The NBA’s Summer League is a growing brand

The NBA Summer League kicked off July 1st in Orlando, July 3rd in Utah, and is currently in its final rounds out in Las Vegas until July 17th. The Vegas tour has gained popularity in recent years as current NBA stars, celebrities, coaches, and team executives spend some time in Sin City as a part of their off-season agenda. Of course, there is still work to be done as teams feature top draft picks but also players who are hopeful that their game catches the eye of a coach or general manager for a shot at a contract conversation.

One attraction this year is Lonzo Ball as the no. 2 pick is drawing quite the crowd in Vegas. Plenty of purple and gold fills out the stands each game the Lakers have showcased their first-round draft picks. Of course, it’s not a party without his father LaVar Ball who has made claims such as Lonzo being the best “guard ever”. In the first game of the Lakers match-up against the Los Angeles Clippers, second-year player Brandon Ingram comes up short on a potential game-winning shot. As he comes down without any kind of awkward landing, he stays down with an apparent cramping issue in his leg. Across the court, the newly minted Lakers President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson signals that he’s done.

As bad as Ingram wanted to remain in the game for the two-minute overtime per Summer League rules, the boss had the final say. The Lakers would play without their best player on the roster and eventually lose the game. Although, a big Laker fan affair in the stands stayed and cheered their team until the final buzzer. It was the first NBA action for Lonzo Ball but one he quickly would forget as a national audience captured the horrific 2-15 shooting performance. I was curious to watch Ball play his first NBA action but keep in mind I watched all this live which allowed me to give you my brief play-by-play here.

ESPN 2 is featuring Summer League games alongside NBA TV which alternate match-ups of the Vegas League. The current deal with ESPN even gives more insight and promotion as to when you can see a game. Now that we are in 2017, my phone is buzzing and the ESPN alert is telling me I can watch the no. 2 and no. 3 pick square off in an anticipated match-up. Lonzo Ball is getting his second crack at NBA life and he’s going up against long-time rivals, the Boston Celtics featuring Jayson Tatum.

Beyond the featured future stars of the NBA, the current stars are court side. A familiar face in Vegas is roaming about. That’s Mr. Floyd Mayweather who is preparing to fight Conor McGregor in a few weeks. Looking away from the court itself seems like a sideshow going on court side and backstage.

James Harden and Chris Paul are court side hanging out as the new pair of back-court mates share a little bonding time with Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker.

Good vibes only #nbasummerleague 😎

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As serious Magic can be, he’s still at times soaking up the spotlight.

L E G E N D A R Y 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆

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Hip-Hop fans will recognize this face. Another celebrity to add to the mix.

It’s a Cole world at #NBASummer

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It is just another day at the Vegas Summer League but nonetheless, the NBA featured front and center in a time where the Golden State Warriors dominated an NBA Finals in five games. The NBA draft is over and baseball is in full swing. We’re also counting down the days that football returns. The NBA should be shelved until October, right?

When the naysayers advise that the NBA is harmed by super teams, let this be a reminder.

Couldn’t star players be somewhere on an island enjoying the sun and blue waters? These multi-millionaires can take a vacation some of us could only dream of in a lifetime. Perhaps, they may want to seclude themselves from the temptations of Vegas and train privately in a less distracting location?

What is so compelling about attending a game full of young players and a few standouts that may get a non-guaranteed contract?

The availability to market and showcase yourself in a very informal and relaxed summer vibe in Vegas gives a different perspective for fans.

Let’s go back to Magic waving off Ingram from returning to the game against the Clippers. We’d never see that in a regular season game. I’d imagine Ingram would head back to the locker room and Magic would then make the decision behind closed doors right? A Lakers sideline reporter would then relay the message via team representatives.

Never before this kind of exposure was available at the Summer League games and here is why.

Before the recent exposure of the summer games, there was only a box score and maybe post-game highlights available to fans. Unless you lived or visited Vegas only you could see the live action. The Orlando league remained closed to the public and only open to media at the Magic’s practice facility.

Then came the online streams which the NBA allowed fans in recent years to watch on the web for free. No gimmicks, no pricey packages, and all games free of charge. Some of NBA TV’s familiar voices would provide commentary while interviewing coaches, players, and legends in attendance. The internet is a great thing but not good enough.

In 2014 the NBA signed a new nine-year deal in which ESPN and Turner both combined will pay the NBA $24 billion. ESPN even extended the deal to include D-League (now the G-League) and Summer League games. Ah, this is why ESPN takes so much pride in notifying me of the match-ups and promos in between the MLB All-Star Game promos!

Of course, some the NBA’s biggest stars and legends have always attended the summer games. However, now that the national media cameras are out, the spotlight is wider. Patrick Beverly is court side giving high fives to his Clipper teammates but also signing autographs for kids. Jeremy Lin is casually in some flip flops and shorts taking in the action.

Sure enough, ESPN broadcasting Summer League games is a favorable incentive and we knew it would come with creating a sideshow. With that sideshow, out come the stars, the celebrities, and a quality production that somehow puts Lonzo Ball at the front of sports news almost forgetting that the MLB All-Star Game is this week.

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Chevall Kanhai
Baseline Times NBA Contributor