EDINBURG — It was only appropriate that the RGV Vipers rode into Bert Ogden Arena on Sunday on the back of two Edinburg fire trucks.
After all, the Vipers were the hottest thing in the G League for the 2018-2019 season.
Players, coaches, ownership and fans all gathered Sunday at the home of the Vipers to celebrate the team’s third G League Championship. Each trophy sat on a table in the middle of the basketball court, the newest one taller than the rest as the Vipers paid tribute to the fans and vice versa.
“The energy that the fans brought, especially at the end of the season, was amazing,” said Vipers guard Gary Payton II. “It was second to none and it was just a great experience.”
Vipers President and CEO Rene Borrego said there was a lot asked of the Vipers this season. They opened a new arena, worked with a new coach and new team — and brought back a title.
“We worked hard this year to get a lot accomplished and it was great to not only win a title but to win it in this new arena with a lot of great fans,” Borrego said. “This was an exciting year.”
Coach Joseph Blair, in his first year as head coach but fourth on the Vipers’ staff, said the championship still hasn’t sunk in.
“This was a great season,” he said. “We had our ups and we had our downs. Some days the players didn’t like me, some days they did. Some days I didn’t like them either, but we kept everything open. We were honest with each other and we got through all those things.”
The Vipers finished as the top seed in the Western Conference and quickly dispatched of Memphis and Santa Cruz in the first two rounds, which were one-game, winner-take-all playoff tilts. Fans packed Bert Ogden Arena and one official attendance claimed 8,125 fans. It was hard to argue that, especially considering how loud they were.
The Vipers ended up having to travel for Game 1 of the G League Finals since they and the Long Island Nets both finished with the same record in the regular season but the Nets defeated the Vipers at the G League Showcase in Las Vegas, giving them home court advantage.
Using a unique defense that Blair called “passive aggressive,” the Vipers looked less than contenders in Game 1 of the best-of-three series, falling 117-107.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Blair said prior to Game 2, back home in Edinburg. “We’ve lost games before. We haven’t played well before. We’ve made some adjustments and we’re prepared.”
The Vipers won Game 2, 127-116.
In Long Island for Game 3, the Vipers made no doubt about anything, leading from the start and taking a 28 point halftime lead.
“God bless, that’s all I can say,” first-year assistant coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah said when asked what his thoughts were about the big first-half lead in the clinching game. “We had several challenges throughout the season, had so many NBA callups, but we were always available for players to get them prepared since the beginning of the season. This has been a great experience.”
Many of the players had already left for other destinations, but those who were at the celebration included Payton, Jordan Johnson, Dakairi Tucker, Tim Bond, Roger Moute a Bidias, Jacobi Boykins and fan favorite Chris Walker.
Before the celebration, players, coaches and staff lined up in the Vipers Den to be measured for their championship ring, which will be created and Josten’s.
Blair, among the final ones to be measure, was a 12.5 ring size.
“Make that ring big,” he joked. “The bigger, the better.”