“The Summer League doesn’t matter. It’s a joke.”
Those are the words I often hear when discussing the NBA’s summer competition, a gathering of teenagers trying to make a name for themselves and older players trying to hang on and find spots in the Association.
From Saturday, July 4 through Friday, July 10 — the duration of the Orlando Summer League — more than 3,000 tweets containing the phrase “summer league” and the word “joke” were used together in some form, according to Topsy, a Twitter search and monitoring service. It indicates a large number of people who think summer league action is, in fact, a farce.
Sure, the final score might not hold much weight, but the games themselves? They matter. If you’re solely interested in the overall greatness of LeBron James or the offensive savvy of Kevin Durant, I get that. But if you enjoy watching players scraping for a living, a lot of athleticism and a surprising amount of talent thrown into the mix, summer league checks all those boxes.
Watching 30 hours of basketball in a five-day span at the Amway Center in Orlando earlier this month, I saw first-hand the hustle and effort these men are giving in search of contracts, a training camp invite and — ultimately — a way to make a living playing a game they all love. They have to.
Aside from the handful of second-year players like Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, and apart from the few top picks from last month’s draft — Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow and Myles Turner were all in Orlando — summer league squads are predominantly filled with Developmental League players vying to reach the NBA, or American talent playing overseas looking to return home.