Greensboro meets the Swarm


Steaming coffee and mini muffins from Blue Spoon Bakery and Café brought the early-morning crowd to attention for the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Coffee & Conversation meeting at Revolution Mill on April 21. But attendants didn’t wake with the dawn just for snacks.

This event’s special guest was Steve Swetoha, president of the Greensboro Swarm, the Charlotte Hornets’ NBA Development League team, whose inaugural season begins this fall.

Swetoha’s prior credentials spoke for themselves. Over 22 years, he’s served as an executive for several sports franchises, from minor league hockey’s Cleveland Lumberjacks to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Most recently, Swetoha presided over the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock, now the Dallas Wings.

Following his introduction, Swetoha acknowledged the currently tiny staff for the incubating squad, pointing to the back of the room where Tony Furr, director of sales, stood at a table with season ticket information and Swarm T-shirts in purple and teal — the Hornets’ signature colors.

“We’re a party of two, but reinforcements are on the way,” Swetoha chuckled.

Furr, a beanpole of a man, nodded with a broad smile.

“We’re stuck in a dungeon of a back room in the Chamber,” Swetoha continued, “but we’re moving into new offices in two to three weeks when we get furniture in there, and we’ll have an open house then.”

After niceties, Swetoha launched into brass tacks.

The Swarm season will consist of 48 regular-season games — 24 at home, 24 away — between mid-November and early April. The playoffs start in mid-April, decided in three rounds of best-of-three series.

This timespan does not include team practices, which the Swarm will open to the public, or the NBA D-League Showcase.

“We’re trying to bid on that right now,” Swetoha said. “We have a season we’re trying to get off the ground, and with the ACC [Men’s Basketball Tournament] going to Washington, New York, wherever until 2020, we’re vying for that opportunity. If it’s here, we’ll host two games.”

By season’s outset, the Greensboro Coliseum Pavilion will have been renovated into the Swarm’s fieldhouse.

“These funds are not generated by taxpayer dollars,” Swetoha added. “They’re fulfilled by other opportunities in the city.”

The fieldhouse will feature around 2200 seats, from end-zone bleachers to “Hollywood” courtside spots, ranging in price from $7 to $65 per game.

“Certain inventory has already sold out,” Swetoha said, “and we’ve sold over 300 season tickets […] It’s a testament to this market.”

He also remarked that the planned facility reminds him of High Point University’s Millis Athletic Convocation Center, taking the chance to namedrop the Panthers’ star forward John Brown, an AP All-American honorable mention.

“He’s an incredible player,” Swetoha declared. “Hopefully, he’ll either make it to some NBA team or play in Greensboro someday.”

Along with the current roster, unavailable at publication time, the D-league draft commences in late October; Greensboro receives three picks, not including players dropped from current NBA rosters.

“We can pick a guy from the [Philadelphia] Sixers, pick a guy from Utah [Jazz], and they’ll be our property,” Swetoha said.

Charlotte’s decision to locate their D-league affiliate in Greensboro came at the unfortunate expense of Fayetteville and Asheville.

“Greensboro came back with an opportunity we couldn’t refuse, especially from a geography perspective,” Swetoha said in an interview. “The Hornets want to grow this brand, so what’s better than growing that 90 minutes, 90 miles away?”

D-league basketball itself is growing.

In the 2015-’16 basketball season, D-league teams brought in 1.24 million fans to attend games, and 39 percent of current NBA players made their bones in D-league teams.

“This is the AAA [minor-league baseball] of basketball,” Swetoha said, referring to the upper-tier talent to be displayed in the coming season.

Swetoha showed a map pinpointing the 19 D-league teams, excluding this year’s additions in Brooklyn, Chicago and Greensboro.

“The plan is to have 30 teams in the 30 NBA cities,” Swetoha said.

While the Swarm aspires to bring championships to the Triad, they will not exist in an athletic vacuum.

“This is not just about basketball,” Swetoha said. “We want to get engaged in the community. We want to build relationships and get involved.

“Everything we do, we want to keep it local,” he added. “It’s our job to earn the respect of everyone in this room.”

Swetoha’s contributions to local charities had been mentioned. While in Tulsa, he worked with groups such as the Oklahoma Center for Community Justice and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Swetoha said in an interview, “We’ve met with the mayor [Nancy Vaughan] and the United Way, and we’re assessing the needs of the community,” stating the Swarm plans to hire a director of communication and social responsibility by the time the season kicks off in November.

Charitable work won’t end at Swetoha, either. The president plans to make stewardship a top-to-bottom value.

“We wanna get high-caliber integrity guys who know it’s not all about basketball,” Swetoha said.

Once Swetoha’s time expired, a business-card raffle awarded three sets of party-box tickets for the D-league playoffs. Those who didn’t win could be seen perusing Furr’s back table, surveying the seating map, checking out ticket prices.

Many speakers say, “We’re excited to come to Greensboro,” as a formality, but Swetoha seemed genuinely hyped to tip off D-league ball in the Triad.

“There’s a guy who played basketball here [in North Carolina] who you may remember,” Swetoha said, referring to basketball’s GOAT, Michael Jordan. “Michael owns this team. But this is Greensboro’s team.”

In that vein, Swetoha added in an interview, “We’re gonna run this like an NBA franchise, no different than our big brothers in Charlotte — just in a smaller building.”

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