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Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker take over Summer League

The top two picks in the draft made their unofficial NBA debuts in front of a packed gym in Las Vegas.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On a normal day at the NBA Summer League, you should be able to find ample room to plant yourself down and watch some highly contested, yet highly dysfunctional basketball. The teams taking part in the event may have a few intriguing players, but much of the appeal lies in the opportunity to get out from underneath the relentless Vegas heat. Basketball plays a sizable role in why people make the trip out to the desert in mid-July, but it's rare the games are ever truly in the spotlight. On Friday, that changed.

After Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker went back-to-back at the top of this year's NBA Draft, the focus shifted to their first Summer League matchup. The hype around each player has been growing since they were in grade school. Meetings as high-schoolers and college players only added more excitement. It was only fitting that their first professional experience would see them cross paths once again, and it's no surprise that there was significant enthusiasm surrounding the game.

It was pretty clear that this crowd was going to be larger than the other games on the day's slate, but nobody was expecting to have to camp out to secure a seat for the game.

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A few minutes before the tip, the PA announcer informed the fans that the arena was at capacity. Those that were fortunate enough to be in the gym had to settle for getting sandwiched between two equally uncomfortable strangers. Others that had hoped to catch a glimpse of Wiggins or Parker had to be told by the ushers at the door that they had to wait outside or go to the other gym and watch the game on the big screens.

It wasn't just the fans who were struggling to find places to sit. Several players and executives were scouting the sections for an opening, and some even tried to negotiate with fans for their spot. This normally wouldn't have been a problem at any other Summer League game, but this was not just another Summer League game. It was evident the second after the previous game ended.

As if the fans weren't anxious enough to see the future stars of these two franchises go at it, the news of LeBron James' decision to return to Cleveland was buzzing around the arena. Everybody around me was already losing their mind trying to wrap their head around the signing, and the idea of experiencing something different, yet equally stimulating in this matchup was almost too much to handle. The guy next to me suggested I take his emergency contact's number because he was pretty sure I was going to have to utilize it. I thankfully didn't have to at that moment, but I never did check back on him. I wonder if he's okay.

The players appeared to be just as excited as the rest of the people in the arena, even as both teams got out to sluggish starts. Wiggins made an early jumper and Parker got a few early trips to the free throw line, but the first quarter consisted of more blunders than buckets, save for one impressive dunk from Anthony Bennett. Thankfully the break in between quarters arrived, and it proved to be necessary for everyone in the gym. The players had a chance to get their feet wet a little bit, and the fans were awarded the chance to cool off by exhaling for the first time since the tip.

The crowd was rewarded about midway through the second quarter when the Cavs started to look for Wiggins on some dangerous cuts that came close to blowing the roof off of the arena. On the other end of the floor, Jabari used his strength and skill to carve his way through the lane for two impressive finishes through contact, including one dance around defenders that resulted in a pretty left-handed finger roll. These weren't necessarily plays that stopped time and understanding in their tracks, but it definitely captured the attention of the anxious onlookers who were waiting for something to celebrate. Everyone was looking for a glimpse or two of what made these guys so special, and bit by bit they were starting to deliver.

I tried to make my way down into the passionate fan sections for the second half of the game, but the fans preferred save their seats over taking a quick break. There was no point in trying to negotiate so I decided to walk around and re-enter where some of the fans appeared to be entering in hopes of finding something closer. However, when I got to the doors, the ushers were yelling at everyone to back up and wait in line. There was literally no place for more people to sit or stand. Again, this was during halftime, when at least some people made their way out for a little break. Still, nothing. The fan at the front of the line was agitated, stating this has never been a problem any other year for him. The guard blocking him quickly replied, "Does this look or feel like any other year to you?"

Unfortunately, the second half didn't carry as much electricity as the first, though both Wiggins and Parker continued to show impressive glimpses. Parker decided to showcase some of his lesser heralded attributes like grabbing a few extra rebounds or getting his distribution correct within the offense, while Wiggins nearly capitalized on a soaring alley-oop by using his otherworldly athleticism. Both guys settled into slightly lesser roles while Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bennett (who had their fair share of highlight plays) tried to make more of an influence on the outcome.

The game seemed to be headed to a less-than-thrilling finish as the Cavs started to pull away behind some timely shooting from Matthew Dellavedova, but Parker, Giannis, and second-year guard Nate Wolters each made significant plays down the stretch that brought the Bucks back to within a chance at a game-winning three as time expired. A game that had promised and delivered went out with one last exciting twist of the gut, and then it was all over.

Compared to the massive news of LeBron's homecoming, this could easily be cast off as just another summer league matchup between two intriguing prospects. However, Friday's crowd should serve as sufficient evidence that Parker and Wiggins are already quite magnetizing in their own right. Wiggins will have the incredible opportunity to play alongside James as they gear up for a deep playoff run, while Parker will join Antetokounmpo, Wolters, and several other young players on the Bucks roster as they begin their rebuilding phase. The good news is their paths will cross again soon, and we'll get to enjoy watching them face off for years to come.


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