In our first attempt at offbeat, on-location reporting, we have our valued correspondant Alex Arnon with boots-on-the-ground in Las Vegas to cover the Summer League. This is his coverage from his first day at the Las Vegas Summer League. Please see our Las Vegas introduction for more information.
Five days after games began in this year's incarnation of the Las Vegas Summer League, I’ve decided what kind of coverage I'm going to provide. I’ve been debating for days between various methods of writing about this event in my incessant internal monologue – but whenever I think about doing recaps, that old Kurt Vonnegut quote pops into my head. When Sports Illustrated tasked Vonnegut with writing about a racehorse which jumped over a fence, all he could bring himself to write was that “the horse jumped over the [expletive] fence.” All I can think about writing about the games is “the players dribbled continuously, shot frequently, played defense occasionally, and passed sporadically.” I'd never compare myself to Vonnegut in a million years, but why bother writing recaps when there’s so little for me to say and so many other great writers writing team-specific ones that can give readers much more breadth and insight than I? Instead, I’ll provide you with my unadulterated and perhaps somewhat self-indulgent experience of being in the stands as a so-called “media” member. So please, dear readers, come with me on our journey to the depths of the Cox Pavilion. Promise it's worth it?
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As a resident of Las Vegas, I also happen to work here. It's a necessary evil, needed in order to fight back against the ever-increasing horde of bills that comes with growing into your very own full-fledged manchild shell of a responsible human being. Due to my unwavering obedience to The Man, I can only attend weekday Summer League games after 4PM, which is where we’ll begin our tale on the Friday of the Summer League’s first day. Enter me, nervous as all hell to be covering my first event – worried about not knowing what to do (or perhaps more importantly, where to go), worried about letting down Aaron (whose idea it was to send me on this journey and who inquired about getting me access in the first place), and worried about letting down Kevin Arnovitz (the ESPN TrueHoop editor who so very kindly brought this all together and coached me on what to do over the phone). So, here was the plan to alleviate the nervousness: after dropping my mom off from work (yes, I work in the same hotel as my mommy, deal with it), I’d drop off my dry cleaning, deposit my paycheck at the bank, and rendezvous with my girlfriend outside of my house at 4:45 in order to just spend this first Summer League day with a familiar face, figure everything out, and (most importantly) avoid embarrassment.
But, you know how it goes. The best laid plans of mice and men, right?
Upon arrival at the Thomas and Mack Center, my girlfriend bought her ticket at the main box office and I asked where people picked up their credentials. I was told that they were lying in wait at the Cox Pavilion box office. Simple enough, right? Well, er, no. Cue the two of us going the wrong and long route around the stadium and walking over 200 yards to find a box office which was originally 100 feet away. In front of us in line was an agent arguing with the staffer about a credential that was supposed to be waiting for him and wasn’t. Cue me getting nervous that this exact situation was about to happen to me. When the agent finally got tired of arguing and went to make a phone call, I was instructed to present my ID to get my credential.
The good thing about growing up with a last name beginning with the letter A is that you can always point out your name on a list when signing in to things because your sign-in sheet is on the top. I began the process instilled in me as an elementary schooler and looked through the staffer’s list before he had the chance to -- “Adande, J.A.”, “Arnovitz, Kevin”, “Berger, Ken”. Wow, that’s a who’s who of NBA writers that are going to be in attendance here, I think to myself seconds before having to reevaluate my knowledge of the alphabet. Wait, doesn’t Arnon fall somewhere between Adande and Arnovitz? The staffer and I seemed to get the same idea at the same time as we glanced up from the sheet and met each other’s eyes with that unmistakable “oh, shit” look. You don’t know how hot the skin-under-your-skin can get until you’re standing in 105 degree weather trying to pick up a credential that doesn’t exist while your girlfriend giggles at your misfortune. As a new Southwest Airlines “Wanna Get Away?” commercial with me as the star began playing in my head, the staffer remembered that there was a late additions list and Alex Arnon just happened to be at the top of it. “Suck it, universe!” I think.
[“Wait, who the hell is Alex Arnon?” the universe responds.]
