NBA: Summer league keeps players in focus
LAS VEGAS — Basketball was made for summer.
The playgrounds and schoolyard courts come alive when the temperature warms up, with kids watching the NBA Finals and mimicking their favorite players. High school players hit the AAU circuit, crisscrossing the country for premier tournaments and college recruiting is in full effect.
And for years, the NBA simply sat out. The championship would conclude in June, the draft would take place a week later and then the league would go dark for the rest of the summer.
“The problem was in the old days, they would build up the draft, then nothing because they’d concede to baseball,” Warren LeGarie said. “That was a mistake.”
LeGarie, an agent who represents some prominent NBA coaches, has helped turn the Las Vegas summer league into an event that keeps the league in the headlines well into July. What started as a six-team gathering that was thrown together on the fly in 2004 has blossomed into a 22-team summit that includes a tournament, owners’ meetings and one of the few chances for agents and representatives from all 30 teams to meet in one place, discuss trades and lay the groundwork for deals.
“We want it so that people know that there’s great basketball, but there’s also a way to break down the walls so that people can reacquaint, develop new acquaintances or in some cases repair old acquaintances,” LeGarie said. “There was a lot of face to face. We created something like the winter baseball meetings, where people can come in converse, do business, and then get down to the business of basketball.”
LeGarie had been lobbying the league for quite some time to bring the summer league to Las Vegas for a centralized event. Several satellite leagues had been run in the past, in places like Colorado, Boston and on the campus of Loyola Marymount in California. But the fractured nature of the meetings made it difficult for schedules to be coordinated, and the door opened for LeGarie in 2004.
LeGarie got Boston, Washington, Cleveland, Phoenix, Denver and Orlando for the first Vegas summer league, and it quickly grew to a 16-team field. At the behest of Adam Silver, who will take over for David Stern as NBA commissioner in February, the NBA got directly involved in 2007, paying LeGarie, Albert Hall and VSL Properties to put on the event while helping with promotion and organization.
“It’s highly successful,” Silver said. “The competition is terrific. We feel very much a part of the community in terms of our participation, our owners, GMs and coaches feel very welcome here and it’s created fantastic programming.”
The summer league games are broadcast on NBA TV and ESPN has a SportsCenter set on scene at the Thomas and Mack Center. Over the years the tournament has expanded to two gyms on the UNLV campus and is holding a tournament that will crown a champion for the first time.
“That’s making it way more competitive out here,” Timberwolves first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad said. “Guys are trying on defense and making each other better for the season, which is a good thing. I think it’s a great idea that they went for a playoff system.”