Zion Williamson, an earthquake, record viewership, sellout crowds.
The latest version of the Vegas Summer League had quite the news-making opening. Although crowds dropped off as well as some of the interest as the 11-day event played out, the tournament occupies a spot on the sports calendar few would have envisioned when it began with six teams 15 years ago.
Before Monday’s championship game at the Thomas &Mack Center — the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies defeated the No. 3 Minnesota Timberwolves 95-92 — co-founder and executive director Warren LeGarie counted the ways this year’s Summer League made an impact:
Sellouts the first two days, a first.
“It wasn’t a promoter’s ploy,” LeGarie said. “We literally could not sell a ticket for fear that we would create an issue here.”
The highest average attendance at 12,199 after an announced crowd of 8,079 watched the final, bringing the total to 134,188. That was less than the 139,972 that turned out last year, but it was a day longer in 2018. The average crowd last year was 11,664.
The most teams at 32, which included all 30 NBA squads for the second year in a row as well as ones from China and Croatia.
LeGarie said there were 500 million video feeds.
“That’s something that still gets our message out there in a very, very big way,” he said.
ESPN garnered a record 1.2 rating for its opening night coverage July 5, which featured this year’s top overall draft pick in Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans and No. 3 selection RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks.
Every game was telecast
“ESPN has really stepped up its broadcasts,” LeGarie said. “No matter what, people want to be somebody in our world, so you have a chance to be seen. The television makes you an influencer.
“The other thing is we’ve become the epicenter of sports social media. We had 65 current players sitting on the court for the Zion game, and I can’t tell you how many more because if you’re here, you can enhance your brand. You can do things that people feel even more aware of who you are as a personality in our league, and I think that’s important to people.”
One concern, however, was the lack of star power as the event went on.
Several top draft picks didn’t play because of injuries, and others were hurt or shut down or both. Williamson played nine minutes before injuring his left knee and spent the rest of the time as a spectator.
Players getting sidelined is not new, but it seemed more pronounced this time.
“You always want every player playing, but it’s not my call,” LeGarie said. “It’s the team’s call. The health of their players is far more important than the importance of a Summer League. Summer League is a forum for people to showcase their skills. Like the year Lonzo Ball was here (2017), Kyle Kuzma stepped up and became the guy. We felt there were a number of kids that stepped up here.
“You could see by the play (Sunday) when we had that unbelievable finish to a semifinal game (the Grizzlies beat the Pelicans 88-86 in overtime) the whole arena was standing. It was remarkable. It shows you how much it means to these kids to win it, and that summer really matters.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow
@markanderson65 on Twitter.