LAS VEGAS — Big Baller Brand sold out NBA Summer League on Saturday.
Thomas & Mack Center barely filled half of the lower bowl when the Summer League started 10 years ago. On Saturday for the marquee showing between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas gym crowd spilled into the upper bowl and packed fresh Lonzo Ball jerseys into the lower sections until they were bulging. For the first time in Summer League history, the event sold every general admission ticket available (priced at $30).
It has been trending this way for years now, as summers in Vegas have developed into a cult classic. But on Saturday, the crowd — predominantly Lakers fans, per usual — had other reasons to be there.
Ball Mania is real. Lonzo Ball bounced back from his horrid 2-of-15 shooting debut to record a triple-double on Saturday. The crowd ooh’d and ah’d at his passing and exploded whenever a three-pointer went down. Sure, that’s normal. He’s the team’s top pick and prospect, standing out from the horde of unknown prospects without pedigree on both sides.
Still, nothing is normal when LaVar Ball and the clan — LiAngelo and LaMelo both present — watch everything happening from a corner dais. All clad in Big Baller Brand, of course. They were far from the only ones, and the T-shirts and hats sprinkled throughout the arena couldn’t have all been ironic. One fan even took an old Shannon Brown jersey and turned it into a Ball jersey with some yellow tape modification.
“Where’s my Celtics fans at?”
The PA announcer even sounded patronizing saying it 15 minutes before the game started, as if he were encouraging the boos that immediately followed. Boston fans were outnumbered 10:1, at least. It’s a four-hour drive between Los Angeles and the desert city that hosts this absurdity. On one hand, it’s a serious affair crucial for budding prospects who need to make impressions on the decision makers. On the other ... well. It’s the Ball show.
By the second half, the shouts and cheers and even the “de-fense” chant — surely Summer League’s first, let’s be honest — had died down. Even in a close game, I wondered if the atmosphere had passed by the crowded gym had passed on for good. And then Lonzo threw a flawless advance pass, stole the ball on the next possession, and sprinted full court for an up-and-under finish. The gym was instantly as loud as it was in the first 10 minutes.
We know more about the Ball family than we ever thought we would, yet there’s still some mystique. Lonzo Ball’s part of it, and he has Lakers fans swarming his direction. That’s Big Baller Brand at work.