How the Birmingham Squadron hope to build a community through basketball

How the Birmingham Squadron hope to build a community through basketball

By Nikolai Culp

Zylan Cheatham goes up for a slam dunk. Photographs by Nikolai P. Culp and Jacob Taylor

Los Angeles has the Lakers. Boston has the Celtics. But what about Birmingham?

The city has its share of sports history with the minor league baseball team, the Birmingham Barons, who have been in Birmingham since 1981 and the resurgence of the USFL and the Birmingham Stallions.

In 2018, the New Orleans Pelicans announced that a new NBA G League development team would start to play in the city. Birmingham had its basketball team.

“We want to make this team Birmingham’s team,” said Dawson Boyd, Birmingham Squadron manager of public relations and broadcast.

The Squadron finished its first season in Birmingham with a record of 18-14 and made it to the NBA G League playoffs.

While the first season in Birmingham was a success in terms of making the playoffs, the Squadron are hungry for more this year.

“The team goal is to excel past what we did last year and be even better than that. Keep competing, keep pushing along and make a deeper run in the playoffs,” said Squadron shooting guard and former University of Alabama player John Petty, Jr.

“Of course on the court, you know, your dreams are, our goals are to make the playoffs and win a championship,” said Squadron small forward and Vestavia Hills High School alumni Jordan Swing.

John Petty Jr. shoots a jump shot at the Squadron’s training camp. Photographs by Nikolai P. Culp and Jacob Taylor

While the Squadron want to be Birmingham’s team on the court, they want to be Birmingham’s team off the court as well.

“That’s a huge piece that I wanted to make an addition to in getting the job,” said first year Squadron head coach T.J. Saint. “As soon as we landed from Miami a few weeks ago, we were with the Pelicans, an hour later we did a clinic at YMCA downtown. So every couple of weeks I want all of our people, staff, players to touch the community in different ways.”

There is no question that football is the number one sport in Alabama. The Alabama Crimson Tide have won six national championships since 2009 and the Auburn Tigers have won one.

Alabama and Auburn both have basketball teams, but they do not see the success or the attention that the football teams do. The Squadron are looking to become the team to root for not just in Birmingham, but in all of Alabama.

“It’s huge,” Swing said. “Growing up in the area and you know, loving basketball like I do, I want it to be one of those sports in Birmingham, I want people to be excited about it, so having a pro team here I think is huge for just the youth to see. It’s such high-level basketball in their hometown. I think it will be huge to keep them engaged as they grow up and keep them wanting to play basketball here. Basketball can be a big thing here in Alabama,” Swing said.

“We want this to be seen as a community thing. When you come to a Squadron game, we want you to really understand this is your team from the moment you walk in the door,” said Boyd. “We want Birmingham to see the Squadron as Birmingham’s team.