The Las Vegas Summer League transitioned into tournament play with a five-round, single elimination tourney featuring 24 teams, eight of which received first-round byes. But more importantly: they have a bracket and studies may or may not have shown that any competition accompanied by a bracket is instantly improved. Considering the summer league tournament, I wondered about the incentives out there to increase competitiveness and cultivate some sort of concerted effort at winning even though winning isn’t what summer league is about.
With that in mind, I put on a pair of Air Jordan IVs, got comfy on the couch and tried to imagine myself as a 20-something basketball player with dreams of making the Association with a guaranteed contract, but nearer to a D-League reality. What would get me excited? What would I need?
Money: The easiest and least creative prize of all. For the Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parkers of the world, an extra $10-20k doesn’t mean a whole lot, but for the vagabond players continent-hopping between the D-League, China, and Europe, some extra dough goes a long way – assuming said dough makes it out of Vegas.
The Night of a Lifetime: We’re already in Vegas so let’s go all the way in to its steamy, sweaty, drug, alcohol, and sex imbued nightlife. The NBA rents out a popular club and extends invites to some of their affiliates in the movie and music industry: Maybe Beyonce or Jay-Z, perhaps Justin Timberlake or Will Ferrell. Of course, Drake’s the entertainment for the evening alongside someone like Chance the Rapper or Rich Homie Quan or Nicki Minaj. It would be open bar and VIP treatment for players from the winning team who also get to stay in suites for the next couple nights. Not a party guy? Then take the suite and get comfy in your extended Jacuzzi while eating the finest room service served by a butler with a British accent and snobbish air. Or catch a show. Let’s not overthink this, summer leaguers, do you.
A non-literal Get out of “Jail” free card: It’s not like we’re proposing to bail players out of jail like this is Monopoly and Adam Silver is Uncle Pennybags. Rather, the Get out of Jail card will be applicable to fines, suspensions, and other on-court transgressions accrued in either the NBA or the D-League. Each year a player doesn’t use the card, its value increases: $5k after the first year, $10k after the second and $15k after the third and $50k if the player hasn’t used it in five years. It’s a small incentive for NBA lifers who make millions, but “every little bit helps” said the old woman who peed in the sea. The card is also non-transferable so keep on moving, Mr. Cousins.
Xbox One or PS4 or the arcade game of the player’s choice: Any device will come pre-loaded with content provided by league sponsors, prepaid subscriptions to NetFlix, Hulu, HBO Go, Xbox Live, etc. Games, controllers, travel cases, and accessories would be included. For the random old school arcade gamer in our summer league midst, the league has shockingly agreed to seek out the arcade game of your choice – pinball included (we see you, Todd MacCulloch).
A game against the defending NCAA Champion: There are obvious logistics that make this likely impossible and there’s not a whole lot to gain from either party, but I still want to see the ragtag disorganization of a summer league team against well-disciplined, tightly knit team of supposed amateurs. If the summer league squad wins, they’re given scholarships to complete their educations. If they’ve already graduated, they get iPads with access to Rosetta Stone or The Great Courses collections and if none of that is of interest, the NBA and NCAA will put a couple thousand dollars in a 401k – boring, I know, but the NCAA wouldn’t budge. And if the college kids win, they’re allowed one month to take benefits and make money without any NCAA oversight. Anyone else get the feeling the college kids will play a lot harder?