As most of you probably know, I was one of four MMB writers to head to Vegas to cover Vegas Summer League. The following is a true account of that experience.
When I arrived at the house that SBNation had so generously reserved for its journalists, I thought I had it a little rough. Not able to spend the whole Summer League season in Vegas, I had arrived four or five days into it to find that there were no unoccupied beds left in the house--so I did what any sane, thinking person would do. I made myself a nest, out of two blankets and slept under a third. In a corner.
Keeping myself in the style to which I am accustomed.
By the following night, as more people kept arriving, I was living in comparative splendor. At bedtime, somewhere in the 2-4 am area, An additional layer of bodies now littered the house, wrapped only in a single sheet. I saw, with my own eyes, one particularly tired blogger fall asleep on a couch that was at least two feet too short, in the middle of a barbeque.
I applauded that man's work, now I applauded his dedication, as well, to the craft of sleeping.
As comfortable as my corner nest was, at my advanced age, for a blogger, it wasn't easy. Settling in at 2 AM or later, rising at 8, for three nights, wouldn't have been even in a bed--especially since each night a certain unnamed Knicks blogger would roll in, rich from yet another casino, and sprinkle me with change in a bizarre, yet friendly fertility rite borrowed from the stone masons of Easter Island. Or so he said.
But you know what, though? No one complained. Not once did I hear anyone-anyone else, anyway-complain about sleeping in a corner, under a sheet, on a couch two feet too small, suspended on three "noodles" in the pool, or whatever. The attitude in the house, at all times, was roll with it, keep it light. Keep it snarky. And it was gosh darn inspiring.
Even Kirk, who came to Vegas so crippled with a back injury that some of us had discussions about having him put down, slept on the floor for a night and rolled out of bed in the morning.
Although when I say rolled, I mean some version that doesn't involve being able to walk or anything.
What was it like? Well....
Objectively, I'm not entirely staid in my late-early adulthood. As a graduate student, I hit the bars as well as the next fella. But neither is Vegas really for me. When I arrived in the airport, the number of slot machines in the terminal was a surprise, to say the least. There were other surprises. The line, on Sunday morning, at both Denny's and IHOP was one, which was rolling out the door to a considerable extent, was. The lady changing her two year old child in the back of the arena was another that felt very "Vegas" to me.
The fact that the city exists is itself a very "Vegas" surprise, because there is zero escaping the fact that it is a desert. Born and bred in the similar climate of Texas, a little chilled by the Thomas and Mack Center's impressive air conditioning, I thought I would take a little walk around the UNLV campus, as our own Shawn Marion must have once upon a time.
I lost so much moisture in about ten minutes that when I got back to the basketball gym, I looked like Dick Bavetta. And the green, green lawns of campus mocked me; requiring, presumably, half of a Great Lake to stay beautiful. I hope it isn't the half where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down. That would be a really confusingly haunted campus.
In Vegas, I did what I came there to do. I met the people behind the twitter handles. II watched a lot of basketball, which was my number two goal. I never broke down publicly and wept with a nervous-making hysterical edge.
But the biggest surprise was that watching that much ball, of that sort, is devastating.
This was news to me. It sounded like paradise. Hanging out all day with special access to tons of upcoming talent? Yes, please. But...
My first discovery in Vegas is that cabs cost 9 million dollars. When you're living in a house with 15-20 people, and 3-4 cars, this is not an insignificant issue, it means you go with the herd. And because the herd is composed of bloggers from all the different teams, that means you go when the games start for the day, at one. And because the Mavericks, in the time I was there, kept up their habit of being the latest game, that means you left at 10, 10:30.
In between, you watched Summer League basketball.
Let me tell you about Summer League basketball. There were some great moments. Kent Bazemore looked like Michael Jordan for the Golden State Warriors. Jonas Valanciunas, Summer League's MVP, looked like Shaq for the Toronto Raptors. But the downside of this is that you're watching a league where Kent Bazemore (2 points on 37% shooting in 61 games last year) and Valanciunas (9 points 6 boards in 24 minutes a game last year) are utterly dominant.
You add to that this dynamic: the players in Vegas are not paid, they get a stipend. Most of them have zero guarantees, even those who are, let's say, 2nd round picks. And the number of players who are looking at guaranteed playing time-your Cody Zellers, your Valanciunas', are way smaller than that. Even your Bazemores are trying to get off the bench, in real life.
And, so, the minimum annual salary for a rookie is nearly 500,000 dollars. The minimum for someone with a year of experience is nearly 800k. And the thing is, a lot of these guys don't additionally have, say, a computer science degree, basketball is their life, so the valley between that pay scale and the pay scale of the other life, even if that life is knocking around Europe or whatever, is pretty dramatic.
In that situation, would you play beautiful basketball? Would you set a good screen, make a hockey assist, get back on D rather than going for an o-board? Would you let the game come to you if you're, say, Jackie Carmichael and no one has ever heard of you?
Or would you chuck more than woodchuck has ever chucked in hopes that some team, somewhere, is going to notice?
It was not great basketball. And after 5 or 6 hours, you get pretty loopy. It goes on forever, it's always going on, and there is nowhere else to go. During the last Mavs game, when a sudden violent thunderstorm literally caused an indoor rain delay, I think it's fair to say that we lost it. The constant whistles sounded like they were right in me ear, wherever they were happening on the court, and for that reason I spent a lot of time tweeting about "The Adventures of Quantum Whistle".
Elsewhere, memorably, most of the bigwigs in SBNation spent three full hours tweeting puns based on the name "Scoop Jardine," a player on the Cavs' summer league team whose Wikipedia page contains this gem: "Jardine put his name in the 2012 NBA Draft. By scouts he was projected to go undrafted. However, his stock raised significantly, but he still eventually went undrafted". It was simultaneously one of the most impressive and most horrifying things I've ever seen.
When it finally ended, I felt like I'd been playing basketball for four days straight myself. The night after the SBNation house closed up, a night I actually spent in a bed, I moved into a hotel and mostly stared at the wall whimpering quietly. Around 5, I decided to finally get my gamble on and lost 70 dollars with the speed and velocity of a fringe prospect deciding to chuck rather than pass. I was back in my room, whimpering quietly, by 5:45. I watched "You've Got Mail". That's a true Vegas story.
Somewhere, there was more Summer League Basketball happening, but I couldn't bring myself to even try to get there. It all catches up to you. It'd been five days since I'd looked at anything that didn't have neon lights on it. Five days since I'd eaten anything that wasn't a burger, chicken finger or pizza. Five days of watching everybody pull up from everywhere, all the time. Five days of sleeping 4-6 hours a night, and rolling downstairs to see everyone already happily blogging with no food stuffs in the house other than coffee. I felt like my blood had turned to grease, and my brain to a roulette wheel.
On my way out, I decided to embrace those airport slot machines and threw in a last, crisp five dollar bill.
I won 80 dollars, quietly pressed cash out, and hid behind a curtain so Vegas couldn't see me. It was time to go far, far away.
And so I did.