The NBA season may have ended June 12 in Denver when the Nuggets captured their first championship. But the NBA never truly sleeps.
The league took over Las Vegas starting July 7 with Summer League games tipping off at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion. Simultaneously, the inaugural NBA Con — a massive fan fest featuring all types of activations — kicked off at Mandalay Bay. Even the new Sphere in Las Vegas got in on the action, turning into a giant basketball.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, the NBA Summer League has really grown,” said Tim Keener, president of Las Vegas Events, which is partnering with the NBA for the Summer League. “This first weekend you’re going to see the arena filled like this and the fans love to come out and see the rookies. They’re itching for basketball and I think Las Vegas is the perfect place for the Summer League. It’s really turned into not only an event for fans, but also a convention as well. Everybody from the NBA world comes here for meetings, and we’re happy and honored to host them.”
The Summer League schedule will feature 76 games, including the semifinals on July 16 and the finals on July 17. However, the first day of action featured large crowds in both adjoining venues on the campus of UNLV.
The Thomas & Mack Center had large crowds on July 7 to watch several games, including the defending champion Nuggets and the debut of Victor Wembanyama. Photo by Justin Shaw/SportsTravel
The defending champion Nuggets debuted their new draft class in the afternoon, followed by No. 2 overall pick Scoot Henderson and the Portland Trail Blazers as the lead up to the true main event as No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama — the French phenom who was selected by the San Antonio Spurs — made his NBA debut, as Wemby Mania sold out the 17,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center.
The 10-day Summer League schedule, along with NBA Con, made Las Vegas the epicenter of the basketball universe. Commissioner Adam Silver added to its reputation when he formally announced the NBA will hold its inaugural in-season tournament, with Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena to host the semifinals and finals from December 7–9.
“This is a concept that has been rumbling around the league office for about 15 years,” Silver said at the unveiling. “It’s not a new concept in sports. For those that follow particularly international soccer, it’s a long tradition of having in-season tournaments. So we thought, what a perfect opportunity for a global league like the NBA and it’s a perfect fit for our game.”
NBA IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT EXPLAINED
Starting Nov. 3, all 30 teams will compete for the NBA Cup with 8 teams advancing into the knockout rounds! The tournament semis and championship game will be held in Las Vegas, Dec. 7 and 9! pic.twitter.com/NZdURUa3XR— NBA (@NBA) July 8, 2023
The NBA and Las Vegas love affair continues to ramp up, as rumors the city will be the next to receive an expansion team intensify.
“I certainly think the NBA can find a home here down the road,” Keener said. “There are a couple of new venues coming online that could possibly host an NBA team. And look at what the Golden Knights did — we’re so proud of what they did here in just six years. The Raiders are also making things happen and I think an NBA team would find a great home in this city.”
NBA Con Makes Inaugural Splash
While all the action on the court was happening down the road, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center was the site for the inaugural NBA Con.
There were dozens of activations, offering NBA fans anything they could ask for. Two half-sized basketball courts offered a place for kids and adults to get up some shots while a full court, complete with bleacher seating, was assembled to host shooting and dribbling contests.
There were plenty of chances for fans to get out on the court and display their skills at NBA Con. Photo by Justin Shaw/SportsTravel
The NBA Convos side section offered a place for big names in basketball to host panels and discuss the game, including one conversation that paired Wembanyama with the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There were rotating NBA players signing autographs, which had a line of hundreds waiting for their chance for a selfie with players, including recent NBA champion Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Denver Nuggets.
There was plenty of digital fun, as fans could play the newest NBA 2K video game on Playstation 5 consoles, as well as purchase old-school models of NBA Jam and create their own personalized character at an augmented reality activation.
NBA Con had plenty of memorabilia, including game-worn NBA Finals jerseys for sale and five different NBA championship rings on display. There was even a pickleball court that was always in use, as well as a temporary tattoo parlor for fans.
NBA Con featured rare memorabilia and live panels with NBA players. Photo by Justin Shaw/SportsTravel
As Las Vegas continues to thrive as an NBA city, Keener wants to continue to see growth and tourism money flowing into the area.
“There’s a good amount of economic impact that this brings to Las Vegas,” he said. “What really changed things was four years back when they added a tournament concept, so now we have a champion at the end. That’s kept more interest as you head toward the end of the 10 days. And when you add NBA Con, it’s another way for fans to enjoy the game.”