NBA Summer League enjoys another successful run

As more than 10,000 fans took their seats at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday, Warren LeGarie went around the floor level shaking hands and making sure everyone felt welcomed.

The championship game was minutes away as the conclusion to the most anticipated and talked-about NBA Summer League since it launched in Las Vegas 13 years earlier.

Attendance for the 11-day event was announced at 127,843, almost 19,000 more than last year’s record.

“It always surprises me, because no matter what, we’re not presumptuous enough to believe people are going to come just because we’re here,” said LeGarie, the founder and executive director. “We have to work on it, and we always want to make something a little bit fresher, a little bit more exciting. Fortunately, it seems like it’s worked again.”

Lonzo Ball, the Los Angeles Lakers’ No. 2 overall draft pick, drove most of the coverage this year, and he lived up to the enormous expectations by averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds to win the Most Valuable Player award.

His drawing power and the run of the fan favorite Lakers to the championship with a 110-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night in the title game helped drive interest. Fans in purple and gold shirts and jerseys regularly packed the lower bowl, and on the national sports shows, it seemingly was all Lonzo all the time.

LeGarie, however, downplayed the impact of Ball and the Lakers bringing out more crowds.

“We love Lonzo being here; he’s terrific,” LeGarie said. “But every year, we’ve had the same percentage of growth.

“We always have stars of tomorrow today, and that’s the value. That’s the beauty of our league.”

This summer league did have a buzz that went beyond Ball.

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks, De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings and Josh Jackson of the Phoenix Suns were among the players confirming — for now, at least — that this is one of the deeper and more special draft classes in recent memory.

Almost everything fell into place for organizers, and replicating this kind of success next year won’t be easy.

So expect future tweaks to continue to draw attention, such as this year when the choice was made not to bring back the D-League Select Team and go with 24 NBA clubs. That decision helped bring the Los Angeles Clippers back after a two-year absence.

“A lot of teams sometimes struggled playing against the D-League because they don’t feel it’s up to their calibration,” LeGarie said. “I think for the fans, it adds another layer for the people who are true fans of that particular team. The Clippers needed to be back here, and I think they’re glad they were.”

So when does LeGarie begin to think about next year’s summer league?

“We already have,” he said. “It’s a sickness. I don’t know if there’s a cure for it. I hope not, but we’re already looking at what we’re going to be doing for next year. We’ll start in earnest in probably a couple of weeks. We’ll get feedback from teams, from the league, from the television people in how we can modify or how we can grow different aspects, but we want Vegas to be proud of us. We always want to make sure they know we’re working for them 24/7.”

Contact Mark Anderson at Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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