Sundiata Gaines: The NBA G League’s Cinderella Story

By Keith Schlosser | April 30, 2020

Everyone dreams of that Cinderella story: a moment to prove themselves and accomplish what they’ve been striving for. Those who seize the chance give those who follow meaningful hope, providing the blueprint for future success.

With that in mind, if Sundiata Gaines’ basketball legacy is anything, it’s putting the NBA G League Showcase on the map as a coveted springboard to the NBA.

Now regarded as a premiere event where the basketball world comes together for a midseason scouting and networking opportunity, past NBA G League Showcases were not as universally known, serving only for true grinders to spot potential diamonds in the rough. Gambles were made.

But on a fateful winter moment back in 2010, the Utah Jazz spotted Sundiata Gaines. Just fourteen games into his professional journey, the prospect was plucked from the Idaho Stampede and jettisoned to Salt Lake City as part of a 10-day contract to join an NBA team. As special as the opportunity can be, it can be a bit scary as well. Called up in the midst of the Showcase, Gaines was left to scramble as he attempted to gather his personal belongings in Idaho, of course hoping (but truly not knowing one way or another) if he’d be back to pick them up again. Despite consistent travel, he still had a place to call home, and now he was moving on at the drop of a hat, albeit it for greener pastures.

When Gaines was called up by Utah, he had a flight out the day of, and a game the following day. That meant he was getting thrown into the fire. Alas, more uncertainty. No time to go through a practice, minimal time to acclimate himself to new teammates and coaches. Instead, it was the pop quiz of a lifetime with the highest of stakes.

On January 4, 2010, Gaines logged 19 points and 5 steals for a Stampede squad riding a three-game winning streak. Two nights later, there proved to be no rest for the weary as he donned a more favorable Jazz jersey for 21 minutes in his NBA debut. As the days went on, Gaines became more familiar with his new surroundings, all while a clock ticked ever so loudly on his long-coveted opportunity. Would he stick around? Would he have enough time to show he belonged?

Facing injuries galore, Utah was in desperate need of a floor general and Gaines was eager to go to war with his new troops. He saw action in four games prior, getting his feet wet in the background before a true splash became the tidal wave necessary for him to soak up the national stage. In his fifth game, the young gun scored 9 points in 9 minutes, dancing and prancing his way through crunch time as the Jazz looked to fight off the Cavaliers and their budding superstar, LeBron James.

The pressure was enormous. All eyes were on James and every opponent he attempted to take down, making any from Gaines sure to be amplified, not only to the Jazz, but the basketball world. On the final play of the game, Cleveland covered all well known commodities out of a Utah inbound. Gaines was not one of them. The light was beaming brightly on him. Most players would have deferred to others, choosing to fade into the background until they were more experienced.

But not Gaines. If Gaines had done that, his team would have lost. Instead, he flexed his courage and flashed the clutch gene.

Gaines raced to the ball, shot with no hesitation, swished a deep three-ball, and his team went home victorious. Gaines jumped up on the scorers table and pumped his fist. His teammates mobbed him. He was honored with a post-game interview. It was the moment dreams are made of. Young kids play NBA 2K each and every season, fantasizing that their “Create-A-Player” accomplishes similar feats.

For Gaines, his storybook tale had come to life. A shed of spotlight was transformed into an NBA career that spanned parts of three seasons and lasted professionally much longer than that. He accomplished his dream and demonstrated that hard work pays off. For those watching from afar, the proof was in the pudding: talent is to be found at the NBA G League Showcase, and the benefits could be exponential.

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