From D-League to The League
Undrafted Denver Nuggets forward Gary Forbes discusses his NBA journey — playing in the D-League and four different overseas clubs.
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
It was June 26, 2008 when his journey took an abrupt turn. Gary Forbes, who had just wrapped-up his redshirt senior season at UMass, was expected to be among the 60 picks selected in the 2008 NBA Draft. But his name was never called. He and all of those who believed he would were left pondering over the shocking turn of events. It was not supposed to be like this. The Panamanian native had just come off an impressive final season with the Minutemen– full of accolades — and had also turned heads at the pre-draft camps in Orlando and Virginia.
Forbes was named the 2008 Atlantic-10 Player of the Year and First Team All-Conference after leading the league in scoring during the regular season, averaging 20.3 points per game, and finishing fourth in rebounds with 7.9 per outing. The regular season also saw the Brooklyn-raised wing reach double-double nine times and post 25 or more points on six occasions.
UMass would go on to finish third in the conference and earned a trip to the NIT, where they would upset Syracuse and two-time defending national champion Florida, on their way to the NIT Championship game – eventually falling short to Ohio State. Forbes put the team on his back throughout the tourney, averaging close to 15 points per game, including a 19-point performance against the Gators.
When his career in Amherst (MA) came to an end, Forbes hit the road to Portsmouth and Orlando to participate in invitation-only camps for NBA hopefuls. At the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, the current restricted free-agent set himself away from the pack and proved to be one of the most versatile prospects in attendance. He left Virginia with a buzz after averaging 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 7 rebounds. (His leading assists numbers even included a 13-dime performance.) Next stop was the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando, where Forbes picked up from where he left off at Portsmouth and elevated his game up even further. By the time the camp concluded, he was already being labeled the camp’s top performer – having led the event in points, averaging 21.3 per game, while shooting 46% from the field. At this point, the odds of Forbes being selected in the Draft seemed to be on his side.
But despite all of the superb showings, not one NBA team had the heart to the draft him at the time. Reality had struck and Forbes’ journey was now on a detour. Nonetheless, the NBA dream was far from over.
The Sioux Falls Skyforce selected Forbes with the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NBA Developmental League Draft. He was dealt to the Tulsa 66ers in midseason, and finished averaging 17.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. It was then when the rollercoaster ride picked up its speed and went on an international tour. In the spring of 2009, Forbes played for Talk N Text Tropang Texters club in the Philippines and the Carabobo Globetrotters in Venezuela. The short stints with both teams only lasted a handful of games. He then took his talent to Italy, where he played for Vanoli Cremona and averaged 13.3 points. Forbes then landed a gig in the Israeli Basketball Super League – the country’s top basketball league—playing for the Ironi Kfar Hamaccabia Ramat Gan. He would flourish and culminate the season as the league’s leading scorer, averaging 20.3 per game.
And that’s when the NBA began to take serious notice. The Houston Rockets invited Forbes to play for them at the Las Vegas Summer League and the Denver Nuggets followed by offering him a spot in training camp.
Faced with the opportunity he’s been searching for his whole life and looking to take care of unfinished business, Forbes would go all out for that final roster spot – which he competed for against Eric Boateng – and eventually earned it, after averaging 10.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in the preseason. Head coach George Karl cited “intensity” and “scrappiness” among the reasons why he made the final cut. At the age of 25, when many thought it was time he gave up on his NBA hopes, the former A-10 standout was now officially an NBA player. During the regular season, Forbes played in 63 games, 11 of which he started, and averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 rebounds.
Forbes, who was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 19 and is now the new spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association for African American Initiatives, received a qualifying offer from the Denver Nuggets on June 20th.
Currently back in his hometown of Brooklyn, hosting basketball camps for elementary and high school student-athletes at his alma mater, Benjamin Banneker HS, SLAMonline caught up with Forbes for a few minutes to talk about his long journey to the League, and much more.
SLAM: What motivated you to return to your alma mater and host this camp?
Gary Forbes: Like you said, this is my alma mater, and not many people come back and have basketball camps in Brooklyn like that. I just wanted to give back to the community, as well as teach kids about healthy eating, managing the classroom, punctuation, and just trying to get out of the stereotype of what the urban society has.
SLAM: You went from the D-League to overseas to the NBA. How would you describe your journey to the League?
GF: It was amazing. I enjoyed all the hard work and hardships that I went through. I’ve always been a type of player that has never had politics on my side, so I like it that way. Wouldn’t trade my experiences for nothing.
SLAM: Looking back at it now, what are the most memorable things you take from that experience of being on the grind?
GF: I think last summer, where finally everything came together and I pretty much knew I was going to play in the NBA. I knew I was ready. I knew this year was it. All I was focused on was my body, staying healthy and getting in the right situation to make something happen.
SLAM: When you were in the D-League and traveling from the Philippines, to Venezuela, Italy and Israel, did you ever think you would end up on an NBA roster?
GF: I knew that I should be on an NBA roster. I think that in 2008 when I didn’t get drafted, all 30 teams made a mistake. So I’ve had that in the back of my mind for the last three years. And now I plan to prove a lot of people wrong.
SLAM: How did you end up getting invited to the Denver Nuggets training camp?
GF: Masai Ujiri, the General Manager, invited me to training camp. It was one spot to fight for. I was able to obtain it.
SLAM: How would you describe that particular experience of fighting and earning that spot at training camp?
GF: It was almost surreal. I was just riding on any emotion. Just seeing those guys – the previous year I was watching them on TV, and now I’m in practice, in the locker room and on trips with them. So it was definitely a great experience. I enjoyed every bit of it.