For two weeks every summer, some of the best young basketball players from around the world travel to Long Beach. If you like basketball, the Summer Pro League at the Long Beach Pyramid is the place to be.
From July 8 to 23, there are five games a day to watch at 10:30 a.m., 12:45, 3:30, 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. Just $12 general admission per day gets you a great seat. Fans can hang over the bleacher railings, see current and future stars up close, and snap a photograph. The arena is big, but you can still hear the players laughing and talking among themselves. Almost all the players sign autographs and some throw their wristbands to fans. Last year Baron Davis, a former UCLA star, was on a team, and when that team won the championship, he threw his shoes up into the crowd, already signed. NBA players Sean Rooks, Lamond Murray and Cedric Henderson have given their shoes after a game, right off their feet.
The Summer Pro League is where the rookies from NBA teams come for exposure and to develop their talents, and free-agent teams assemble their players to get noticed by scouts. The agent teams play against the other agent teams, and the NBA teams go head to head against one another and teams that are mixes of two NBA teams. Although some teams are made up of just rookies, they still have some of the best coaching. Last summer, the Lakers SPL team coaches included former Laker clutch shooter Brian Shaw, the Lakers longtime assistant coach Bill Bertka and trainer Gary Viti. Even former NBA players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mario Elie and Olden Polynice shared some of their experience.
It’s almost a season preview
The SPL is before the start of the NBA season, so it is a good place to view upcoming talent. As Magic Johnson said in an interview, "Before they even play a game in the NBA, people can see them in the Summer Pro League."
The SPL this year will include the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, L.A. Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks. This past summer, Sasha Vujacic, the Lakers’ first-round pick, got to test himself against J.R. Smith, the Hornets’ first-round pick. They both more than held their own against current NBA players such as Golden State Warrior Baron Davis, Laker Luke Walton, and Clippers Chris Wilcox and Chris Kaman.
Over the last 35 years, more than 800 NBA players started their pro careers at the Summer Pro League, including Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Isiah Thomas and Dominique Wilkins. Some of today’s greatest players first competed there—Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady.
Basketball at the Summer Pro League is very different from professional games. For the rookies, the SPL could be the difference between being a wannabe or a multimillionaire. They play hard to catch the eye of the many scouts who swarm to the Pyramid. They aren’t worried about whether their team won—only about how well they played as individuals.
Although the NBA stars come to the league to get in shape and to help the young players, they take the game less seriously than most of the rookies. Last summer, Bo Outlaw kept complaining that the court was wet, so he finally just picked up the mop and wiped down the floor himself. A couple of players were running so hard, they couldn’t stop and fell into the stands, where they took time to talk to the fans. One player was running so hard, he ran all the way up the stairs to the exit. After that, the ref gave him a technical, and all the fans booed. Baron Davis played to the crowd, dribbling through other players’ legs, and throwing alley-oops. When a rookie copied the same move, Baron instructed him not to mess around.
Even the refs are more relaxed. If they make a bad call and someone yells at them, they’ll turn to him and say things back. Jack Haley, a former Laker, Net, Spur and Bull, was there courtside one day. When a player made a great lay-up, the ref turned to Jack and said, "Hey, that [lay-up] looked like Jack Haley."
If you are hungry, there are two snack shops. Last summer the SPL joined up with X-Box, so there were video game stations set up where you could play street ball, baseball, football and more. The League is trying to make a similar arrangement for this year.
Now mark your calendars for July 8-23, pack up your autograph paper and pens, and head down to the Long Beach Pyramid, home of the Summer Pro League.