July 7-17. Las Vegas. NBA 2K23 Summer League. 11 Days. 75 Games. All 30 NBA Teams. Only $40 for a day pass to take in the world’s greatest hoops gathering of old heads and little nephews. Everyone is welcome. No rivalry fights in the parking lots here, those scuffles are saved for the poker parlors.
Let’s. F&$@ing. Go.
This summer gathering is friendly in every way, a pilgrimage that heals the hoops spirit. NBA Summer League’s access is also unrivaled. You can turn around looking for a napkin for your messy nachos and end up with a story of how you bumped into Woj. Rookies roam the halls of the Thomas & Mack Center, chasing down the Hall of Famers.
This is the center of the basketball universe for almost two weeks.
The soundtrack of balls bouncing, clanging, and swishing melds with the smells of concession food and freshly popped nylon nets. This is also the basis of every success and failure of recent draft picks. Sophomores will return in hopes of never playing in these games again. Newly drafted rookies will try to get acclimated into new systems. Undrafted prospects will try to make a G-League roster in hopes of becoming the next Jose Alvarado.
Interviews and other topics will be covered elsewhere. This guide has priorities.
Get there early to snag a seat for your game because most of the gym is general admission. The top picks will have groups arriving early during the previous game so they can all get concessions and have their seats held.
Have fun, wear your best kicks, and don’t spill your drink. Those shits are expensive… but there are also tricks to getting a free drunk on in Las Vegas.
What to do besides gamble? Of course, everyone will gamble. Hell, just getting out of bed and jumping in a plane is a gamble, FAA stats be damned. Sushi from a food truck is a gamble. What? Are you scared some cannoli is going to end you? There’s some good to gambling, but we’ll get to that after seeing some other attractions.
My number one way to spend the day is, without a doubt, The Mob Museum. It’s on the Freemont Street end of town and is worth the trip no matter where you start. The Mob Museum is four floors of artifacts, videos, and interactive exhibits. They have it all, from the Old World roots that birthed the American Mob, through prohibitions heyday, and onto the Congressional hearings and new-age crime labs trying to keep up with La Cosa Nostra, the cartels, and other foreign outfits from Russia, China, Japan, and Israel, just to mention a few.
The Mob Museum has scavenger hunts, a series looking at prison reform, and simulated firearms training all on-site. No matter what side of the law you fall on, The Mob Museum has something to pique your curiosity and get you thinking. Oh, and there’s a speakeasy in the basement. Tell them MMH sent you, they’ll make you a drink you can’t refuse.
The Freemont Street end has a more interactive, community vibe than the posh end of the Strip. The shaded areas allow for more people-watching during an early morning coffee. The First Friday is a monthly festival featuring local artists, makers, musicians, and food trucks. The Life is Beautiful murals hang year-round, and following them gives one a tour of the 18-block Arts District. There’s the Discovery Children’s Museum and a praying mantis that spits fireballs.
Then, even if shows are not your usual thing, go see Piff the Magic Dragon or Jabbawockeez in the evening. These acts don’t get to stay in Vegas by not being entertaining. It’s damn good showbiz. While you’re strolling around, go see some music. There are plenty of local stages. Support the local musicians and artists. It’s MMH’s standard operating procedure.
If you do not want to wander off the main tourist paths, there is the free stage on Freemont Street. Some of these acts were on at least one of those competition shows.
Hell, hit up the Magic Mike’s. Go to a strip club and support a dream before you gamble away the budget on the slots. But do gamble. Find a fun craps table. Go for the experience and the people. And if you and your group want to get proper drunk for cheap, here’s the trick: Take over a poker room table. Cheap tables like $1/2 No Limit Hold’em or $2/4 Limit Hold’em. You’ll lose a little money to the house in rake but you can get a few rounds of ‘free’ drinks for just a tip to the cocktail staff.
Play slow, let them make a couple of rounds, and they’ll be happy. Just make sure everyone tips, so that drink person will come back to your full table. Have some fun being Rounders for about 30 minutes and you’ll get 3 drinks for $3 plus whatever you win at the table. Sit at the table with the minimum amount ($20-100) and a few of your friends. You should be fine.
And if you lose it all, which you will if you sit there long enough, blow off some of that steam at TopGolf Las Vegas. You’ll add 20 yards to your driver. Just don’t expect the same results at sea level.
Healing Hangovers & Hotels
Lodging. It’s hard times out here. The economy is drunker than a jackpot winner headed to a pawn shop. That being said, someone has to keep some of the less glitzy hotels open. I like saving my money to see the sights, not spending it all on a room I’ll barely crash in. The Downtowner Boutique is right off Freemont Street and has a putt-putt golf course in the middle of the property. If you need a budget spot, it’s right on the bus lines making it easy to drop in after a flight and ride through town.
You could go fancy like your casing out an Ocean’s heist on The Rio. The closer you get to those towers of wealth, the better your odds of running into Charles Barkley playing blackjack. But this is MMH. Go weird or go home. Stay at The Downtowner for the Old Vegas ambiance or Circus Circus for the story of tracking Hunter S. Thompson’s steps through your own Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas adventure.
Wine & Dine Time
Where to eat? I’ll tell you where not to eat: Places you’ve had before. Well, unless the hangover requires comfort food, but really, hangovers are for amateurs. You’re reading this, so you’re a pro. Splurge if you’ve got the money. Try one of the many local shops or regional fast food brands you’ve never had before. Live a little, dammit, before you wind up at the bottom of a hole in the desert or have one of those barrels pop up out of Lake Mead.
Past that? Don’t overthink the trip. Enjoy. Drink plenty of water. It’s hot, hot, hot out here in the desert.
Oh. And remember. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless it’s in the police report. Behave yourself.