Upon making our way in, the first thing I notice is that everyone is so damn tall. Having been 6’3” for a few years now, I’ve learned to mentally classify people’s height into three distinct categories: short people, people around the same height as me, and freaks. A larger amount of people in the concourse fit into that third category than I’d ever seen in my life – combined. These people were all some sort of basketball player – either playing in the Summer League, networking with the various agents scattered about, or just dedicated students of the game. The next realization was that I was in the presence of full-fledged NBA players and legends. I saw Rick Fox walking to pick up some food in between bouts of broadcasting for NBA TV. When a 17-year-old asked him for his autograph and was told “not right now” his 50-something guardian told him to never embarrass him like that again as he slapped him upside the head with the type of hit just powerful enough to leave lesson without leaving a mark.
Being in a city without an NBA team, I’ve never had the chance to see these guys are in person. I was incredibly excited to see these guys in the flesh. It’s often very difficult to live so far away from your team and never be able to be considered a true fan, having never been to a game -- but the admiration and pain is still the same (being a Knicks fan, I’m still physically ill over the news of losing Jeremy Lin). Sure, living in Vegas gives everyone a cool “meeting a celebrity” cocktail party story (my claim to fame being that Floyd Mayweather complete with his Louis Vuitton backpack almost certainly stuffed with cash once used me as a battering ram to help him get through a large crowd at The Mirage unnoticed when we happened to be leaving it at the same time) but I’d never been in the same general area as more than a few NBA players at one time. To be surrounded by them just hanging out is something I recommend to everyone; it’s worth the price of admission to just be able to experience that feeling.
But enough about my schoolboy admiration, it’s time to continue this here tale. We took our seats at halftime of the penultimate game of the night – Warriors/Lakers. The Warriors impressed as they blew out the depleted Lakers LVSL squad, which bored my girlfriend as her most hated player in the world, one Mr. Kobe Bryant, wasn’t in attendance and led her to pepper me with whatever question she’d think of during the game. I admittedly was paying more attention to the game than to her until she asked if black people were victims of the Holocaust. The third string Warriors team had lost my attention by this point so I pondered her question – logically, it makes sense if they were attempting to get rid of everyone who wasn’t “master race” material, right? But the most we’d ever learned of black people during World War 2 was of the Tuskegee Airmen and their valiant heroics, nothing of the victims. Unfortunately, this question remained unanswered as she broke away from the discussion when she complimented the neon yellow purse of the gorgeous blonde who had just sat next to us midway through the fourth quarter.
As the fourth quarter of the blowout wound down, my attention turned to watching the crowd. Kyrie Irving was sitting courtside taking in the game with a smile on his face, not knowing that he’d break his hand no less than 15 hours later. David Lee and Jarrett Jack were also sitting courtside enjoying the game, prompting my girlfriend to twist the knife that David Lee left in my heart upon leaving the Knicks even further by declaring him the most attractive man in the gym. Jimmer Fredette and DeMarcus Cousins were another duo chatting it up and having the time of their lives. Wait, Jimmer and DeMarcus hanging out together? Laughing it up? Could you imagine a weirder combination of best friends? If there’s one thing I’d like to see before I die it’s a Jimmer/DeMarcus reality show. At this moment there was nothing else going through my head but desperate pleas to the universe begging it to let this happen - “It could be like a buddy cop comedy! Or a dating show where they have to compete and court a girl! Maybe even something like Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory where they hang out and do whatever they want! Please, universe, just make this happen!” I thought.
[“No, seriously, who the hell are you?” the universe replied.]
Before I knew it, the Warriors game was over and the Kings and Bobcats took the court to Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Ni**gas in Paris”. If you’re familiar with the song then you know how it’s one of those “Rocky” songs – much in the way that watching Rocky makes you think you can conquer anyone in the world in the boxing ring, listening to this song makes you feel the same way but about anything whatsoever, not just fighting. The energy in the building perked up considerably thanks to a combination of this song and the realization that the #2 and #5 picks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson, were about to go head-to-head (with 2011 top-10 picks Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, and Bismack Biyombo playing as well). The energy in the building was already creating a poor man’s play-off atmosphere. And then it happened. 2 Chainz’s song “No Lie” came on right after “Ni**as in Paris.”
