The Sioux Falls Skyforce is the longest running minor league basketball team in the United States, and this upcoming season marks its 30th anniversary. There are a lot of teams at this level that have folded or moved, but there are values, partnerships, and a community behind the Skyforce that Mike Heineman, Skyforce owner and president, says keeps it thriving.
The Skyforce has been a family business since Mike’s dad, Greg, purchased the team along with fellow local businessmen Bob Correa, Roger Larsen, and Tom Walsh in 1993 from the Kemper Lensik Organization, and the group embraced it.
“I fell in love with it at a young age and it’s been just a part of my life [with my dad’s involvement],” said Mike. “My family has always been proud of it and we’ve never wanted to get out of it.”
There are a few moments in Skyforce history that will always stand out, like listening to the team win their first championship in 1996.
“I was 19 and remember listening to it on the radio in my bedroom when we won it,” recalled Mike.
At the time they were so new, it was surreal each time the team advanced before they defeated Fort Wayne 118-117 in game five, winning their first CBA Championship.
THE HEAT IS ON
A move that’s helped further the Skyforce’s standing in recent years is an affiliate partnership with the Miami Heat that began in the 2013-14 season. There’s no question about the Skyforce staying in Sioux Falls, and instead, the move ensures the longevity of the team. The Heat controls basketball operations from players, to coaching, while leaving local ownership responsible for off-the-court management.
With the trend of minor basketball leagues heading toward ownership by NBA teams, Greg and Mike said they knew the Heat was where they wanted to be.
“Joining the Heat only made it better,” said Mike. “They share the same type of core values, and how they run their team is at the core very similar to the Skyforce.”
No one had ever won three days on the road… we didn’t expect it at all and it’s never been done in professional basketball before,” said Greg.
For championships at the minor league level to happen, he believes the stars have to align just right with no injuries or players transferring – and at times they’ve come as close as winning 49 out of 55 games without making it.
In its 30 years, the Skyforce have won three championships—following the first win in Fort Wayne, they defeated the Rockford Lightning in 2005, and finally a win on the home court in the 2016 season against the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
In the early days, Greg and his three fellow businessmen knew they had to sell the idea of the team to the Sioux Falls community to gain support. At the time, there was no other sports events teams besides high school teams, making attending a Skyforce game a new experience.
ALL ABOUT THE PLAYERS
One of the biggest advancements since the Skyforce’s inception? Player development. Nowadays, Greg says the team’s first players couldn’t even make the tryouts, and now they send two to three players to the NBA each year.
“It’s pretty remarkable making it 30 years… and we still love doing it, and it’s only going to keep getting better and better,” said Greg.
Since becoming a developmental team of the Miami Heat, assistant coach Kasib Powell says it gives the Skyforce an unparalleled opportunity to learn from the NBA.
“It gives you the confidence to go back and help the team learn and develop that talent,” he said.
In the early ‘90s, they drew crowds of 5,000 when competing against the Rapid City Thrillers, the state’s only other rival (which then folded in 1999).
“That solidified it in the community and became the basis of what the Skyforce is,” said Mike.
Having dedicated fans is one of two traits to which Greg attributes the Skyforces’ 30-year success. The second, is running it like a business; doing the hard work of selling tickets and providing entertainment that is worth the visit to the Pentagon.
It’s in the moments of still seeing a crowd of 3,000 at Skyforce games that the three-decade history comes full circle.
“Now it’s woven into the thread of what Sioux Falls is as a city… it’s earned its spot as being a thing Sioux Falls has,” said Greg.
The Skyforce opens its season on Friday, November 2 against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at the Sanford Pentagon.
For more information, visit siouxfalls.gleague.nba.com.
5 GAME CELEBRATION SERIES
Each Skyforce game will pay tribute to significant places and events in Sioux Falls over the past 30 years. Players will sport custom sioux falls flag jerseys.
November 10 // 7 pm
Vs. Wisconsin Herd
December 8 // 7 pm
Vs. Texas Legends
January 19 // 7 pm
Vs. Windy City Bulls
February 9 // 7 pm
Vs. Stockton Kings
March 1 // 7 pm
Vs. Grand Rapids Drive