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October 19, 2017

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NBA players polishing skills in Las Vegas during lockout

Impact Competitive Basketball League features 70 professionals at Impact Basketball east of the Strip on Sunset Road


Justin M. Bowen

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, shown during the 2009 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center, is scheduled to play Wednesday in the Impact Competitive Basketball League at Impact Basketball.

Stop by Impact Basketball on Sunset Road east of the Strip on any random summer day and you’ll likely run into a few NBA players training under the watchful eye of Impact founder and respected trainer Joe Abunassar.

The sessions typically include pickup games, which help the players stay in game-shape for the upcoming season.

But, with the NBA labor dispute leaving doubt as to when the next season will begin, the staff at Impact decided to take their services to the next level. Instead of scrimmages, they created a two-week league — the Impact Competitive Basketball League — to further assist sharpening the players’ skills.

Once word starting spreading to other NBA players, more than 70 committed to attend — from established veterans to younger players looking for an edge. The games, about four a day through Sept. 23, started Monday and are open to the public. Tickets are just $20 for an all-day pass.

“We’ve always had a large contingent of NBA players, so it is exciting to get some new players we have never worked with before competing with our guys and just competing against each other,” said Andrew Moore, Impact’s director of player development.

“We are doing this first and foremost for the players to get them playing and get them ready for their season, whenever that is,” Moore continued. “But these guys are competitors. They were anxious to compete in any type of game.”

It’s far from a typical NBA contest, and more comparable to a pickup game. There are no coaches, public address announcer, cheerleaders or hip-hop music glaring from the speakers during timeouts. Some of the teams had just five players and the style of play was often mistake-filled.

Games in the eight-team league consist of four 10-minute quarters. Several players will compete in just a handful of games, coming and going through the two weeks as their schedule permits.

The most notable player scheduled to attend is Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, who is expected to arrive Wednesday. His squad is comprised of mostly Clippers teammates, with Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu also on the team. There is a similar set-up for players from Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards, with 2010 top-pick John Wall scheduled to play.

Other players include: former UNLV guard Marcus Banks, former San Diego State standout Kawhi Leonard, former Findlay Prep star Avery Bradley, Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Hakim Warrick, Chauncey Billups, Rashard Lewis and Dahntay Jones.

“We usually play against the same 15 or 20 guys all summer,” said Jones of the Indiana Pacers. “This gives you more variety because we have some different guys in here now. It’s working out for everybody.”

Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers, who is player union president, was scheduled to arrive Thursday. However, reports surfaced late Monday that he might be skipping the event.

While the league was designed out of necessity because of the uncertainty with labor dispute, it could become a regular occurrence each summer.

“It is kind of a perfect storm this year with the lockout. It has gone so well,” Moore said. “We probably will end up doing this again next year.”

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