SBJ/June 20 - 26, 2005/Labor Agents

Lockout would shutter Vegas summer league

A year-old Las Vegas-based summer league for NBA veteran players and newly drafted rookies, which counts Reebok as its title sponsor, could be the first business casualty this summer if there is an NBA lockout July 1.

“The summer league, right now, it’s bordering on being gone,” Tom Shine, senior vice president of sports marketing for Reebok, said last week.

Reebok is signed to sponsor the Vegas Summer League, scheduled for July 6-15, for the second year in a row.

The rival Summer Pro League in Long Beach, Calif., would go on, its owner says.
After hosting just six NBA teams in its first year of operation last year, the league, which plays on the UNLV campus, has 16 NBA teams committed to play this summer — but only if the league agrees to a new collective-bargaining agreement with the National Basketball Players Association.

In the event of a lockout, a Global Hoops Summit with international and national teams will be played at UNLV July 16-21.

Meanwhile, John Younesi, owner of the oldest summer league, the Long Beach, Calif.-based Summer Pro League, said it will go forward with 20 to 25 player agent and free-agent teams on its planned July 8-23 schedule, even if there is a lockout. But Younesi said his league, marking its 36th year, has been hurt by erroneous rumors that it was going out of business.

Younesi said he lost NBA teams to the Las Vegas league after that league’s majority owner, Warren LeGarie, told NBA general managers this winter that the Summer Pro League was “not going forward.”

LeGarie, an SFX agent for basketball coaches, formerly sponsored an agent team in the Summer Pro League but now calls it “that Long Beach dinosaur.” LeGarie denied he told general managers that the Summer Pro League was not going forward, but admits he told people it was dying. “I said, ‘You want to be part of a dying league, then stay there.’ I told this to Mitch Kupchak,” LeGarie said.

Kupchak, the Los Angeles Lakers general manager, did not return phone calls, but the Lakers have committed to field a team in Long Beach, which is close to Los Angeles, if there is no lockout.

The Los Angeles Clippers, who previously entered a team in the Summer Pro League, are going to Vegas if the NBA and the NBPA can strike a deal before the deadline.

“Deciding to go to Las Vegas this summer was easy,” said Clippers spokesman Joe Safety. The Las Vegas league had more NBA teams participating — 16 — which makes for better competition, and players like to go to Las Vegas, which means more may participate, he said.

For decades, the Summer Pro League, and various summer leagues owned by NBA teams, provided an opportunity for NBA veterans to stay in shape, newly drafted NBA rookies to get a taste of the big time and hard-core basketball fans to satisfy their offseason cravings.

Younesi noted that Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady played their first professional games in his league, at the 4,500-seat Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach, where the league plays games.

Younesi said he never made a lot of money on the league, but he never lost any either. The business involves selling tickets, $12 for adults and $7 for kids; selling sponsorships; and charging agents and NBA teams an entry fee. Younesi would not comment on sponsorship or team entry prices, but sources said the entry fee is about $5,000 a team. The Summer Pro League’s sponsors this year include Coca-Cola, Lanier Copiers, Slam magazine, Dime magazine, 2K Sports, Advanced Electronics, Kinetics Athletic, Big Boy Gear and Los Angeles sports talk station 1540 AM, The Ticket.

The new Las Vegas league charges $20 for adult tickets and $10 for kids and charges NBA teams a $10,000 fee to enter a team in the league.

The Vegas Summer League has secured sponsorships with ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio, Gatorade, WebPro Productions, UNLV Tickets, 2K Sports, Extra Holidays and the New York New York hotel, as well as Reebok.

Reebok’s Shine said the shoe company’s sponsorship of the Vegas Summer League “helps us with a lot of the local retailers.”

Shine would not give the cost of the sponsorship but said it was less than $100,000.

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