Inside the crazy world of NBA Summer League
Las Vegas in July is filled with bright lights, big bets and non-stop action; it's a surreal basketball playground.
Las Vegas Summer League is an experience unlike any other in sports.
On the surface it’s a basketball tournament, but like the proverbial duck floating down the river, there is so much more than meets the eye. Summer League is the capitalistic manifestation of the NBA’s quest to dominate every month on the calendar. A cottage basketball industry has evolved around the summer league. NBA franchises conduct private workouts with free agents. The NBA has ownership meetings. Networking forums are growing larger each year. Team USA activities, which are especially relevant this year, ramp up in the same location just as Summer League comes to an end.
Summer League is the creation of Warren LeGarie, a long time power agent in the NBA. LeGarie and his right-hand man, Albert Hall, privately funded the first iteration of the event in 2004. They could only attract six franchises back then, but now 19 years later, LeGarie and Hall have built the NBA’s presence in the desert. In doing so, they have normalised Las Vegas to the NBA and offered the greatest trial balloon for an image conscious league. When NBA expansion into Las Vegas is made official later this decade, the league owes a massive debt of gratitude to LeGarie and Hall for normalising the absurdity that is Las Vegas.
I am lucky to have attended Summer League in earlier years. I’ve seen the on-court exploits of Lonzo Ball (2017) and Zion Williamson (2019); which were two of the crazier basketball moments in my time covering the sport. Lakers fans flooding into Thomas & Mack Center in 2017 to watch Lonzo was surreal - they were celebrating like Los Angeles had just won the NBA championship. In that moment I realised what the NBA had become - hope was the league’s blue chip commodity. It has become more important than regular season victories, especially in the summertime.
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