By Andrew Gilstrap
Not long after writing my last post, it came to me that I could make a trip to Las Vegas to see NBA Summer League games in person. I tentatively planned a week ahead. I put feelers out there to see if I was just being crazy or if anyone was seriously interested in going. My father thought it was a good idea, and he basically put all the logistics together for a Wednesday overnight trip to Las Vegas.
So it was exactly a week ago from now that he and I made the five-hour drive from north Phoenix to Las Vegas. We pretty much went straight to the Thomas & Mack Center on UNLV’s campus instead of checking into our hotel first. I knew that Las Vegas split the games between two different courts, but I didn’t know until I got there how close the two were. On one side is the smaller Cox Pavilion, and on the other is the main arena, which seats as many people as most NBA venues. In between is an indoor concourse replete with concessions.
The first game started at 1:00 p.m. in the Cox Pavilion, featuring the Summer League squads of the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. When my dad and I looked at the day’s schedule, this was the game we were looking forward to the least. We got good seats in the second row because we arrived more than an hour early. The stands filled up continuously throughout the game. My dad and I used this experience as a chance for some photo opportunities. The seats actually became a blessing and a curse because our seats were so close that we had to stand up or wait for people to pass as they tried to find their seats while we tried snapping photos.
This first matchup actually turned out to be pretty fun. It was a close contest, with the Wizards coming from behind to win 78-75. We got to see touted rookies such as Bradley Beal of the Wizards and John Henson and Doron Lamb of the Bucks. All three looked promising. The breakout player of the game was Tobias Harris, who has one years in the pros with the Bucks under his belt. I hadn’t heard of Harris before this, but, with his 24 points and 12 rebounds in the game, his is a name I won’t forget soon.
This Bucks-Wizards game would surprisingly turn out to be the best contest we would see for the day. The stands got pretty full and had a good atmosphere. Yes, the Cox Pavilion is only the size of a large high school team’s gym or maybe a Division II venue, but it was perfect for these types of games. There were several groups of small children who appeared to be bused in for the games, and they brought a lot of energy; there also seemed to be a number of Milwaukee fans in the crowd.
My dad and I ended up seeing parts of five games last Wednesday, including three full games. After the first matchup, we stayed in the Cox Pavilion for the first quarter of a contest between the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets. We then walked over to the main arena for the start of the Sacramento Kings-Toronto Raptors game. From that time forward, both courts had games going on.
Throughout the day, we got to see notable players such as Thomas Robinson, Jimmer Fredette, Terrence Ross, Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and Norris Cole. The Summer League is an awesome chance to get your first looks at rookies (e.g. Beal, Henson, Robinson, Ross, Marshall and Barnes) who have yet to play their first game in the pros. We were hoping to see rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers from the New Orleans Hornets, but Davis was recently added to the Team USA Olympic squad. Rivers was on hand but did not play because of knee and ankle soreness.
The main arena — where we stayed for the rest of the evening — was just too large for the type of crowd the Summer League draws, and the atmosphere wasn’t as electric as in Cox Pavilion. The lower bowl wasn’t even close to getting filled up. I would still estimate that several hundred people were on hand for games in this arena. On the plus side, if you sit in the right area, you may be seated just seats or rows away from a current NBA head coach or a former NBA star, and several scouts for NBA teams will likely be in your vicinity. This all adds to the experience.
We left just before halftime of the Miami Heat-Golden State Warriors finale. We ate a late dinner and slept at the Luxor and then were back on the road toward Phoenix in the morning. It was an outing that was right up our alley, and we likely might make it into an annual trip. We’ll get more people to go and we might spend more than a couple days next time — both of which should be feasible considering the destination is Las Vegas, after all.