The Santa Cruz Warriors were named the 2020-21 NBA G League Franchise of the Year. The announcement was made Tuesday at the league’s sales and marketing meetings.
It marks the second time the organization has won one of the league’s most prestigious awards—they also won it in 2017-18, the award’s inaugural year.
Santa Cruz Warriors President Chris Murphy said they’re honored to receive the recognition by a selection committee composed of league executives who determined the winner.
Each team was evaluated based on the NBA G League’s three core pillars: (1) compete with intensity, (2) lead with integrity and (3) inspire play.
“I’m just really proud of the team that we have assembled here that works so hard and tirelessly,” he said. “It feels great to have the recognition and the honor for the type of year we had knowing that it wasn’t just going out and doing the same things we do every year.”
Santa Cruz, which is the NBA G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors, hosted over 130 events both in-person and virtually. At the start of Black History Month, more than 3,200 Santa Cruz and Bay Area students participated in an anti-racism webinar that included recently retired NBA player Shaun Livingston and WNBA player Natasha Cloud.
Through a partnership with Kaiser Permanente, the Warriors engaged with over 3,400 students in their Read to Achieve, Math Warriors and Get Fit programs.
“It’s the community work in general that I am probably most proud of more than the business side of our accomplishments this year, more than the social media accolades and having our games broadcasted,” Murphy said.
Kaiser Permanente Arena, home of the Santa Cruz Warriors, hosted a Recovery Resource Center for fire victims, became a polling center for the general election and a vaccination center for Covid-19 vaccinations.
The Santa Cruz Warriors also unveiled the Swishes for Dishes Initiative, a new program during the 2020-21 season to combat food insecurity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this program the Santa Cruz Warriors were able to donate 50,280 meals to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County in Watsonville.
The program received more than 488,000 social media impressions across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and was also recently recognized with one of the league’s Social Responsibility Awards.
“It’s the things that we do in the community day-in and day-out and maybe people don’t recognize it because there’s no wins and losses and points scored,” Murphy said. “But our group of people work so hard to make sure that we’re supportive of the Santa Cruz community as possible.”
Murphy said this past year was a challenge for them and the entire Santa Cruz community. They had to change so many aspects of the way they operate as a basketball team, including competing in the 2020-21 season on a single-site in Orlando.
After an 0-2 start, the Warriors bounced back and found a 9-0 run in the middle of the season to finish the regular season second with an 11-4 record. Santa Cruz made it to the G-League playoff semifinals, losing to the eventual champion Lakeland Magic.
Two-way forward Juan Toscano-Anderson signed a multi-year NBA contract with the Golden State Warriors and Santa Cruz Warriors forward Axel Toupane earned a two-way contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, winning an NBA Championship this year.
Murphy believes they’ve struck that balance of running a viable business while also focusing on being a phenomenal community steward and developing players on the court.
“You don’t have to give up one to be good at the other,” he said.
Editor’s note: Additional reporting by Shannon Stabler of the Santa Cruz Warriors.