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Dispatches from Las Vegas: Almost Famous

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 second day at the Las Vegas Summer League. Please see our Las Vegas introduction for more information.

In the last installment of this series, I tried to get my summer league bearings while not embarrassing myself, which, well, didn’t work out too well. That night, I made another plan – I was going to go to summer league by myself and figure out all the trappings of being a member of the press: how to get a seat on press row, how to interview players, and all that other good stuff that’d help me feel important. But, like my earlier plan, this one also failed -- not as dramatically or spectacularly, but almost immediately. I awoke Saturday morning to a text message from a good friend I hadn’t seen in awhile, simply saying “let’s go to summer league.” He’d managed to get his hands on two free tickets through someone working there and invited me to go along but since I had a press pass and didn’t need a ticket, we agreed to meet up and he’d invite another friend along which is where we’ll start the story of day 2 at the Las Vegas Summer League.

• • •

I got to the Cox Pavilion before my friend did (we'll call him Juice from now on, considering that’s his nickname - I'm a simple man) because I wanted to see the Knicks' depleted summer league squad play the Grizzlies. It took approximately 17 seconds of watching this “Knicks” squad (considering they have all of one guy who might get some regular season minutes, they deserve the sarcastic quotes) get creamed by the Grizzlies before my notoriously-terrible attention span was turned to crowd watching.

Baron Davis was sitting in the front row next to Mike Woodson, where no one was asking them for autographs. This development absolutely delighted the part of me that had been forced to watch Baron Davis in the playoffs last year. Walt Frazier was commentating on the game for MSG. J.R. Smith was on the Knicks’ bench watching his brother Chris Smith chuck up ill-advised long twos (we seriously need to get some geneticists on finding the “long-two” gene and eradicating it from humanity). Alan Hahn, the best Knicks news follow on Twitter, was having a 10-minute long conversation with David Lee. Wait, David Lee? Sorry Alan, but my Twitter loyalty is now going to Frank Isola (just kidding, of course -- I’m not that crazy). The last person I noticed before leaving my seat to meet up with Juice was George Karl, who was wearing a pastel pink polo along with a classic George Karl I’m-too-old-for-this-shit smile after being bombarded with autograph request after autograph request on his walk up the stands to his seat.

I met up with Juice and was told his friend would be arriving shortly. I wasn't too excited. I’d never met his friend before, and to be totally frank with you, I absolutely detest meeting new people. It’s not that I’m antisocial or a sociopath or anything like that -- I just hate having to pretend to be super nice and talk about my background and what I do for a living and reciprocate the interest and yadda yadda yadda. I can’t wait for the day when you shake someone’s hand there’s a chip implanted in it that automatically uploads all that relevant “first meeting” information into your brain and you know all the background stuff (oh you’re from New York? I have an uncle there who has diabetes and his medicine is super expensive blah blah blah NO ONE CARES) and whether or not your inappropriate jokes will go over well with them -- by far the most important part of learning about a new person.

So when Juice told me that I was to refer to his friend as “T-Black” because, and this is an exact quote, “his name is Terrell and he’s black as hell” it was like the hand-chip stuff had already happened. I knew I didn’t have to worry about that intro stuff because if a guy refers to himself as T-Black you just know it's gonna be hard to not have a good time. We took a seat amongst some seemingly-knowledgeable crowd members. Well, except for the time when T-Black asked what college the Warriors’ Charles Jenkins went to and I told him that the roster sheet said Hofstra. “He came all the way from Austra? That little country in Europe?” Juice wondered. “Nah man, that country is called Austria. Aws-TREE-uh. He said Austra, like short for Australia!” replied T-Black. Me, being the terrible human being I am, confirmed that I did indeed say Austra as shorthand for Australia. They paid me back by not laughing at my Andrew Goudelock “Goldilocks” joke when he missed a bunch of shots in a row and I said “no wonder his name is Goldilocks, his shot is too cold!” There’s no quicker way to feel like an idiot than to not get a response to a fairy tale-based joke.

