Most summer league crowds vacillate between dead and half-asleep for the majority of the game. While that might sound depressing, it’s hard to blame them when you consider the quality of basketball they’ve subjected themselves to. The crowd for the Jazz vs. Bucks matchup, however, was not like most crowds. But then, most summer league games don’t feature such talent as Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dante Exum.
Last night the Thomas and Mack was as full as it’s been all week, as fans flocked to the bigger of the two gyms here at UNLV’s campus to see the Jazz take on the Bucks. Fans purposefully seeking out a basketball game between Utah and Milwaukee would have been unheard of just a few months ago, but after the draft a few weeks ago, that’s no longer such a strange concept.
This game didn’t have the suspense or mystery of seeing Jabari and Exum make their debuts, as was the case a few days ago, rather the excitement of seeing the potential future stars square off. Earlier in the week, everyone wanted to see how the two rookies would fare in their inaugural performances—last night everyone just wanted to see it again. Throw in Giannis, and you’ve got enough ingredients for an entertaining basketball game—even in Las Vegas in July.
The contest—at least the beginning—was all you could ask for. There were Giannis and Rudy Gobert dunks, and there were Giannis and Rudy Gobert blocks. There was Jabari drives and Jabari dunks. There were Kenny Frease scree… wait that’s not right. There was Exum drives and Exum pull-ups.
But when the crowd erupted in thunderous applause the likes of which is not often heard at summer league, it was—amongst all the length and potential and flashes of brilliance—another, less heralded rookie garnering the praise. Where were you when Rodney Hood hit four straight threes in the third quarter on the way to finishing with 29 points against the Bucks on July 14, 2014? If you were anywhere besides the Thomas and Mack Center, you missed a crowd lose its collective mind, giddy with dreams of what could be.
And that’s what’s so great about summer league. Sure there’s winners and losers and at the end a champion is crowned, but—in what is a rare occasion in sports—no one really cares about all that. Summer League exists to give young players a chance to improve and try to make teams, but it’s also a chance for fans to catch their first glimpses of the next MVP, to yell and gasp at crazy dunks, to watch young players catch fire, and to let hope seep into their minds.