For the first time since its inception, the Las Vegas NBA Summer League will feature all 30 teams.
Last year 24 teams played in Las Vegas. What used to be a niche event has become a mainstay on the NBA summer schedule, the latest indication of the league’s growing popularity and increased fan interest in young prospects.
“Clearly, the game of basketball has become something that people feel they can’t do without,” Warren LeGarie, executive director of the NBA Summer League, said in a phone interview. “What used to stop right after the draft, now it bleeds right into summer and the fall. People want to be a part of that.”
The Bulls, headlined by first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, will make their 2018 Summer League debut at 8:30 p.m. Saturday against the Cavaliers. They play the Lakers at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Summer League’s success is largely fan-driven. While a ticket to a regular-season NBA game can cost hundreds of dollars, a fan can purchase a Summer League adult ticket for $35 (a $5 increase from 2017) and watch 10 games.
Last year a single-day attendance record was set with a sellout crowd of 17,500 at the Thomas & Mack Center. A total of 117,931 fans attended over 10 days. The league is expecting another sellout this year.
The NBA has responded to the increased attendance by making the league more formal, expanding the number of teams and airing more games on national television. Last year’s showcase featured 67 games over 10 days. To accommodate the extra teams this year, 82 games will be played over 11 days.
“We are fortunate that NBA Summer League has become the center of the basketball universe in July,” Kelly Flatow, senior vice president of event management, said in a phone interview. “Last year we set records for attendance and viewership, so that led us to adding all 30 teams this year.”
NBA summer leagues have evolved constantly over the years. Numerous cities have hosted events, including Long Beach, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; and Salt Lake City — and four-team events in Sacramento, Calif., and Salt Lake City preceded this year’s main event — but Las Vegas has won out as the premier summer showcase.
The event has had lots of iterations. In 2007, the Chinese national team competed in Las Vegas. The league introduced a tournament-style format in 2013.
A G League Select team competed from 2009 to 2016 but was phased out last year as more players were selected for the rosters of the parent teams. In the most recent collective bargaining agreement, teams negotiated the ability to sign two extra players to two-way contracts. With that mechanism for adding fringe talent, the Summer League has become an even more important meeting ground.
“It isn’t like we started off with the objective of ‘This what we’re going to be,’” LeGarie said. “One of the things we said early on is we wanted to make it about basketball. We wanted to make sure the teams felt like this is a place where they can find out about their free agents, draft picks and coaches. We tried to stay true to that.”