D League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year and current member of the Washington Wizards. “Now you’ve got a 10-day contract with a team. You don’t know what to do. You’re ecstatic. You don’t know who to call – you call family, friends and tell them you got called up by [an NBA] team. But then all you do is pack your bags.”
According to the G League official website, more than 30 NBA G League prospects have received Call-Ups to the NBA in each of the past six seasons. Past Call-Ups have included NBA standouts Chris Andersen — the league’s first-ever Call-Up to the Denver Nuggets in 2001 — Danny Green (Reno Bighorns to San Antonio Spurs in 2010-11), Gerald Green (Los Angeles D-Fenders to New Jersey Nets in 2010-11) and Hassan Whiteside (Iowa Energy to Miami Heat in 2014-15).
The opportunity, however, can be fleeting. G League Call-Ups are rarely granted more than a 10-day contract and have to make the most of their limited time on the big stage.
“You have to be level-minded,” Frazier said. “Everybody knows you’re excited. Everybody knows you’re a part of this new team. You get 10 days to basically prove yourself. It’s not for the weak-minded.”
For many Call-Ups, even those who find success during their stints at the NBA level, roster restrictions send them back to the G League, where they resume their efforts to prove themselves for the next NBA team in need of a boost.
Some prospects wind up playing a consistent role on both the NBA and G League teams, spending time with each, looking to maximize development through more reps, more workouts and more games.
“I was doing two-a-days,” said Wizards forward Chris McCullough, formerly of the G League’s Northern Arizona Suns and Long Island Nets. “I would have [G League] game at noon and then an NBA game at 7:30 p.m. so I was doing doubleheaders for like two months straight – just getting a lot of reps, playing a lot of minutes. I had to get up around 8 a.m. We had team breakfasts, then on the court by 11 a.m., games start at [noon]. Right after that I would go straight to the [NBA] locker room and get ready for my game with the Brooklyn Nets…by the time I got home it was 11:30 p.m. and I had to get up and do the same thing the next day.”
Then there are players like Frazier – who put on performances so impactful, and whose opportunities come with the right teams at the right time – that find a permanent role in the NBA.
“It makes you a strong-minded individual,” Frazier said. “It makes you sit back and really want it. How bad do you really want this? How bad do you really want to achieve your dream of being in the NBA?”