Professional basketball is coming to Lakeland. No, not an NBA team, but the next best thing.
Beginning with the 2017-18 season, the Lakeland Center will host a team affiliated with the Orlando Magic in the NBA Development League. The 22 teams in the league serve as “farm clubs” for NBA franchises.
“Lakeland now has professional basketball and we are excited,” said Lakeland Mayor Howard Wiggs. “This is a great example that Lakeland has a bright future and we are glad to be partnering with such a quality organization like the Orlando Magic.”
The Magic announced on Wednesday they have agreed to purchase the Erie BayHawks and will move the team to Lakeland, where they will play 24 home games. Magic executive Shelly Wilkes will serve as team president.
Magic CEO Alex Martins says the move makes both business and basketball sense.
“Having our D-League team in Lakeland gives us the best opportunity not only to continue developing our young players, but to extend the Orlando Magic brand across Central Florida.”
Last season 32 D-League players receiving call-ups to the NBA. More than 40 percent of NBA drafted players have spent time in the Development League since 2005.
Four current members of the Magic have played in the league. Those are Arinze Onuaku, C.J. Watson, C.J. Wilcox and Stephen Zimmerman.
The new team will join the Lakeland Flying Tigers baseball club of the Florida State League, as the community’s second professional team. Lakeland has had an 80-year relationship with the Detroit Tigers.
While the D-League team is currently known as the BayHawks, a name change better reflecting Central Florida is a distinct possibility.
Season ticket deposits are already being accepted. Fans can call 407-447-2210 for more information.