BY CHRIS LEWIS
LAS VEGAS – ESPN play-by-play announcer Mark Jones begins his NBA Vegas Summer League broadcasts with the line “Welcome to the Epicenter of the NBA and the entire basketball universe.” My No. 1 takeaway from my first day covering the event is that he’s more than telling the truth.
I arrived in Vegas about halfway through Friday’s action, but I could tell that if you had any connection to the NBA, you found your way to Vegas for Summer League. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a highly touted rookie, a fringe player looking for a break, an established vet, an All-Star, a head coach, members of a staff, a GM or front office executive, a team employee, an owner, or a media talking head, you’re likely braving through the 110 degree heat to be at the biggest summertime NBA convention.
The atmosphere at the event itself is very relaxed. Boise State fans might be familiar with the facilities in Vegas because of the Mountain West basketball tournament. Vegas Summer League is at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion. The venues connect, therefore one daily ticket (or one media credential), gets you access to both courts to see what feels like non-stop basketball. Each court has five games a day Friday through Monday, so it’s a battle to pick and choose how much of each game you want to see.
Unlike the structured college athletics environment, the NBA is much more casual when it comes to player, fan, media interactions. The tickets themselves are general admission (you can basically sit where you want) and media seating is merely a suggestion. Players, coaches and team executives congregate courtside during the games and what is deemed the “scrum area” after games. NBA chatter is frequently flowing with the latest news and rumors spreading with every bounce of the ball. Generally, everybody seemed in a good mood and willing to talk and network.
As for the games themselves, it’s what you would expect for summertime basketball. Most of the teams have only been together for a few days, so you aren’t getting the most crisp style of play. It’s a lot of 1-on-1 play involving guards, without any complicated half-court sets. The pace is mostly up-and-down, making it hard for big men to have a significant impact.
One thing that’s noticeable is that the players care. You can sense the desperation from the players who are borderline to be on NBA rosters next season. Everyone is in search of having their individual standout moment.
Being a Sixers fan, it was fitting that the first game upon my arrival was the Sixers vs Celtics. Philly second year player Furkan Korkmaz had one of those standout moments, scoring 40 points on 18 shots. The 40 points were the fifth most in the history of the NBA Summer League.
The official attendance for Friday was 15,122, and a fraction of that number that was at T&M when Furkan was pouring in threes was acting like it was at Rucker Park in NYC. The crowd is basketball diehards, and mostly not loyal to one of the teams currently playing. Therefore, the “oos and ahs” at big plays is what comes across the most.0
Former Boise State player James Webb III made his 2018 Summer League debut Friday (before I arrived) and had 3 points and 8 rebounds in 17 minutes. Webb III and his Brooklyn Nets will take the Cox Pavillion court again Saturday at 5 p.m. MT on NBA TV. Chandler Hutchison will get his first taste of the NBA action at the Thomas & Mack Center at 7:30 Saturday when his Bulls face the Cavs.
Sunday’s blog will be more of a recap of their performances as well as other on-court storylines that I notice from my first full day in Vegas. Meanwhile, throughout the day, follow me on twitter at @ChrisLewisTweet for pictures, updates, and analysis from the basketball goings-on for Saturday at Summer League.
Chris Lewis, the play-by-play voice of Boise State women’s basketball and Olympic Sports, co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk with Bob & Chris weekdays from 1-3 p.m. on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket. He can be found @ChrisLewisTweet (Twitter).