The NBA Summer League is in full bloom. In the coming weeks there will be clips of dunks, broken ankles and the future in Philadelphia.
One of my friends has started calling the combination of Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons the FEDS. This friend is a Pennsylvania native who works in Silicon Valley, so he likes to remind us of The Process as well as “his” Warriors. A annoying as his bi-coastal basketball belief may be, this is the time of year when even the basketball junkies are not devoid of a fix.
This month’s games in Orlando, Las Vegas and Utah remind me of the one time my friends and I thought it would be a good idea to watch Summer League basketball with our own eyes.
It was 2003 and we were in search of entertainment. With all the hype surrounding LeBron James we had to witness this for ourselves. To our surprise, more than 10,000 others had a similar idea.
The King had yet to collect his crown. He was an 18-year-old just like us.
There were five of us: me, my cousins Chris, Z and L as well as our friend Lionel. We fit into a 1991 Nissan Stanza in search of cheap thrills.
Watching a NBA basketball game for $5 certainly qualified. Our tickets were general admission tickets, but we managed to get into the lower bowl and find seats five rows up.
My cousin L became a LeBron fanboy on the spot. The rest of us were not as easily convinced.
LeBron has been the best player on the planet for at least a decade — even the biggest haters have to concede that anyone who scores his team’s final 25 points in a playoff game is one of the sport’s best players — but his longevity may be just as astounding as his talents.
The night we saw him was four years before the iPhone came out, a year before TheFacebook became a thing and back when people printed out directions on Mapquest.
The latter was important because on our drive from the Space Coast, I took a wrong turn on the Interstate. None of us had smartphones, and since my cousins and I were all college students none of us had a lot of cash to waste paying tolls in and around Orlando.
We made it to the TD Waterhous Centre in time, parked and paid our $5 to see whether LeBron was going to be LeBum in the NBA. The recent selections of Yao Ming, Kwame Brown, Kenyon Martin, Elton Brand and Michael Olowokandi with the No. 1 overall pick left me skeptical that James was going to amount to much.
The cost of the trip was worth it when James got dunked on. In my memory it was Michael Doleac who yammed on him. An Internet search revealed the true perpetrator was a different former University of Utah big man, Britton Johnsen.
Despite the fact James finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists the dunk midway through the third quarter was enough to indict LeBron’s entire game to some of us. The fact LeBron was victimized by a white guy in tube socks added to the disbelief that The King was in our midst.
We were so close to the action that we stumbled across a reporter’s notebook. Since the notebook in question didn’t have anyone’s name on it, we flipped through it, read the notes and even called some of the numbers we found in the notebook once we returned to the car.
Of course none of the athletes we called answered the phone. But it was all part of the adventure. In our minds, had someone like former Auburn standout Chris Porter or James himself answered the phone, we could have a “scoop” that none of television stations or ESPN had. We thought we were going to be famous.
Things didn’t turn out quite as we envisioned. Our scoop never materialized and we drove home to Brevard County with a few stories to keep us entertained during another lazy summer on the Space Coast.
James has become one of the best players in history. Guys like Keith Bogans, Dajuan Wagner and Darius Miles have been afterthoughts for at least a half decade; meanwhile, one of the few people on the court that night still collecting checks is Zaza Pachulia.
The Summer League has become far more organized, and a much better product than what we saw one evening in Orlando. But, the five of us can claim one thing: We saw The King take his first steps in his court.