More than Hoops

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The Rio Grande Valley Vipers have been in the Valley since 2007. In 17 years, the team has climbed to the top of the NBA G-League (formerly D-League) mountain as champions four times, the most in league history.

Games are played at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, right off the highway, and accessible to fans across the collection of cities that make up the Valley.

“We are the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and we play in Edinburg, but we are the Valley’s team. Being affiliated with the NBA is incredible. We want to create core memories for families and basketball fans.” Vipers Vice President Mario Rodriguez said. “People are able to come to an affordable NBA-quality game and see NBA caliber players.”

Rodriguez has served in his role for four years. He is in charge of a tight-knit crew because semi-professional sports operate on a smaller scale than the Rockets or Spurs.

“My role includes everything from sales to overseeing our front office,” Rodriguez said. “I oversee day-to-day operations, our budget, our sponsor contracts, season ticket members, and everything that aligns with that. We’re a pretty small office, so I get to play a hand in everything from dancers going to community events to public relations releases that go out.”

Despite extreme success on the court, the Vipers’ work off the court has played a large role in ensuring they are here to stay.

Small-town sports is no small business. Even though the RGV is a growing region, it’s important to remember all the teams that have come and gone through the years. From the Harlingen Whitewings on the diamond to Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees on ice to the RGV Dorados Arena football.

“It’s not just about coming to a basketball game, it’s about the live entertainment product,” He said. “Yes, there’s a basketball game going on, and that’s what we are built around, but there is so much else going on as well. We have dance schools performing, we have schools performing national anthems, we recently had the Boy Scouts come and do a shoot around and earn a badge. It’s about creating lifelong memories.”

Rodriguez acknowledges it takes hard work to embed a team as part of the fabric of the community.

“What we learned early on is it’s the fans that drive the game,” Rodriguez said. “When there are 3,000 plus fans all cheering for the team, it really makes a difference, especially for our players.”

Speaking of players, part of Rodriguez’s job is to build a connection between the community and the players that come to this area to chase their dream of being a pro hooper.

“When the players come in, it’s one of the first things we talk about. We’re a team that does a lot in the community,” Rodriguez said. “We have players going to schools talking about the importance of hard work. We recently went out to help at an animal shelter.”

Rodriguez gives a lot of credit to head coach Kevin Burleson, who actively gets his team out into the Valley around them.

“It starts with our head coach; on Thanksgiving morning, he and his team were out there at the Salvation Army being a part of this community,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about the culture that you build. I’ve never seen a player turn down a fan for an autograph or photo with a kid. They understand how much they mean to the Valley and how much support they have.”

Rodriguez reiterated the importance of being proactive and working hard to resonate with the area, especially how quickly things change or come and go in the RGV.

“Being anywhere in the Valley for 17 years is impressive,” Rodriguez said. “We have no plans on going anywhere, and that has to be a two-way street. You can’t just ask people to come to games and never give back. At the end of the day, it’s not about the money they come and spend; it’s about memories they come to create.”

 

Nathaniel Mata