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Why I Love the NBA Summer League

by James Decker
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Kenny Ducey/WFUV Sports

Reflections on a five-day stay in Vegas

I’ve always casually watched the NBA Summer League. In a time where the focus is almost entirely on baseball, watching a couple of basketball games per day is a good way to have a change of pace and scout some young talent. But after being courtside in Las Vegas for five days, my appreciation for the Summer League has grown immensely.

Critics of the NBA often assert players are disinterested, or that they’re just in it for the money. Summer League shows that to be false.

As I type, Jackie Carmichael is sacrificing his body by diving into the media section in pursuit of a loose ball. Every player hustles, the bench rises after nearly every positive play, and the will to win is as high as you’ll see in a basketball game. There is physicality, skill, athleticism and heart with every possession. Even in some of the more lopsided affairs the effort was never lacking.

Cleanthony Early would not stop smiling after his first Summer League game, displaying the love that a lot of these players have toward the game. Some like Early know of no other way to play the game than 100 percent.

Then there’s a part that really impressed me: the crowds. There are two different sites for games in Las Vegas. The Cox Pavilion is a smaller venue that was packed for pretty much the entirety of the days. During the highly anticipated Bucks vs. Cavaliers (Parker vs. Wiggins) on Day 1, the PA announcer had to remind fans that they could not sit on the aisles, and the doors to get in had to close because too many people wanted to enter. These fans were not afraid to get loud either.

One play that stood out from Vegas was from that game - Matt Dellavedova led a break and found Anthony Bennett for a thunderous dunk in transition that made the Cox Pavilion sound as if there was a playoff game taking place. At the same time, though, there was a relaxed aura.

The other site was the much larger Thomas and Mack Center. It holds more people than Cox, so it wasn’t completely full, but there was definitely still a buzz surrounding players like Doug McDermott and Dante Exum. Thomas and Mack elevated to its level thanks to 10-year old Abby Malone, playing during halftime of one of the games, who displayed some Bob Cousy-like dribbling moves and passes. I will also never forget the thunderous ovations that 5’8” Yuki Togashi got whenever he had his hands on the ball. The bottom line is that the crowds at the Summer League show that people appreciate basketball when it’s played the right way. It may not always be smooth or pretty, but there’s never a lack of effort in the NBA Summer League. True basketball fans love to see that.

I know when people think of Las Vegas, Summer League doesn’t immediately come to mind. If you’re an NBA fan or, just a basketball fan in general, I would make it my mission to watch the league live at least once. If not in person, at least tune in from home to watch the future stars of the NBA in their earliest stages or just to see some basketball the way it was meant to be played.

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