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When I Get My Card Back Activated, I’m Back to Vegas

My first trek to the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League

Shielding fans from scorching triple-digit Las Vegas temperatures, Thomas & Mack Center also provides sanctuary from the turbulence of NBA free agency. It’s an imperfect abode for basketball, but an abode nonetheless —the game breathes and entertains thousands for a few weeks in the heart of the summer. Draft prospects, some young and some old, provide optimism for franchises in need. Fringe roster players re-display skills that once made them coveted. Coaches are given the opportunity to mesh with team members. Loose balls are aggressively pursued into the stands, and trash talk is still flung into the air. The games generally mean something to those involved.

That includes spectators. The neighboring COX Pavilion was filled to capacity during the first four days of the league; event staffers had fans form a long line as they waited for others to exit before taking their place. Even Warriors F Draymond Green was initially told he wasn’t guaranteed re-entry to the game. There is an enjoyable blend of obscure t-shirt jerseys in the stands resting on the backs of fans so passionate about their franchises they’ve actually paid to watch a team comprised of maybe three or four rostered NBA players.

The air that filled my lungs during the five days I covered the league had the consistency of the playoffs. While the gym was considerably smaller than any NBA venue, there wasn’t an open seat to be found — not even to stand. Beer flowed, half-eaten hot dogs waved in distress, and fans screamed absurdities. At one point, a man yelled in the general direction of the broadcast cameras for at least 20 minutes to request an Andrew Wiggins dunk be replayed. Another man showed up dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. The crazies were out. They needed their basketball fix.



On the whole, the event was well-catered to the public, though it was a bit weird at points. For instance, there was this weird blimp-type structure, equipped with camera, that would hover over the crowd in the Thomas & Mack Center during timeouts and drop several Summer League items (Sunglasses, squishy balls) which they claimed were “rare.”

The excitement was justified — fans were treated to a Jabari Parker-Andrew Wiggins showdown on Day 1, and some impressive debuts by Dante Exum and Doug McDermott. There’s nothing the average fan of the league likes more than scoring, dunks, and flashiness.

I suppose you might also insert a 5' 7" Point Guard into that list.

Yuki Togashi (Japan) captivated thousands in just two short games, without doing much of anything. During his second career LVSL game on July 14th, Togashi injected a considerable amount of entertainment into the COX Pavilion in just four short minutes. He started out with a substantial leap for a defensive rebound that earned him a nice ovation. Then, he missed two threes (one of which is below) to the disappointment of each person in attendance.

He was called for a travel, and the referees became the most hated individuals in the state of Nevada. He then drew a charge, and received — I kid you not — a standing ovation. In his subsequent game, naturally, he went 5/7 from the field for 12 points.

As for Las Vegas, I think my five-day dosage was the maximum I could administer. You see a bit of everything — players walking around in your hotel casino, five year-olds strolling past dancers wearing suggestive clothing, and drunk college graduates bumming cigarettes off of strangers. It’s a jumble of Las Vegas residents, tourists making poor life choices, and a crowd there for a particular event. This month it’s the Summer League, next it will be USA Basketball, and countless concerts (Journey is playing soon!) and fights will wiggle in between.

The heat is nearly unbearable — it truthfully made a walk up Fordham Rd on a July afternoon in the Bronx, NY a pleasant walk in comparison. At midnight, the temperature is still pushing triple-digits, and the pavement still emits an uncomfortable heat.

Working inside an air-conditioned gymnasium all day, a walk out into the sun leaves one blinded and sweating seconds after impact with the sun’s rays. I called a cab to drive me a quarter-mile to 7/11 at one point.

That was another strange thing about Las Vegas, you couldn’t just walk up to a taxi and get in, you had to wait in a line. This wasted time, and just left you sitting out in the heat longer. It was also $3 to use a credit card, which grew my appreciation for New York cabbies. Meals ran expensive, though with some finagling, you could manage to save some cash.

All told, I stand by Kanye West’s words in the title of this entry. I highly recommend the NBA’s Summer League to any basketball fan or media member. You’ll meet important people either way, and the basketball is compelling. It’s sloppier than the NBA, yet there are enough reasons to watch. In my five days there alone, Nerlens Noel displayed the potential to be a top-five bigman in the league down the road, Anthony Bennett quieted his critics, Cole Aldrich earned himself a new contract with the Knicks, Doug McDermott scored many baskets, and of course, Yuki Togashi set foot on the court. There are so many ommissions I had to make for time’s sake, too.

A unique flavor lies in the air of the Summer League. You’ve got to be there to know what I’m talking about.