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Return of NBA Summer League victory in itself for organizers

This year’s NBA Summer League, at least in Warren LeGarie’s mind, won’t be defined in the same way as previous versions.

Success for this year’s Summer League was simply having a Summer League.

That crowds showed up at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion was a bonus.

“That was goal No. 1: Make sure we could get the event,” said LeGarie, event executive director and co-founder. “There was a lot of doubt that the whole thing made sense to do. We were always worried about people’s safety first and foremost, but the NBA thought that it could work, and we did all the necessary protocols and followed all the guidelines so that we kept this as safe as we possibly could.”

The Summer League closed Tuesday night with the Sacramento Kings defeating the Boston Celtics 100-67 for the championship before an announced crowd of 6,039 at the Thomas & Mack.

A total of 86,161 fans showed up for the 10-day run, an average of 8,616.

In 2019, the last Summer League before the COVID-19 shutdown, a record average crowd of 12,199 showed up. The anticipation of seeing New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson helped account for sellouts on the first two days.

LeGarie said this year felt more like an earlier time when organizers “were trying to build momentum” for the Summer League.

“I think part of it is people have a right to be concerned,” LeGarie said. “Is this a safe environment? Is it the right thing to do? And they made it available on TV, which sometimes people have gotten used to doing that. But the crowds were steady, and they were certainly involved.”

As LeGarie pointed out, Cox Pavilion had to be closed three times over the past 10 days because the arena couldn’t admit more fans. The last time that happened, he said, was in 2010 when John Wall and Jeremy Lin were summer sensations.

LeGarie is hopeful next year will be more of a return to normal and not just a return. The NBA plans to play its usual October-June schedule, putting the Summer League in line to potentially be back in its regular slot in July.

And maybe the COVID protocols that were in place this time — masks were required inside the arenas — will be a thing of the past.

LeGarie also wants to bring more fun back to the event, knowing organizers were limited in what entertainment options they could provide this year.

“We still have to adjust to the environment around us, but we still want to have fun events here,” he said. “We want to be more inclusive. We hope to at one point bring some music here, some artists, to make this a real festival.”

LeGarie said other changes will be discussed. One consideration is ending Summer League on a Saturday.

“Saturdays are when interest and attendance peak,” he said. “We know that if we start on a Wednesday, it won’t affect attendance because people always want to be first. They always want to be part of this. By having two strong weekend days, a Friday and a Saturday, I think that gives the fans a chance to plan their schedules. If we’re going to make changes, that would probably be one of the ones we would look to do.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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