I honestly don’t even know what happened after that. If you were to close your eyes in that moment you would’ve sworn it was game 7 of the NBA finals. Even the considerable amount of Mormon families with their beautiful blonde children who came just for Jimmer started going hammer and bobbing their heads and sayin’ “true” cause they ain’t never told no lie. If “Ni**as in Paris” is a Rocky song then playing “No Lie” loudly over a sound system in a small packed gym is a 48 hour long Jason Statham marathon song. It’s the musical equivalent of following Mike Tyson vs. Muhammad Ali with the ’96 Bulls vs. ’87 Lakers. Maybe I’m just saying this as a huge fan of trap music but if that musical combination was played in laboratories worldwide then cancer, AIDS, and Bieber Fever would all be things of the past.
Unfortunately, that moment had to end as moments are wont to do. There was a basketball game to be played and I had to keep my now completely zoned out girlfriend interested in what was going on lest she use her boredom to once again steal my attention from the game. And so I hatched a plan - keeping the David Lee “hotness” incident in mind I pointed out Jimmer Fredette to her and talked about how he’s a good little Mormon boy who’d never hurt a fly. Mission accomplished. It was almost too easy, really. Everything was going well – she was watching Jimmer as I was watching Thomas Robinson and MKG use those non-stop motors of theirs to impress all the hoopheads in the gym. The girl whose purse my girlfriend complimented earlier was rooting for Jimmer just as hard as my girlfriend was. Like I said, everything was going well. Until my plan backfired.
You see, I have this tremendous fear of annoying people in public or being a bother to them. I like to either be as nice as possible to them or be completely unforgettable so as to not ruin their experience. It’s second only to my fear of accidentally being racist. They’re probably two fears created only out of my nauseatingly cliché liberal white guilt but they are still legitimate fears to me and my girlfriend both knows this and loves to exploit it at any given opportunity. And so it came, her loudly professing her undying love for Mr. Fredette – “Jimmer is SO hot, oh my God.” ... “I wanna become Mormon because their God is obviously the real one if he makes guys who look like that.” ... “I totally wanna take his cute little Mormon innocence.” ... “Do you think Jimmer is down with the whole sister wives thing? Usually I’d never share a guy but for him I don’t even care, I’d be one of his sister wives any day.” On and on it continued for the better part of the first two quarters as I tried my best to drown her out. She delighted in watching me squirm thanks to her talking about his chiseled jaw to no one in particular but the general 10 foot radius around us.
I thought back to my original plan. I’d gotten my credential, located press row, found the locker rooms, and generally gotten my bearings. I’d even managed to avoid getting embarrassed thus far. Sure, her Jimmermania was slightly embarrassing but it’s nothing I couldn’t handle after getting acclimated to her many attempts to embarrass me during our almost year-long relationship. It was halftime and I was proud of myself for getting through the day successfully. I was having a great time surrounded by hoopheads who knew the game of basketball inside-and-out and relished in knowing every fact about it, so much so that the guys sitting behind us were having an argument about who won the Naismith college player of the year for 2011, Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette. Their argument was quickly broken up by the blonde next to us who had been cheering for Jimmer, “It was definitely Jimmer, trust me.” The guys were obviously impressed with her knowledge as they teased her by asking how she knew so much about him. “Well, it’s easy for me, considering how I’m his wife,” she said as she flashed her enormous ring and gave the look of death to my girlfriend. You know, the same girlfriend who had minutes earlier wanted to take her husband’s Mormon innocence and become one of his sister wives.
What do you even do in that situation? Well, if our actions are the true representation of things, apparently it’s "pretend to go to the concession stand for a quick halftime snack and instead vacate the building to get home as quickly as possible out of pure, unbridled embarrassment." My girlfriend had won bigger than she had ever won before in the public embarrassment game (Mrs. Fredette, if you happen to be reading this, we both offer you our sincerest apologies). Even she was speechless for most of the car ride home, only breaking the silence to laugh at ourselves. I was so close to having a flawless Summer League debut only to have it all come crashing down with a single sentence. And you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world. Where else could you possibly experience all of this NBA tomfoolery in one place?
So, like I said, the best laid plans of mice and men, right? But I learned something that night. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. But sometimes, just sometimes, the best laid plans can also go alright. They really, really can.
The second of several dispatches comes later this week.