During the 2021-2022 season, author Alex Squadron spent time embedded with the NBA G League's Birmingham Squadron. He compiled his observances from that season into a book, now available to purchase.
With the release of his book, Life in the G: Minor League Basketball and the Relentless Pursuit of the NBA, the Mad Ants chatted with Squadron about his work for his debut book, what he has learned about the NBA G League and what he wants others to understand about the league.
What drew you to wanting to write a book about the NBA G League?
I was drawn to this book for two reasons. One, as a former editor for SLAM and longtime basketball fan, I’ve always been surprised by how little attention is paid to the G League. There are so many great players in today’s NBA who came through the minors: Alex Caruso, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Gary Payton II, Seth Curry, Spencer Dinwiddie, Christian Wood—to name a few. A league with so much talent definitely deserves more spotlight.
And two, I love underdog stories. The G League is composed entirely of underdogs—guys earning $37,000 a season, flying commercial, playing in front of tiny crowds in remote cities, grinding to make it to the NBA. At its core, this book is about hope, sacrifice, persistence, grit and the pursuit of an elusive dream—themes that I hope all readers can relate to.
What was the initial reception of the franchise in Birmingham to your request?
The franchise was extremely open to my request. Since the G League receives so little media coverage, I think players, coaches and executives are eager to share their stories and experiences. I outlined very clearly the access I needed to do the project and the staff in Birmingham was all for it. Once I got the go-ahead, I packed my bags and moved from New York to Alabama right away.
And the team absolutely kept its word. Beyond games and practices, I was able to observe film sessions, player development meetings, individual workouts, team dinners, road trips and more. I’m so grateful to all of the people I followed for their friendliness and generosity from day one.
What about the G League initially surprised you the most?
As I learned more about the path to the NBA for G League players, I realized that most followers of the game don’t truly understand what scouts are looking for in the minors. The iso-heavy, ball-dominant, high-volume scorers aren’t the guys who typically get called up, even if their numbers jump off the page. NBA teams comb the G League for players who fill very specific roles (think 3-and-D), don’t make mistakes, work incredibly hard and contribute to winning basketball.
When former G Leaguer Anthony Tolliver spoke to the team I followed, he emphasized that message: “Realize that the best path to the league is through a role,” he said. “Wherever you go, whatever team you get called up to, you’re not going to be ‘the man.’ You gotta get that in your head.” Only the players who are willing to accept that and adjust their games accordingly end up making it to the NBA.
You didn’t just talk to those with the Squadron, so which interview do you feel gave you the most insight to the G League and why?
It’s tough to narrow it down to just one. In addition to those with the Squadron, I interviewed former G Leaguers (many of whom are now in the NBA, such as Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson and Clint Capela), coaches, scouts, executives and more. The book also explores the history of the G League, including anecdotes that reveal how the experience has changed through the years. I spoke to numerous guys who spent considerable time in the minors: Andre Ingram, Renaldo Major, Reggie Hearn, Squeaky Johnson, Maurice Baker, Mo Charlo and, of course, Ron Howard. Those conversations provided a lot of valuable insight into the growth of the league, the path to receiving a call-up and the countless obstacles players face in the pursuit of the NBA.
What pushed you to reach out to Mad Ants legend Ron Howard for the book?
The longer I was embedded in the G League, the more I kept hearing about Ron Howard. You gotta talk to Ron. Have you spoken to Ron yet? Do you know Mr. Mad Ant? I actually was familiar with Howard’s story prior to the season, but definitely didn’t know all the wild details until I tracked him down for an interview. It was one of the most fascinating and enlightening conversations I had while reporting.
Which part of Ron’s story did you find most interesting?
Ron’s entire basketball journey is remarkable, but I focused primarily on the beginning of his G League career. His name pops up in an early chapter about G League tryouts because his legendary run with the Mad Ants actually started with an open tryout back in 2007. If you don’t know that story, please read the feature I wrote about Ron for this website. It’s amazing how close Mr. Mad Ant came to retiring before earning a spot in the minors.
What was your biggest takeaway from the experience about the league?
My biggest takeaway was that G League players deal with even more pressure and stress than most people realize. The pursuit of the NBA is really the pursuit of perfection—both on and off the court. When you’re on the outside of the NBA fighting to get in, the margin for error is so small. Scouts, coaches and executives don’t just evaluate how guys play; they assess their reactions on the bench, how they mesh with their teammates, what they bring to locker rooms, their work habits, their nutrition and much more. As I write in the book, minor slip-ups—such as not spiriting back on defense or eating too much fast food—could be the difference “between someone liking you and dismissing you, between a call-up and a season in the minors, between millions and $37,000.”
Why should basketball fans take more time to learn about the NBA G League, in your opinion?
The main reason is simple: it’s great basketball. These guys really love the game—most of them could be playing overseas for significantly more money—and you can sense that from watching them. In the G League, you get to see passionate, determined, NBA-caliber players up close for an affordable price. And then you can follow their individual journeys as they chase the NBA, just as I did for Malcolm Hill, Zylan Cheatham, Jared Harper and Joe Young.
If you’re a true fan of the NBA, then the G League should be impossible to ignore. Movement back and forth has increased considerably over the years. At the start of this NBA season, a record-breaking 50% of players on rosters had experience in the G League. I think Andre Ingram put it best in the foreword of my book: “You can’t find an NBA roster without multiple guys with G League experience on it. You can’t even find a roster without a former G League player who is a significant part of the team’s rotation. A league producing those types of players needs to be covered and needs to be known.”
I couldn’t agree more.