I was taught a valuable lesson some time later when I was approached by a random agent who saw me with my press pass still on in the general admission seating area. He asked me who I was covering the event for so I pointed at my credential which read ESPN.com and said ESPN. Just to make myself feel important, you know? He then proceeded to go on and on about some client he has in some obscure foreign league that just needs a story written about him to make it big. I feigned interest and took his business card which would later become a makeshift toothpick, perfect for when I got some errant chicken fingers stuck in my teeth. Jokes aside, I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who are actually famous writers – getting story proposals and the like all the time, I mean. Why come to me? If there’s anything I’m famous for it’s that I’m completely not famous.

Regardless, I'd said the magic words – that I was “from” ESPN – and everyone around me heard it. I spent the entire Lakers/Kings game fielding questions about basketball from every fan around me – “Why haven’t the Lakers cut Darius Morris?” Answer: I dunno athleticism or something. “How many minutes did Jimmer average last year?” Answer: I dunno I think he came off the bench though. “Why are the tags on their basketball shorts on the outside?” Answer: I dunno maybe they get to itchy to play basketball in. (Wrong, corrected T-Black, they’re reversible!). “Will there be a team in Seattle again?” Answer: I dunno hopefully. If you were one of the people sitting around me and were hoping for some deep insight from a guy writing for the nebulously defined "ESPN", I’m sorry. (Also, it’s 2012. You can Google this stuff on your phone now, guys.) Once all the fans left after the Kings/Lakers game ended, I took off my credential just to stop myself from embarrassing the collective knowledge of actual ESPN employees ever again.

Before the final game of the night, Wizards/Rockets, a new group of fans came to sit around us. The first one we noticed was the incredibly attractive girl who had the misfortune of mis-applying one of her hair tracks. We spent the first few minutes of the game alternating between watching Royce White and making track puns: “she ran a marathon just to get here!”, “that’s a big assumption there man, I guess you could say it’s a long jump of logic”, “guys, it’s not nice to make fun of her, she’s gone through a lot of hurdles in her life.” There’s something I haven’t mentioned yet, but it’s that Summer League basketball is not all that fun to watch. It’s more than fun to experience, sure, but at the end of the day its mediocre basketball with a few going-to-be-superstars thrown in for good measure. Eventually your boredom gets the better of you and you just people-watch. It’s inevitable and I apologize to ESPN for doing that with the opportunity they gave me, but the old summer league saying is true – it’s not for analyzing the players, it’s for enjoying the experience.

The first half was nearing a close and a guy who looked just like J.E. Skeets from The Basketball Jones, which I religiously watch/listen to, sat 3 seats to my right and down a row. I’m one of those people who zones out and stares straight ahead when I’m thinking about something which has led to quite a few awkward situations in my life. So, when I saw this guy at first glance, I just stared right at him while trying to conjure my best mental image of Skeets (get your mind out of the gutter, people). He turned to look at me while I was staring and gave me a dirty look for staring straight at him which only made me question if he was JE Skeets even more. So, naturally, I just kept staring while debating with myself if he was indeed Skeets or not. I ended up staring so much that he turned around again, gave me another dirty look, got up, and left the section we were sitting in. I realized two things in that moment: oh god I’ve done it again and DAMNIT I STILL DON’T KNOW IF THAT WAS SKEETS.

We ended up going home shortly after that to beat the crowd before the game ended like the truly cool kids we are and I woke up the next morning still wondering if it was indeed Skeets, so I did what any normal person who awkwardly stares at random people would do – I asked him via Twitter and he was kind enough to respond. Case closed! I didn’t creep out one of my favorite basketball personalities, instead, I only managed to make a completely normal, random patron of summer league think that I either had a huge man-crush on him or that I was going to murder him. Just another successful day at summer league, I suppose.

Alex Arnon
Alex Arnon is a basketball obsessive who did his time on the Vegas strip. He is an unapologetic devotee of ignorant trap music, the New York Knickerbockers, and Murakami novels. Fan of naps. Currently a student at UNLV in Econ/Math.

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