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Vegas Summer League: Rookies experience business, basketball

Updated July 14, 2019 - 12:02 pm

Atlanta Hawks rookie forward De’Andre Hunter didn’t play a meaningful minute during the Vegas Summer League — and yet he feels like he experienced the brunt of the 11-day event.

“(The biggest takeaways are) just being on time, being on schedule. Having things to do, having obligations,” said the No. 4 overall pick before leaving the Thomas &Mack Center for the final time Friday night. “Being respectful for people, being an all-around person.”

On and away from the basketball court.

In addition to playing — or at least attending — five games, rookies must fulfill a variety of professional obligations, ranging from mandatory interviews with some of the 1,000 or so credentialed media members to meetings with representatives from various vendors.

Teams also have their own specific requirements, like appearances on social media platforms or introductory dinners with corporate partners at various Las Vegas restaurants.

Welcome to Summer League.

Welcome to the NBA.

“You don’t put a suit and tie on, grab a briefcase and go to an office. … But you’re working,” said Portland Trail Blazers assistant and Summer League coach Jim Moran. “When you leave the court, you’ve got an image you’ve got to uphold and I think our guys, being in an environment like this, it really helps them understand there are a lot of eyes on you.”

VSL obligations

James Raymond sat on a chair outside his trailer in the cozy corridors of Cox Pavilion during the Vegas Summer League — waiting to christen the superstars of tomorrow.

“Like anybody who is young, they’re wide-eyed and excited,” said Raymond, a producer for Pixelgun Studios, which provides graphics for the NBA2K video game series. “Everything is new. Everything is amazing.”

Raymond and his crew were among a handful of vendors stationed inside the depths of Cox Pavilion, where players went at their leisure before or after Summer League games and practices to fulfill the aforementioned obligations that accompany their new profession.

His trailer is equipped with more than 130 tiny cameras that surround the athletes, scanning still images used to produce the playable avatars that are featured in the game. Players spend about 10 minutes inside, mimicking a variety of facial expressions to ensure the most realistic experience possible for gamers around the world.

Representatives from EA Sports’ NBA Live series is also stationed a few feet away — providing a similar service for their product. And Panini, which produces collectible basketball cards, had a booth as well for second-year players to autograph their rookie cards.

“(Vegas Summer League) is another talking point, a touchpoint with all the players,” said Joe Reyes, Panini’s license acquisitions manager for its basketball division. “It’s an opportunity for us to continue talking about their deals. Their new deals. Stuff like that, and really just thanking the players.”

The week is crucial for the various brands to establish connections with players, their managers and agents. Most of the dealings are done away from courts inside the Thomas &Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, allowing for more authentic, personal interaction.

Raymond is at every Summer League annually, and spoke on the thrill of meeting No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson and No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant, among the other 50 or so draft picks that came by the trailer. His team gifted the players with Xbox game consoles after their photo shoots, a token of appreciation for their time and service.

EA Sports provides video games and Panini often pays players for the autographs sessions and will meet them on the Strip to accommodate their schedules.

“We’ve had some great moments,” Raymond said. “It’s really exciting to meet the new players, because you can tell some of these guys are really going to be big. … They’re still really young so they’re still in that humble, grateful place.”

VSL takeaways

Summer League concludes with its championship game Monday night, and the players will disperse before the start of the regular season, for which training camps open in September.

They’ll leave Las Vegas with an idea of what life as a professional is like.

“Sometimes they don’t have even dress. They’re not (yet used to) dealing with media obligations,” Moran said. “It’s good for them to be in front of the camera, get asked questions and have to think on the fly and respond. Going down the road, it’s just like getting reps in the game. … I think it’s good for these guys to be in the spotlight.

That’s business nowadays. That’s basketball.

Hunter missed playing, but said he absorbed what Summer League — and the NBA — is all about. He’ll return home to train and prepare for his first regular season.

With a better idea of all the additional obligations that come with it.

“It’s a lot of eye-opening things for the new rookies, just because they’re being pulled in all these different ways,” Reyes said. “We’re asking for them, 2K and EA (Sports) is asking for them. I’m sure media is asking for them as well. It’s a lot of stuff to handle, but these guys, they’re professionals now. It’s a lot of things they’re checking off their box.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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