NBA’s In Season Tournament, NBRPA’s Legends of Basketball Invitational, the WNBA’s Success and a Potential Las Vegas Based NBA Franchise Make This Desert Oasis Fertile Ground For NBRPA Members
LAS VEGAS – A’ja Wilson of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces did not know she had a tough act to follow, but she came in at the red-carpet entrance of the NBA Cup on Saturday night right after Flavor Flav had finished talking about how he once played against Moses Malone. And how he would like to play one-on-one against Atlanta Hawks superstar Trae Young.
Any NBA player who has reached the finals would recognize many of the trappings: All hands on deck for ESPN, which started bringing in hundreds of staff and crew members eight days earlier; red carpets and VIP’s, a press conference with commissioner Adam Silver, just like he does at the NBA Finals and the All-Star Game, a court lighting arrangement during the game, “championship” caps afterward and the honoring of NBA Legends Dr. J, Gary Payton, LaMarcus Aldridge, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry and Carlos Boozer, who were cheered when they were shown on the videoboard throughout this historic weekend - that make it feel entirely different than any NBA game played in any December in years past.
This was quite an event put on by Silver, a game that did not count in the standings, but which awarded every player on the winning Los Angeles Lakers team a cool $500,000. (Yes, you are correct if you are thinking to yourself “I was born 20-30 years too soon”). As many have learned - not everyone leaves Vegas a winner - but the members of the losing team also took home $200,000 apiece, which is not the worst consolation prize in the world.
This is an event no retired NBA player – or anyone else, for that matter – had ever attended.
The stands were full Saturday night as the Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers 123-109 to win the first In-Season Tournament, which Silver and the NBA pulled off quite nicely to an audience of viewers who knew something new and different was happening over the past couple of weeks but were not quite sure exactly what it was, or what the rules were. LeBron James and Anthony Davis taking it seriously and winning that NBA Cup brought an added level of legitimacy to a brand-new idea that was pulled off with very few hitches and further cemented Las Vegas as a basketball destination.
A week earlier, the NBRPA held the Legends of Basketball Las Vegas Invitational at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where Washington faced off against Colorado State and USC battled Gonzaga in the nightcap. The common threads here - fantastic basketball being played and a formidable showing by NBRPA members. The LOB Invitational boasted participation from Jay Williams, Detlef Schrempf, Nick Young, Sam Perkins, CJ Watson and Dan Dickau and between the two events – there was no shortage of NBA history out and about in Las Vegas.
While “Sin City” has been home to the NBA’s Summer League for a while now, our membership’s growing presence here has not gone unnoticed. Over the past few years, members and the Legends brand have been somewhat of a staple in Las Vegas - having staged the annual Legends Summer Getaway, WNBA All-Star events, and the Legends of Basketball Las Vegas Invitational on the famed strip. Now, with a yearly event in the IST and the expected addition of an NBA franchise to compliment the WNBA’s back-to-back champion Las Vegas Aces – there is no doubt that the NBRPA’s impact will only increase in Las Vegas.
What every NBRPA member should realize is that in the years ahead, this is going to be a showcase that gives ex-players a chance to be in the spotlight if they need or want it, because when Silver goes all-in on an event in a gambling town – an event that was a gamble in and of itself – and comes out looking like a winner, his next move will most certainly be a double down.
The thing to remember about Saturday night, December 9, 2023 in Las Vegas was that this event was treated in a grandiose manner by ESPN/ABC and the league office. It is going to be a major NBA event in the years ahead. Whatever tournament tiebreaker rules are changed or tweaked will not matter to retired NBA players, but what should matter is this: The opportunity to shine a spotlight on something will be there, and the only trick to getting into that spotlight will be walking into the T-Mobile Arena using the same entrance, the one with the red carpet, that the WNBA champs and the rapper with the huge watch around his neck used.
Shaq, Horry, Boozer, and the other Legends that attended will all remember being there because the NBA made being in the building feel like it was being at a major event – even though it was a new event.
Whether it’s the second edition of the IST, played next December, or the NBRPA’s events - somebody out there who once played professional basketball may want to bring some attention to something. The best place to do that is now known.