I love the NBA Summer League. Have loved it since before it even existed — I remember going to see a Nets’ summer league team that featured the late Yinka Dare, former Seton Hall go-getter Jerry Walker and the disgraced, prematurely paunchy Eddie Sutton-bribee Eric Manuel play at a convention center in White Plains when I was in middle school. (Here’s a terrific Alexander Wolff SI article about Manuel from around that time) I’m not saying that was cool, but of the other things I enjoyed in middle school — shoplifting, Bel Biv DeVoe, the Mets — it’s pretty much the only one I still enjoy fully.
Summer league hoops is not exactly good basketball — it’s kind of like a super-heated YMCA game, really — but it is weird enough and free-flowing enough to be more fun than most NBA games. And also the Wizards are letting Sam Cassell (above) coach their summer team. His deep, weird voice was a constant, droning presence in the background of the Knicks/Wiz summer tilt that MSG ran all day yesterday. With the exception of strong showings from the too-small Tyrese Rice and too-clompingly-Skita Nikoloz Tskitisvili and Walt Frazier describing Wiz forward Dominic McGuire as “omnipotent,” Cassell’s basso background chatter was the best part of watching the game. Which might not sound like a compliment, but that’s three things, already! There is honestly nothing to enjoy about watching a Nets/Bucks telecast — not Marv Albert’s increasingly not-in-jest-seeming baiting of Mike Fratello, not a dazed Sean Williams jumping up and down for no reason, not the sponsored-to-the-gills aesthetic. Certainly not the desultory, hope-free basketball itself. At least in the Summer League everyone seems to be having some modicum of fun.
Anyway, I’ve already written about this elsewhere, and I’m not going to win anyone over by just repeating the names of marginal basketball players I find interesting. (Although if you want to win yourself over, the rosters are here) Much as I love it, though, my dedication to Summer League basketball is obviously not such that it’d get me to fly to Vegas and watch Morris Almond take jumpers over former college hoops dudes I’ve only vaguely heard of. Even if I had the money, I probably wouldn’t do it. But the Washington Post’s mighty Dan Steinberg was at the Summer League, and filed a report on the beautiful monsters that actually turn out for Wizards summer league games.
I was sitting next to Clippers Coach and GM Mike Dunleavy, asking him a few questions, when a Wizards fan I’ve met once or twice came by. He was wearing an old-school Bullets t-shirt with a montage of photos from the glory days splattered across the front. He proceeded to stand directly in front of Mike Dunleavy and to ask me a few questions about the Wizards.
It was really one of the better moments of my career. I mean, just plumb in front of Dunleavy, with a giant photo of Wes Unseld on his shirt, asking me questions about the Wiz. Finally, Dunleavy asked this Bullets/Wizards fan whether he might move, so that he could, you know, see the basketball game.
There’s more, but I don’t want to excerpt the whole thing. It may tilt my perspective some, given that the words Steinberg uses to describe Summer League Wiz Nuts (to coin a phrase) — “young, white, male, fond of irony, fond of the Bullets, and fond of standing tall in their strange little identity” — could probably describe some people I know. I feel like the NBA’s rising, still half-secret dork appeal is a story that hasn’t really been covered yet, but it probably will be soon. Maybe when that Wiz t-shirt becomes the sports version of the three-wolf-tee?