SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – The 1988 sports comedy “Bull Durham” centered on veteran catcher Crash Davis, a longtime minor leaguer who attempted to teach a promising yet immature pitcher about the nuances of baseball in preparation for a career in the majors. Davis played so long, he broke the minor league record for career home runs.
The NBA Development League has a pair of elder statesmen in Maurice Baker and Renaldo Major, who have hung around to play a combined 702 games in the basketball minor league.
“You can say we are the Crash Davises of the D-League, and I love that terminology,” Major, 33, said. “Even though I am an old bull, I still feel like I can keep up with these guys. My time is coming down to an end, and I want to help as many guys as I can before it’s over with. But I also want to show them I can compete and play at a high level.”
Baker is expected to extend his D-League record for games played to 356 on Friday night, when his Santa Cruz Warriors play the Iowa Energy. Major, who plays for the Bakersfield Jam, has played in 347 D-League games and is the league’s all-time leading scorer. No other player in D-League history has played more than 300 games.
“We don’t joke about the number of games we have played,” Baker, 36, said. “We talk about how many games we are going to continue to play. … We played together three or four years [with Dakota]. We have a bond and we’re trying to outplay each other.”
The D-League has three tiers of pay: $25,000, $19,000 and $13,000; Major said he was on the low end of the scale.
Each D-League team has a $183,000 salary cap, and players are afforded accommodations – typically with a roommate – in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, health insurance, league-related transportation, and a $50 per day per diem on the road. If an overseas team wants to sign a D-League player, it must pay the league a $45,000 buyout.
“It’s a sacrifice league,” Baker said. “The money is not that great, but it pays the bills. During the summer, I try to make that money up that I didn’t make playing in the D-League by playing in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. It works for me.”
Said Major: “I’m single. No kids. No worries. I just try to manage my money and in the summertime to try to spend it wisely.”
Baker went undrafted by the NBA out of Oklahoma State in 2002, playing his first D-League season in 2006 with Dakota. Major went undrafted out of Fresno State in 2004, making his D-League debut with Sioux Falls in 2005. Both, however, had brief stints in the NBA.
Baker played four games with the Portland Trail Blazers and one with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2004-05 season. He recalled that his per diem in the NBA was more than his entire paycheck in the D-League.
“It’s completely different how guys carry themselves up there,” Baker said of the NBA. “When we go to a casino out here, guys are like, ‘I can’t spend this $100.’ But up there, they spend $100,000. You’re on a [private] plane. It’s crazy.”
Major played in one game with the Golden State Warriors during the 2006-07 season.
“My dad got to see me play in the NBA before he died,” Major said. “That was awesome just seeing my name on the back of an NBA jersey. It was priceless. I really did that coming out of nowhere.
“I actually was going to take my jersey [after being waived], but I thought it was stealing. I left the jersey.”
Baker said he knew his NBA window was closed when he didn’t play during a D-League game two years ago. Major also said he has come to terms with the fact that his NBA dreams are likely over. But they are still healthy and hope to continue to play in the D-League a couple more seasons.
D-League teams want them for their mentorship, experience and positive locker room attitude more than their playing ability. And if Major and Baker get their wish, they will continue in the D-League as coaches once their playing days are over.
“We’ve been great mentors and ambassadors to guys in the D-League,” Major said. “We always try to do the right thing. We always speak highly of the D-League no matter where I am. I am just glad to be a part of it for eight years. …
“I’m not trying to get to the NBA. I am trying to get these younger guys to the NBA.”