LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE: DAY 3
After losing their second game in a row Monday, the Clippers had practice Tuesday across the street from Thomas & Mack Center.
Everyone got off the bus and walked down a long corridor to a gym that one player said looked smaller than where they played in high school. There were old wooden bleachers that pulled out on rollers and murals on the wall depicting UNLV’s NCAA Final Four appearances. Behind one basket was a large mural honoring the Larry Johnson-led Runnin’ Rebels that won the 1990 national title. It’s funny to think that Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock was born the following March and only Derrick Low and Vernon Macklin were older than three when UNLV beat Duke by 30 in Denver.
The morning practice at UNLV followed a 12-point loss to the Lakers at Cox Pavilion, about 500-600 yards away. It was the Clippers’ poorest shooting performance of the week, particularly in the third period when they scored just nine points and allowed the Lakers to take a lead that ballooned to near 20. The weirdest part thing about the game actually occurred at halftime when a man and woman performed “Hips Don’t Lie.” It was a bizarre combination of the woman singing while attempting dance like Shakira with the man, who effectively is imitating Wyclef, wandering around repeating her words like a hype man. Meanwhile, the backing track had Shakira’s vocals still mixed in. It was part Karaoke, part “Puttin’ on the Hits,” part “So You Think You Can Dance” and part “Flava of Love.” Maybe it was lost on me, but there were plenty of looks back and forth between reporters and spectators that said otherwise.
Bullock signed autographs after the game at a designated table for players postgame. Fans lined up to meet him and had plenty of swag and gear to get signed. He was very cool to everyone who came by, including a lot of people wearing Clippers paraphernalia. He even posed for a picture with a couple of teenagers whose mom said they were big UNC fans.
The afternoon leading up to Monday’s game was fairly low-key for most of the group. The bus didn’t leave the hotel until 3:45 so outside of treatment and any morning meetings most everyone had the day to themselves. One thing that stood about the downtime, or time in the evening after the conclusion of games, is that you’re liable to see anyone in casino or restaurant or hotel lobby. For fans, that has to be exciting. Sitting a few rows away from Doc Rivers or seeing former Clipper Brent Barry walking around the concourse of the arena or seeing current or former players out and about in the city, it’s all part of the Summer League experience.
LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE: DAY 2.5
Eight games, fewer than eight hours.
The thing about Summer League that is both extraordinary and exhausting is the fact that it jams as many as eight games into a 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. window at two facilities that are side-by-side.
The Clippers played at the larger of the two facilities Sunday, Thomas & Mack Center, where UNLV’s men’s and women’s teams play their regular season games. Three games followed, capped by Spurs-Raptors, which tipped off at 7:30. It’s frenetic. As soon as the Clippers game ended, a thrust of people rushed to the concession stands while even more were entering the arena for game two.
Meanwhile, like any tournament format in youth basketball all the way to the NCAA, as the Clippers left the floor, the participants in the next game were immediately taking the court for layup lines. Sometimes there’s as little as 10 minutes between final buzzer and another tipoff.
“As a whole I feel like it’s a big AAU tournament because there are guys you’ve seen in high school and throughout college,” first-time Summer Leaguer Reggie Bullock said. “You just feel like you’re down there at like Disneyworld or something like that just having a big AAU tournament. It’s great. The fans are here to support you.”
Bullock was one of four Clippers players who had to get their likeness captured for the next iteration of EA Sports’ NBA video game. JaJuan Johnson, Samardo Samuels and DaJuan Summers were recorded as well. There were plenty of other obligations for the group over the last 24 hours, including a sponsor dinner, a player development meeting and a practice.
The guys may be in Vegas, but there is not a ton of time to NOT think about basketball. One reporter suggested that the city is like an “adult Disneyworld” in reference to Bullock’s aforementioned comment. But he just smiled and said, ““I’m loving the experience.”
And it seems like most of the guys are. Out of the 12 players on the Clippers’ roster (note: Jonny Flynn is no longer with the team to pursue potential offers elsewhere), four are rookies without Summer League experience.
It’s all new for them, everything from where practice is held (the court in the bowels of the main arena) to where the locker room is (behind a curtain in Cox Pavilion or down the hall and around the corner from the bus drop-off area if you’re in Thomas & Mack Center as the Clippers were Sunday).
The newness of the situation will likely start wearing off soon, but for now, it’s a hectic and exciting time.
LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE: DAY 1
Summer League is off and running and the Clippers are right in the thick of it.
The team flew into Sin City on a commercial flight Thursday afternoon. As the group waited in line at LAX onlookers stared at the 11 mostly oversized players lining up at the security checkpoint. While the glitz and glamour of the Strip can be appealing, rookie forward Brandon Davies called it a “business trip.” It seems like that’s the approach from most of the guys on the roster, which is made up of a mix of rookies and veterans all looking to etch out a spot in the NBA.
It was unusually cloudy and in the high 80s when the team arrived at their hotel in the early evening. Surprisingly, a day earlier it was only 109 degrees so hardly a difference.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin met up with the group later that evening and took everyone to dinner. The superstar duo stayed around to watch the Summer League opener the next afternoon. After they waited in the corner of the court for several minutes, they were escorted to courtside seats across from the Clippers’ bench. I talked to a Las Vegas Review Journal reporter, who has regularly attended Summer League for its duration, and he said there was an air of excitement when Griffin played there in 2009. I would imagine the buzz was almost as great as he and Paul walked down the baseline and headed to their seats. Tipoff was imminent and nobody was watching center court, just trying to snap pictures.
The commotion is seemingly regular for the event. Numerous NBA veterans, celebs, former players and coaches are walking around in a more open environment than most fans would normally be witness to. Former UNLV star and now Knicks executive Larry Johnson was there, so were Paul Millsap and Lou Williams of the Atlanta Hawks, Jarrett Jack of the Cleveland Cavaliers, rapper Wale, and many others. That’s probably the coolest thing about Summer League is you never know who you might bump into, especially in the cozy confines of Cox Pavilion.
It is a bandbox. There are people pressed to the sides of each wall in the small facility built to house UNLV’s volleyball teams. The players arrive via a bus in the bowels of the facility (below Thomas & Mack Center, which is in the same concourse) and take a freight elevator to a hallway that leads to the Pavilion’s floor. The “locker rooms” are actually just small areas quartered off with draping to prevent people from peering in.
The games go fast. They consist of 10-minute quarters and there are few television timeouts. In between the Clippers-Hawks game and the Lakers-Cavs a boy wearing a Grizzlies jersey that read “Little Z” danced on the court to entertain fans. There was a game of musical chairs on inflatable pool floaties. People were constantly coming and going.
Effectively, one ticket gets you access to what could be eight games, divided between both facilities. That’s a lot of basketball.
After the Clippers won, 90-83 (it wasn’t that close), Reggie Bullock talked about how exciting it was to help his team win and so did Maalik Wayns. Samardo Samuels said it was about selflessness. It’s probably a good sign that even when the outcome of each game means very little the group is still focused on winning.
The entire team left the arena within 30 minutes; back to the hotel to get prepared for tomorrow’s business (practice).