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Dawson's Leap of Faith Rewarded

By: Anthony Oliva



LAS VEGAS, Nev - San Antonio’s Eric Dawson made his biggest gamble months before he even came to Las Vegas.

The bet was on himself.

After January’s NBA D-League Showcase, Dawson, then starring for the Austin Toros, toyed with the idea of leaving the NBA D-League to play Slovenia. He went so far as to sign a contract before having a change of heart.

“Honestly I saw a lot of people getting called up – I thought I was doing pretty good – and I got discouraged,” Dawson said of his motive to sign the contract. “I got an offer that was some good numbers and I took it, but then I sat back and thought about it and was like ‘No, I’m playing too good. I’m here in the States and if I go overseas, out of sight out of mind.’ So I decided to opt out of it and do what I had to do to get back to the Toros and everything worked out in favor of me.”

Dawson’s decision, with the benefit of hindsight, appears to have been the right one. Three months after winning a NBA D-League title with the Austin Toros and being named 2011-12 NBA D-League Impact Player of the Year, he’s now playing with the San Antonio Spurs Summer League squad where he scored 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds -- 10 in the first half -- in the Spurs’ 82-76 win over Atlanta on Sunday.

When he was weighing the Slovenia offer, however, things weren’t quite so clear.


Eric Dawson holding up the 2011-12 NBA D-League
Impact Player of the Year Award.
Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Images
Dawson’s choices were this. He could either take the offer and the guaranteed paycheck that, at least financially, was clearly the right decision. Or, he could stay. And hope. He could continue to develop his game with a smaller bank account, something he had done so arduously during parts of five years in the NBA D-League, and hope, dream and hold out for a chance to get to the NBA – his ultimate goal.

“It was a sacrifice,” Dawson said about turning down the contract. “I talked it over with my wife and she’s behind me 100 percent. I talked it over with (Austin Head Coach Brad Jones) and the coaching staff and actually (then Spurs VP of Basketball Operations) Danny Ferry helped me out to get out of (the contract) and by them doing that, that showed me a lot. It showed me that they really cared about me as a player and a person and it wasn’t really a hard decision for me at the end.”

It was an exercise in faith, really. With Slovenia in the rear view, it was firmly on the 6-foot-9 Dawson to play the kind of basketball he knew he was capable of in order to have some NBA team, likely the Spurs, give him a coveted chance.

Once maneuvering back into the fold in Austin, Dawson never looked back. He registered a double-double in 14 of his last 18 games in March and April and he formed the league’s most dominant low-post combination with teammate and former Lottery pick Julian Wright. He even earned two GATORADE Call-Ups with the Spurs and appeared in four games, including a nine-point, six-rebound outing against Portland on Feb. 21.

In the NBA D-League Finals, Dawson suffered a concussion 35 seconds into the first game and sat out the rest of Games 1 and 2. Then, a day before Game 3, he was cleared by San Antonio doctors, took a flight to Los Angeles and spent all of Game 3 evicting D-Fenders from the lane, en route to a 21-point, 10-board night in the championship-clinching game.

It was a summit that would never have been possible had he stayed on his path overseas.

“He’s been just phenomenal all year long for us,” said Austin head coach Brad Jones during the Finals. “He’s had some ups and down himself, but I don’t know if you can have much better of a season than he had. We had a lot of guys in that category too, but to come in and emerge as one of the best bigs in this league when he’s been in this league on and off for five years, and he got his Call-Up for his hometown San Antonio Spurs, and to win a championship for us.”

Adding to Dawson’s fortune is his affiliation with the Spurs, a world-class organization that invests in its NBA D-League team as much as any NBA organization.

“They’re a great organization,” Dawson said. “I like everybody from the coaching staff to the interns. They’re hands on. I just want to show them that I can play at the next level. You know, obviously, they called me up twice but this time I want to stick.”

He says he hears it all the time, but it seems as if he is on the cusp of validating his decision to stay in the states and use the NBA D-League as his vehicle to the NBA. And, with a few more strong Summer League performances like the one he had on Sunday – the Spurs next play on Tuesday against the Lakers – Dawson may finally get that payday after all and turn a gamble into a big win.