‘NBA’s Coachella’: How the Summer League Became an Inevitable Event | NBA

II’ve never been on the surface of the sun, but I can imagine it doesn’t feel too odd from Las Vegas in mid-July. The heat can only be described as oppressive, a feeling of urgency to reach the safety of the air conditioner attacks you the second you step into it, and you can feel everything on your person made of a plastic-like material that twists and deforms in reality. time.

The irony, of course, is that the metaphorical side of the “close to a star” coin is also what makes summer in Vegas so enticing … for basketball fans, at least. For 10 days each July, the entire NBA’s expanded cinematic universe comes down over Sin City for the most stress-free, jovial and much-attended event on the league’s annual calendar: the Las Vegas Summer League.

Las Vegas Summer League
Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé and rapper 50 Cent pose for a selfie with a fan during a Summer League game Sunday in Las Vegas. Photo: David Dow / NBAE / Getty Images

Diehard NBA fans are no doubt familiar with the event, where rookies, third-strikers, G League players hoping to take the plunge, and unearthed diamonds in the rough, representing all 30 teams, play in a series of matches that in ultimately has no bearing on regular-season records. But even those familiar with the competition may not understand what makes it so special. The games, as it turns out, are a kind of least crucial facet: the basketball that is played is, after all, hardly at the highest level. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that anyone who is anyone in the NBA world is in Vegas for the Summer League. That means players (yes, even the biggest stars), coaches, managers, media and even ownership show up to toot in Mojave.

When I asked my media colleagues what they love about Summer League, the answers varied, but the overall mood was incredibly consistent. It was described as the “Coachella of the NBA” or “NBA World Convention”. Several people referred to a “family reunion” atmosphere. Kevin O’Connor of Ringer summed it up well over a game of Topgolf at the MGM Grand: “This is the only place where everyone from the NBA universe gathers,” he told me. “It’s like all our digital avatars are one place at a time. Going through the casinos and watching random NBA players, going to games and seeing these guys going to be in the league for 10, 15 years. Everyone who’s here, there’s a lot of people who love the NBA. There’s a lot of people who dedicated their lives to basketball, who work in the league. So it’s just a really cool experience in general: to see all the people here, including players , and watch something exciting, fun, sloppy basketball. ”

Las Vegas
Las Vegas routinely sees temperatures rise to triple digits during the swirling hot summer months. Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

The general mood is light-heartedness and lightness: something you would be hard pressed to find at any event of the regular season when tensions are high and everyone’s job is at stake. And the league’s biggest and smartest is not just hiding in a VIP section somewhere or hovering in a luxury box like they would be at another sporting event. The games take place in the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, two very humble (and tiny) arenas on the UNLV campus, and everyone, both fans and insiders, predominantly stays and enjoys themselves at the same five or six resorts on the Strip. The highest level of the NBA elite rubs with fans and patrons at this event to a degree I have never really seen in any other context. One moment you grab a hot dog next to Scottie Pippen, the next you shoot craps across the table from Ty Lue (the latter of which actually happened). You really can not throw a stick without beating an NBA player when you make a round of one of the arenas during the day or any of the casinos at night, and it’s a bit surreal: like living in a week-long simulation where Tom, Dick and Harry become Dame, Ja and Melo. For any NBA fan, from the casual to the believer, it’s a unique experience that should be done at least once.

Of course, the “exciting, fun, sloppy basketball” is still part of the appeal. One of the perennial perks of the Summer League is being able to say you were there when a star was born, while heavily hyped draft picks (and some pleasant surprises) make their unofficial NBA debut. The talk of the town in my time in Vegas this year was Paolo Banchero, the Orlando Magic rookie who got silent on any doubt that he deserved the overall number 1 in last month’s draft with his performance in the Summer League. Banchero’s scoring, something he was hailed for leading into the draft, was of course on display. But his wisdom and passing sharpness, all the more impressive given his towering frame, also came into sharper focus this week. “He’s just huge,” I heard a boss comment. “I did not really know he could pass like that,” another insider remarked.

Paolo Banchero
Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero, left, made a great first impression during the Summer League. Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

For those fans who enjoy the league’s inner features, those who prefer to play sofa GM and pill at the trading machine rather than catch every regular season game, the Summer League is also the perfect place to take advantage of NBA gossip from the front line. This is where many transactions are executed, relationships are exploited and trades are executed. It’s really like being a fly on the wall, an opportunity to experience on your own the environments that promote the infamous summer Woj Bombs (or Shams Projectiles or Chris Haynes IEDs). One day I saw Lakers GM Rob Pelinka chatting with Net’s GM Sean Marks in the tunnel. The next, Adam Silver made a walk-and-talk with Mitch Kupchak.

The Summer League will never be the ultimate destination for the pinnacle of basketball (the NBA Finals hold on to that distinction). And Vegas in the summer is not for the faint of heart (where staying hydrated is as important as standing on a tough 17). But for true basketball junkies who want to be surrounded by both heroes and other hardcores, it really can’t be beaten. And if anyone needs me for something in mid-July 2023, I’m sure I’m back on The Strip.

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