NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is more than just basketball. It is a miniaturized, dumbed-down version of an actual NBA game, only it features two adjoining venues, many teams and a way more interesting crowd. This makes for a bizarre set of recurring phenomena, which I've attempted to catalog below for your reference:
ANTHEMS: I believe there is a performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" every other game. Often, this is just a recording played over the PA system while everyone stares at the American flag and fidgets. Sometimes, though, it's an actual performer, and the "international recording artists" treat the relatively indie venue a lot like a stand-up comic would a small comedy club: they're testing new material. Sports in general give you an appreciation for how variable our national anthem is, but Summer League takes it to another level. You have not heard "rocket's red glare"s as jazzy as these, nor have you heard a "home of the braaaaaeeeeooooooouuuuuuuweeeeoooweeeoooaaaaave" as prolonged as the one we got last Tuesday. Even though the Raptors participated, I somehow missed any "O Canada" renditions.
BACHELOR PARTIES AND FAMILY REUNIONS: So many groups of day-drunk tourists wearing matching shirts. So, so many.
BLOGGERS: Internet friends who spend all year giggling at one another's tweets from behind their laptop screens use the rare opportunity to commune in person to giggle at one another's tweets from behind their laptop screens.
BUZZERS AND WHISTLES: Buzzers are rather grating in such a small setting, and I have no idea how players get whistles blown near their faces all the time without going deaf.
"CAN I HAVE YOUR SHOES?": As Summer Leaguers leave the floor, there is almost always a gaggle of fans of all ages demanding articles of their clothing: "CAN I HAVE YOUR SHOES?", "TOSS ME YOUR HEADBAND!", "GIVE ME ONE OF YOUR TEETH! JUST ONE TOOTH! WHICHEVER'S LOOSEST!", and because it's such a small, lightly secured venue, those fans are close enough to be seen and heard. I don't think this is okay. Like, I know NBA guys sometimes chuck their headbands or sign and donate their sneakers, but those guys are almost always millionaires on guaranteed contracts. Demanding such a substantial gift from a player trying to earn a camp invite after years on a D-League salary isn't fair. At least trade him your Crocs.
FOOD: Thomas & Mack chicken fingers reign supreme. They're delightfully crispy and they come with two sauces. Chili cheese fries are also a popular choice. Rebel Dogs are to be avoided like the plague, since I'm pretty sure they give you the actual plague. Dairy Queen vs. Dippin' Dots ice cream preferences divide snackers in a manner not unlike the American two-party system. If you have a credential, you can always take the elevator downstairs for a table (sometimes) full of what appear to be some stoner's leftover spoils from the previous night's CVS run: Red Vines, bags of chips, little packaged cookies and crackers, Nutri-Grain bars, lots of canned sodas, and almost no fresh or prepared food ever. The buffet of non-perishable, carbohydrate-rich items lends itself to backpack hoarding. This is not a complaint, though it may be an admission of guilt.
INCOMPETENT MOP BOYS: Tripping refs, tripping each other, neglecting wet patches such that several players slip on the same spot in rapid succession. Wonderful work.
INTER-QUARTER DIVERSIONS: Let's rank these:
1. Little kids playing five-on-five. Reserved only for halftime breaks, these games gave us a whole lot of horrid defense and hoggish dribbling to yell about, but they also gave us the superstar of Summer League: Addison Melone. Still think someone should have forced her left, but she's great.
2. Tricycle races, especially when the contestants are near-infants who don't understand the concept of a race and just cruise around in circles.
3. Dance contests.
4. Musical chairs, except with inflatable life rafts.
5. Newfangled Minute to Win It rip-offs like a shopping-cart-emptying contest or a tissue-box-emptying contest. Pretty much manual labor as entertainment.
8908: Half-court shooting contests, which almost always put at least one fan/media member/media member's laptop in peril.
MINI BALLS AND FOAM FINGERS: Summer League has t-shirt tosses, and people go appropriately nuts for the t-shirts. I get that. I like free shirts, too. What baffled me was the mayhem that ensued when the Thomas & Mack Center hype crew strutted onto the floor trumpeting the likes of "official summer league MINI BALLLLLLLLS!" or "limited edition foam fingers." They really said "limited edition" out loud without any irony and people screamed and clawed at one another's faces with a similar lack of irony. Real human adults lost their goddamn minds over mini basketballs and foam fingers that just said, like, "2013 Las Vegas Summer League" on them.
ODD JERSEYS: Summer League rivals the hipster-est of music festivals in density of deep-cut contemporary jerseys and obscure throwbacks. A child wore a Keyon Dooling Grizzlies jersey. A gentleman showed up in a Desmond Mason Sonics jersey. All kinds of bizarre bootlegs and customized jerseys dotted the crowd. My absolute favorite, though, was the teal Allan Houston Pistons jersey. Houston was only in Detroit long enough to wear that get-up for one season.
NATE ROBINSON SIGNING A BABY: Nate Robinson signing a baby.
PA GUYS: Summer League quality isn't confined to the floor. The PA guys commit plenty of turnovers and fouls themselves. Granted, a PA announcer typically only has to deal with two rosters a day while these guys have to take on up to eight in a day and 22 overall, but still ... they've got one job. The amount of basket misattribution, name mispronunciation (EE-man SHOOM-per), and outright malarkey (calling Austin Rivers "Austin Powers" once. Seriously.) that takes place is impressive. Makes one wish Giannis Adetokunbo suited up this year.
REFS: Summer League is a chance for up-and-coming refs -- not just players -- from the D-League, foreign leagues, and NCAA to prove themselves, and a game's refs often get switched out at halftime so everybody can get a chance. NBA officiating is always inconspicuously observed by referee supervisors, but in such an informal, low-stakes setting, those supervisors just move right onto the court. They sit on the baseline, well within sight and earshot. It's fascinating to watch them take notes and make calls under their breaths, even fist-pumping or cringing at certain whistles. They can interact directly with refs during play, and they'll sometimes facilitate conversations between the refs and players who objected to call.
SECURITY: The yellow-clad security members do a fine job making sure no sneaker fiends and autograph-seekers make it into the players' makeshift dressing areas. They also get just as delirious as fans and media do, and can occasionally be seen sneaking a jump shot during warmups or dancing to the music.
SOUNDTRACK: On that note, the Cox Pavilion playlist is approximately two hours long yet serves an event comprised of 10 nine-hour days, so every iteration of "I've Got a Feeling", "Let's Get It Started", "Put Your Hands Up in the Air" and "Feel This Moment" feels like the most nauseating possible déjà vu. There is such a thing as a Jock Jam Migraine (JJM).
TEAM SECTIONS: A section of the crowd on either side of the floor is roped off for team officials. It's hard not to neglect the play and stare at all the GMs, players, scouts and other team employees of nebulous purpose hobnobbing in the stands. Sometimes it's a reunion, like Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch Richmond conferring at courtside or Patrick Ewing and Tom Thibodeau catching up. Sometimes it's an intriguing rival power summit right before your eyes, like when Sam Presti and R.C. Buford chat in a remote corner of the building.
WARREN LEGARIE: The man behind Vegas Summer League doesn't watch from afar. He's there, tirelessly prowling the premises, engaging with everyone he encounters -- upbraiding staff members, interrogating refs, schmoozing with media, making sure fans are comfortable and occasionally pausing for a moment to actually watch the basketball. To my eye, he's grown increasingly antic over the years. Summer League is his baby and he takes it very seriously, which is probably why it turns out so well (and so weird) each year.