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‘The NBA’s Coachella’: how the Summer League became an unmissable event | NBA

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II’ve never been on the surface of the sun, but I imagine it doesn’t feel too much like Las Vegas in mid-July. The heat can only be described as oppressive, a sense of urgency to reach the safety of air conditioning assails you as soon as you enter it, and you can feel everything made of plastic-like material warping and shrinking. deform in real time.

The irony is, of course, that the metaphorical side of the coin “proximity to a star” is also what makes summer in Vegas so alluring…for basketball fans, at least. Because for 10 days every July, the entire NBA Extended Cinematic Universe descends on Sin City for the most stress-free, jovial, and best-attended event on the league’s annual calendar: Las Vegas Summer League.

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

Diehard NBA fans are no doubt familiar with the event, where rookies, third strings, G League hopefuls make the jump and undrafted rough diamonds representing all 30 teams play in a series of games. which ultimately have no impact on the regular- season records. But even those familiar with the competition might not understand what makes it so special. It turns out that the games are somehow the least crucial aspect: the basketball played, after all, is hardly at the highest level. But it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that anyone in the NBA world is in Vegas for the Summer League. This means that players (yes, even the biggest stars), coaches, executives, media and even owners show up to chat in the Mojave.

When I asked my media colleagues what they liked about Summer League, the answers varied, but the overall sentiment was incredibly consistent. It has been described as “the Coachella of the NBA” or “the world convention of the NBA”. Several people spoke of a “family reunion” atmosphere. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor summed it up well during a game of Topgolf at the MGM Grand: “It’s the only place where everyone in the NBA universe comes together,” he told me. . “It’s like all of our digital avatars are in one place at once. Walking around casinos and seeing random NBA players, going to games and seeing these guys who are going to be in the league for 10, 15 years. Everyone who is here is a lot of people who love the NBA. It’s a lot of people who have dedicated their lives to basketball who work in the league. So it’s just a really cool experience overall, seeing everyone here, including the players, and watching some exciting, fun, sloppy basketball.

Vegas
Las Vegas regularly sees temperatures soar into the triple digits during the sweltering summer months. Photography: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The overall vibe is one of levity and ease: something you’d be hard pressed to find at any regular season event, when tensions are high and everyone’s jobs are at stake. And the league’s biggest and brightest aren’t just hiding in a VIP section somewhere, or hovering in a luxury box like they would be at some other sporting event. The games are held at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion, two very modest (and tiny) arenas on the UNLV campus, and everyone, fans and insiders alike, mostly stays and lounges in the same five or six Strip resorts. . The highest echelon of the NBA’s elite rub shoulders with fans and patrons at this event to a degree that I’ve never really seen in any other setting. One minute you’re grabbing a hot dog next to Scottie Pippen, the next you’re shooting craps through Ty Lue’s table (the latter of which actually happened). You really can’t throw a stick without hitting an NBA player when you take a spin in one of the arenas during the day or in one of the casinos at night, and it’s kind of surreal: like living in a week-long simulation where Tom, Dick, and Harry become Dame, Ja, and Melo. For any NBA fan, from the most laid back to the most devout, it’s a singular experience that should be done at least once.

Of course, that “exciting, fun, sloppy basketball” is still part of the appeal. One of the perennial perks of Summer League is being able to say you were there when a star was born, as high-profile draft picks (and a few pleasant surprises) make their unofficial NBA debuts. The talk of the town during my time in Vegas this year was Paolo Banchero, the Orlando Magic rookie who silenced anyone who doubted he deserved the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft with his performance in the Summer League. Banchero’s scoring, something he was praised for leading in the draft, was of course on display. But his cunning and passing acumen, all the more impressive given his imposing figure, were also brought into focus this week. “He’s just huge,” I heard an exec comment. “I didn’t really know he could pass like that,” another insider observed.

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

For fans who appreciate the inner workings of the league, those who would rather play general manager from the couch and tinker with the business machine than catch every regular season game, Summer League is also the perfect place to tap into NBA gossip from the front lines. . This is where many transactions are made, relationships operated and deals concluded. It really is like being a fly on the wall, an opportunity to witness first-hand the environments that favor those infamous Summer Woj Bombs (or Shams Projectiles or Chris Haynes IED). One day I saw Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka talking to Nets general manager Sean Marks in the tunnel. The next day, Adam Silver was doing 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 firm to that distinction). And Vegas in the summer is not for the faint-hearted (where staying hydrated is as important as standing on a hard 17). But for true basketball addicts who want to be around heroes and other hardcores, it really can’t be beat. And if anyone needs me for anything in mid-July 2023, chances are I’ll be back on the Strip.

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