The sloppy, bizarre, freewheeling, wonderful NBA summer league.

The stadium scene.
July 17 2007 4:35 PM

Funk and Homicide

The sloppy, bizarre, freewheeling, wonderful NBA summer league.

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Not content to watch players take shot after shot after shot at their NBA dreams? For fans who enjoy story lines and characters, the summer league is a wellspring of here-they-are answers to where-are-they-now questions. Gabe Muoneke, an undersized power forward still seeking his first NBA shot at age 29, scored 31 points in a game in Orlando. Coby Karl, a thyroid-cancer survivor, starred for the Lakers' Vegas summer league entry. The Sacramento Kings' summer roster boasts a whopping seven centers, as well as the previously unknown 300-pound brother of Ron Artest.

The Golden State Warriors' summer-league team is the best example of what July basketball is all about. The fun-and-gun Warriors delighted NBA fans with their underdog run in this year's playoffs, but the most ostentatiously entertaining team in pro basketball has been thoroughly outdone by the summer Warriors. Golden State's players seem like the leavings from a reality-show casting call: There's a player who recently got out of prison for burglary, professional street-ball players nicknamed "The Assassin" and "Homicide," a 7-footer from Harvard, and a former lottery pick who spent his collegiate summers as a line chef at an Italian restaurant. Oh, and an undrafted rookie from Creighton named Nate Funk. For some of us, watching this team play is more fun than watching the NBA-champion Spurs do their relentless, efficient thing, missed shots and turnovers be damned.

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For basketball nerds—I doubt I need to mention that I am among their ranks—seeing the fringe-ish likes of Funk and "Homicide" in NBA uniforms is kind of fun. (Funk and Homicide wouldn't be a bad name for that reality show, either.) College basketball creates heroes, cult and otherwise, faster than the NBA can absorb them. When these half-forgotten players emerge from the summer-league ether, we basketball dorks are there to greet them as old friends. And while most of them will not make it to the NBA, it's still a sound business decision for them to play in Vegas or Salt Lake: The summer leagues are scouted heavily by well-paying European squads looking to add American stars.

While summer-league games lack formal polish, they do showcase the thrilling skills with which even marginal players are blessed. And this is the summer, after all. If last year's NBA Finals offered all the carefully choreographed dullness of an overbudgeted, Oscar-begging prestige picture, the summer league offers more of a Live Free or Die Hard vibe: lots of explosions, very little coherence, and a few legitimate oohs and aahs. I know which one is "better." When the weather gets hot, though, I know what I'd rather watch.

David Roth is a contributor to the blog Can't Stop the Bleeding. He has an essay about basketball and shoplifting in the new anthologyLiving on the Edge of the World.

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