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Summer League and Transition

Image by Michael Holden via Flickr

Image by Michael Holden via Flickr

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

Frank Herbert, author of Dune

As the end of the NBA Summer League draws near, I can’t help but think about endings or, at least, what happens next.

During the last several days, Hardwood Paroxysm has discussed names you know, guys you might be hearing more about soon, and players we may never hear from again. Exciting draft picks, rising young players, and even back end rotation players have and will be discussed ad nauseam both here and in the basketball world at large in the coming months. Sports never stop and transitions are a natural part of life.

The fringe players interest me the most right now, and that may have more to do with where I am in life than the players themselves. What does a player like Yuki Togashi do next in basketball? He may be talented, but he faces a vertical reality that will never change. Ron Howard has toiled in D-League anonymity for three quarters of a decade. If the NBA never comes calling, what happens next? David Stockton has a famous name and massive hands, but does he really want to be a journeyman professional basketball player? Did you give Ian Clark a second thought after he won last year’s Summer League MVP? Though it’s highly publicized, NBA Summer League is just one step in a road so long it’s hard to fathom.

Though I’m technically on vacation, the trip to Las Vegas has mainly been about channeling creative energy so when I get back to my job as a database manager, I can reapply myself. I’ve experienced growth in responsibility in my day job, which is a good thing, but it’s forced me to consider reworking my priorities. I’m no longer sure I have the wavelength to dedicate as much of myself to basketball as I do on a daily basis.

The thought of giving a go at writing as a job has always existed on the fringes of my mind. The rational part of my brain always knew that basketball writing would be a temporary passion, or at least something that would have to be scaled back as my life changed (career advancement, a new dog, kids one day). I’ve determined that this will probably be my last trip to NBA Summer League and realizing that is both sad and strangely liberating.

Most aspiring professional basketball players have worked their entire lives with the goal of making the NBA. To be so close as to be affiliated with a NBA team and not make it has to be maddening. There are only around 250-275 people in the world talented enough to see regular action. Another 175-200 are members of the league but rarely get to display their abilities, so wide is the gap in talent in the NBA.

Of course, not every player who plays in Summer League does so for the expressed purpose of playing in the NBA. Players are also auditioning for jobs around the world. There are numerous leagues with eyes on the American and International talent who come to Las Vegas and Orlando. But the life of a professional athlete elsewhere can vary to ridiculous degrees. I’ve had periods of career uncertainty; it becomes impossible to plan for the future. I imagine the life of a non-NBA professional basketball player to be constantly in flux, able to plan only a few months ahead.

Chasing a dream is important, but at some point one has to have the ability to determine if the dream is worth putting everything else on hold. By now, with most of the teams eliminated from Summer League play, most of the players will have moved on to their next state of flux. We as fans move to the dead of summer, where we speculate and debate on the up and coming players and teams.

As we place our hopes and dreams among the rising stars from the draft and Summer League, I’m going to do my best to remember the lesser known players from Las Vegas and Orlando. I hope players like Ron Howard, Matt Janning, and Damen Bell-Holter find that satisfaction they’re looking for. Basketball becomes a part of you after a while, but it can’t and shouldn’t be all you have. Life is full of moments of transition, when things can and should change for you as a person. It’s important to learn when to move on to the next phase in life. I want wish these Summer League players luck, we’ll be rooting for them.

Kirk Henderson