Las Vegas Sun

June 19, 2019

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A skeptic returns for a day in the life of the NBA summer league

The first thing I notice upon dropping into the NBA Summer League on Wednesday afternoon at Cox Pavilion is dozens and dozens of very tall men, most of whom are speaking foreign languages. It is hard to tell whether they are European scouts or Turkish power forwards.

The second thing I notice is local sports radio personality Seat Williams working over a Styrofoam container of what appears to be seaweed.

“Collard greens.”

Seat doesn’t get up from his, although he bumps my fist.

“I got Tiger at plus 250, man.”

Although I have no idea where that came from, Seat appears happy that he has received decent odds on Tiger Woods to win the British Open — or just The Open, if you’re from the European scout or Turkish power forward side of the pond.

When Seat’s happy, I’m happy, so my next move is to edge my way through the little Cox Pavilion alcove, which, with the Summer League in town, can be a difficult chore. Besides the European scouts and Turkish power forwards there are a lot of basketball fans signing up for stuff, and a lot of kids are running around with matching T-shirts. My conclusion: Somebody’s playing hooky from a summer camp sponsored by the parks and recreation department, or Kate Gosselin’s in the house.

Once I’m inside, somebody elbows me and points to No. 3 on the Summer League Knicks. UNLV’s Wink Adams is about 45 seconds into his 68 seconds of fame as an NBA player. Wink looks strange with No. 3 on his jersey. But he’s smiling, probably because he heard the Turkish league pays pretty well and that the beaches on the Mediterranean side are a lot cooler than a Las Vegas summer, that’s for sure.

Before long, it’s time for the running of the Bulls and the Summer League Bucks. I’m told the Bucks are to the Summer League what UCLA during the Wooden Years was to college basketball. Only without the big Afros.

This may explain why both sides of the grandstands at Cox Pavilion, heretofore known as the home of the UNLV women's basketball team, are packed. It’s the most people I’ve seen in the place since the Democratic presidential debate. Although there were restrictions in place that night that precluded the Lady Rebels from running onto the court to have their picture taken for the media guide — a photograph that would have given the impression that people in this town care about the Lady Rebels — I’m sure the NBA staff wouldn’t have minded them shooting a few layups at halftime, just to see what it feels like.

By now, Dick Calvert, the Rebels’ longtime public address announcer, is introducing the starting lineups. Earlier, I had asked if his tongue was still in knots from having to say “basket by Nikoloz Tskitishvili” the day before. He said no, but that there sure a lot of ways to spell “Shawn.” Or “Shaun.”

Dick says that Brandon Jennings — the high school kid from Los Angeles who skipped college, whom Bryant Gumbel traveled all the way to Rome to do a story on for HBO’s “Real Sports” — will start at guard for the Summer League Bucks. I write that down in my notebook. A friendly kid wearing a backpack notices the name on my credential and asks if I’m a European scout.

Pretty soon, Jennings is making all these great no-look passes. About one in three wind up as assists. The Bucks are up nine at halftime, and somebody asks if Antoine Walker took Milwaukee and laid the points.

There’s no immediate response, because a young woman wearing a tiny skirt and Eva Longoria high heels walks by. She looks as if she hasn’t slept in a couple of days but the Turkish power forwards — and even a European scout or two — are checking her out.

I remember going to the first Las Vegas Summer League, where there were only four or five teams and the only women you might see preferred flip-flops and baggy T-shirts to tiny skirts and Eva Longoria heels. I remember how the reporter from the other newspaper and I grilled this guy named Warren LeGarie, a sports agent who put the first Summer League together, suggesting it would never work here.

After noticing that the Bucks’ Salim Stoudamire bears a striking resemblance to Cat Stevens, the old singer-songwriter (who now calls himself Yusuf Islam), I see Warren LeGarie for the briefest of moments. I want to reintroduce myself and tell him I was wro- ... wro- ... er, might have underestimated the local response to watching nine of the top 10 picks in the recent NBA Draft hoop it up as pros in meaningless games during the dead of a Las Vegas summer.

But one of the Turkish power forwards is blocking my path.

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