2020 NBA Playoffs

Disney World Diary: Summer basketball not same as NBA Summer League

Superstars in playoff mode? A different vibe this time of year on NBA calendar

ORLANDO, Fla. — After 36 days on lockdown here at the Disney reboot I’m finally running on empty. I’m not talking about my energy or amount of stories to tell you, dear reader, because that’s what they pay me the little bucks for.

This is about clothes and specifically the last unworn item: A golf shirt, and not just any golf shirt, but an NBA Summer League golf shirt. It’s a 2020 relic, like so many other events that went poof this year.

You might get dizzy if you pause to consider what was supposed to happen but didn’t, all wiped out by a pandemic. The list is staggering in scope and diversity, and this is just a micro-sampling: March Madness, Finals Four, Olympics, Wimbledon, along with the South by Southwest Festival, the Oscars, ComicCon and also DEF CON. (That last one is a hacking conference that, in hindsight, sounds like something that actually did happen in 2020).

The NBA was fortunate to slip the All-Star Game through the door before Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test helped slam it shut about a month later. Here we are now, preparing to crown a champion soon in a place where crowd voices won’t rise and confetti won’t fall.

The golf shirt was saved until last by design because of the symbolism. The NBA restart is very much like a Las Vegas Summer League, only with real players instead of loaded with prospects who are just passing through on their way to Europe or a regular 9-to-5 job. Here at Disney, the teams stay in three hotels, players often see each other in the hallways, some ride the elevator together and all of those interactions are a mixture of camaraderie and also uneasiness.

For example, if LeBron James bumps into his longtime pal Carmelo Anthony, that’s good. If Damian Lillard bumps into Pat Beverley — and we do mean “bump” — that’s bad.

NBA Summer League is held every July and is fantastic for reporters, general managers and coaches because it’s stress free, festive and filled with optimism. Also, it serves as the final official NBA event of a long season, which means there’s no basketball in the ensuing weeks and months, and that’s always a bittersweet moment. You’re relived to a degree that another year’s in the books, yet sorrowful because the next chance for the NBA family to mingle isn’t until October.

That calendar has obviously been thrown for a loop. This is now an emergency session of basketball taking place in summertime, and while it has gone tremendously well — can we rename the championship trophy after Adam Silver just for this year? — everything is being squished together. The Finals will be followed days later by the Draft, and then free agency, and then we’ll all take a nap and get ready for training camp in November (or at least that’s the ambitious plan).

There’s talk about having a Fall League to replace the Summer League although I’m not sure anyone has signed off on that, or even wants it at this point.

So to honor the memory of Vegas basketball, I will wear the NBA Summer League shirt proudly today. By the way, I pack light, and for this reboot in Orlando I used only one suitcase. That sounds insane for a trip that’ll last months, but they do have washing machines here and besides, I’m a guy; we just need lots of underwear and some sandals. Oh, and our favorite golf shirt.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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