If not for the 2004 Democratic Convention, the NBA Summer League might have never tipped off here in Las Vegas.
As co-founder Albert Hall tells the story, Warren LeGarie approached then-NBA Commissioner David Stern after organizers in Boston had not booked rooms for Summer League teams, which were to be there at the same time as the convention. Rooms were limited and “they said, ‘Look, we’ve had a good run, but we’re gonna back out,’” Hall recalls. “So we had an opportunity, and Stern signed off on it.”
“Six teams, six handshakes,” Hall says, “and away we went.” The six teams that participated the first year in the Cox Pavilion were the Celtics, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Magic, Suns and Wizards. They played a total of 13 games in the initial year. “Since that time, we have been able to grow it in an organic and positive way,” says Hall. “We went from six to 12 [teams], from 12 to 18, then 18 to 24. We have grown it each and every year but in a positive and organic way.”
This July, the NBA Summer League will celebrate its 15th anniversary on the UNLV campus with all 30 NBA teams in attendance, plus two international teams for the first time—China and Croatia—who are each guaranteed to play five games. “China’s been a mainstay in the Summer League for a number of years just as far as coming out and visiting, sending some teams to do scrimmages,” Hall says. China has become a major business partner of the NBA, and its games will be livestreamed or broadcast there. “Croatia is like the wild card international spot. Next year it could be a different country.”
Summer League games attracted 140,000 fans over 12 days last year, a total Hall and LeGarie are hoping to eclipse this year despite a condensed 11-day schedule and 83 total games. There’s expected to be sellouts on opening day and opening weekend and during other key matchups. The league’s growth has also led to fans traveling to Las Vegas to see their favorite NBA players and teams. Hall estimates the economic impact is well over the $50 million mark from the research they have gathered.
While NBA fans continue to pour into Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion to see the games live, millions of viewers have enjoyed record-breaking television and video coverage. “Five hundred sixty-five million video views!” Hall exclaims.
The NBA Summer League’s success has also led to yearround programs in the local community. “When we first started this, our tagline was ‘See the Stars of Tomorrow Today,’” says Hall. “Well, we created a foundation called Tomorrow’s Stars. We’re not just in Vegas for a week during Summer League. We do programs throughout the year... all focused around servicing the students of Clark County through education, science, technology and athletic programming.”
July 5 to July 15, reserved seating season ticket $1,320, unlvtickets.com