Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer League in Vegas

After my legendary 21st birthday weekend in Vegas last month, my cousin decided that we needed to return in July for his own birthday weekend. While I have been to Vegas tons of times as a kid, this recent double dip in Vegas as an adult has allowed us to since accumulate loads of epic stories that are indeed Hangover-esque. Vegas has certain places that all men must simply shell out and experience for themselves. Words cannot express how amazing clubs like Tao, Moon, and Playboy are. For the purposes of this rant though, let's focus on the fact that our last Vegas trip happened to overlap with the NBA Summer League:

  • We choose to stay at Palms Casino which is run by the Maloof brothers, owners of the NBA's Sacramento Kings. Palms is off the Strip, making it affordable for the younger crowd and a hotspot for ballers and celebrities.
  • Just for kicks, I am going to randomly sprinkle in names of just some of the many notable people we happened to run into or interact with while walking around the casino in between my random thoughts...
  • Jamario Moon, Devean George, Greg Anthony
  • The life of an NBA player is lonely. Granted, majority of the Summer League participants are 18-20 year olds who are far removed from their comfort zones, are too young to really do anything in Vegas, and have yet to cash in on the NBA riches so consequently are not rolling with entourages. That being said, it still sort of surprised me to see so many players wandering around alone, grabbing McDonald's after a Saturday night game, and seemingly having a lot less fun than we were.
  • Jermaine O'Neal
  • The crowd at Summer League is something else. Instead of having some 19,000 random people, say at Staples Center, who happen to be either rich enough to afford those overpriced tickets or stumbled into them by some chance, the couple thousand people at Cox Pavilion and the Thomas & Mack at UNLV all want to be there. For just $20, you get an all day pass to both arenas. If you know anything about Vegas, there is absolutely nothing else of value that you can do for just a cool $20 bill. So now, these games are affordable enough and yet far enough so that you get a crowd of fellow basketball enthusiasts who can easily afford it and all want to be there. The conversations you hear in front and behind you are exactly the ones we fellow geeks have and love so much. Everyone knows their stuff, everyone knows everything about their teams, and so everyone learns from each other. Hell, there was even one attractive woman who knew more about the Clippers Summer League roster than I did.
  • Kenyon Martin
  • Shaun Livingston may have been the best player on the young and promising Stolen Sonics. He looks good and seems to always be calm and in control, consistently making smart plays and good passes. If he keeps improving at this pace, the Thunder got yet another brilliant steal...get it?
  • Kevin Durant
  • Vegas was True Clipper Fan Central. There were loads of longtime and diehard Clipper fans who made the drive to Vegas. The Summer League was essentially a bunch of Clipper home games, fully equipped with Clipper Darrell's trademark chants and waves. Obviously number one overall pick Blake Griffin was the main attraction, but future centerpieces DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon made the Clippers the one summer league team that had the most significant overlap with their real roster.
  • Baron Davis and Corey Maggette. Go figure.
  • Blake Griffin. Take this all with a grain of salt, because it is Summer League and the number one pick is supposed to tear it up there. That being said, Griffin could not have looked better. Normally big rookies are still coming into their own and learning how to control their large bodies. Griffin has mastered his, knows his abilities, and has great balance and control of his body. We even caught him coaching up DeAndre Jordan, who has a full year of NBA experience under his belt that Blake does not. Blake is a beast on the boards and has the athleticism to run and handle the ball. Knowing that he was the star of the summer league, opposing players were playing dirty with him and we even witnessed him getting thrown to the ground and suffering the shoulder injury. Give him credit for shrugging it all off and toughing it out. When teams started loading the box on him and double teaming him, he made many smart passes that will pay off when you have the likes of Baron Davis and Eric Gordon running around the perimeter. Hats off to the Summer League MVP, and here's hoping that the Clippers don't screw up this soon to be All-Star.
  • DeAndre Jordan may benefit the most from being exposed to Blake's solid fundamentals. Jordan has the habit of chasing blocks instead of boxing out and rebounding. But from watching him all season long and this summer in person, he has already improved in a variety of ways. Of course, DeAndre got a a bunch of impressive alley-oop throwdowns, and had a fun entourage in the crowd to react to and with immediately afterward. Ready for a bold statement? DeAndre Jordan has the athleticism of a very raw Dwight Howard or...wait for it...Shawn Kemp.
  • Baron Davis entered the building to a round of applause and waves. He sat down with Mike Dunleavy and was actually talking and smiling (!?) with him throughout the game. This caused Clipper Darrell to not only Tweet about it immediately, but run over during a timeout and give them both a giant bear hug.
  • That was not even the funniest moment of the day. That honor goes to seeing and hearing the head coach of the Washington Wizards summer league team, Sam Cassell. When he gets an NBA head coaching job, there needs to be a reality show that just follows a mike'd up Sam Cassell. The great thing about the summer league is that with free seating and no loud in game music or arena effects, we can listen in on the players, coaches, and referees. Cassell was by far the most hilarious and interesting coach I have ever witnessed. During a pair of free throws, he walked on the court just to chat with his old buddy Kim Hughes. During a timeout he wandered off to crack some jokes with Clipper Darrell. The best though, was when he was screaming defensive assignments to the Wizards: "Get up on him! Get up on him! Get up! Get up!" And as the Clippers rotate the ball and hit a three, he screams loudly enough for everyone in the building to finally hear, "F@#%!"
  • Some rich and flashy front office executive who got pissed at me for hitting at the Blackjack table and stealing his card.
  • Twitter is changing the world, and this is very evident in Vegas. It was cool to follow bloggers like Kevin Arnovitz and Marc Stein who are sitting right by you writing about the events that are happening write in front of you. By following the players and celebrities themselves, we were able to find out who was were at any given time, and it just a surreal feeling to find out who is hanging out at the same places we were.
  • Buffet. Ballers. Blackjack. Enough said.
  • Tracy McGrady...who never stood up from the poker table.
  • Paul Pierce...wearing a green polo of course.
  • Hugh Heffner and that one popular Playmate
  • And finally...wait for it...Mike Tyson!
  • One last thought about Vegas in general. Drinking is fun. Gambling is fun, perhaps even occasionally profitable. We all agree sports is fun in every manner. Clubbing can be fun. And girls are fun. But throw all these elements Vegas!? Oh my.