The NBA Summer League began Sunday in Orlando, with 10 NBA teams welcoming their newest players to the big league. The Detroit Pistons faced off with the Brooklyn Nets in game one of the Orlando Summer League, a game which would be won on the shoulders of Detroit's sophomore big man, Andre Drummond. Thanks to our friends at SB Nation, yours truly was there with a press badge, taking in the action with a Nikon and an audio recorder.
Over the next week, I'll be in Orlando to catch all five of the Pistons' games as they welcome Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell to the world of Detroit basketball. I'll be taking pictures, asking questions and taking in the scene at the NBA's Orlando Summer League.
Orlando Summer League: Day One Diary
Day one was surreal. The Orlando Summer League is closed to the public, so only a couple hundred people -- media and team personnel only -- are squeezed into the Orlando Magic's practice facility. At first, the celebrity shock was a bit overwhelming, but it quickly became apparent that this is a very tight-knit group of pretty normal people. There was a lot of hand-shaking and fist-bumps, catch-up conversations and small talk. The doors are closed at this event with good reason: the people at OSL are there to do a job and the privacy of the event allows them to let their guard down in the process.
Still, that early shock took some time to get over. I sat down at the far end of the gym at the only open seat I could find. I sat a few seats down from a bald gentleman whose head was turned away from me. Moments later, a referee walked up to him with a question and I recognized the guy's voice immediately: Joey Crawford. Across the gym, there's Kevin Pritchard and Larry Bird and Nate McMillan. I moved to a new seat for a different view, and Michael Curry was sitting a few seats away. Shortly afterward, in the break room, Lawrence Frank sat down at my table to catch up with some friends, speaking loudly. "I was going to do two or three years of media, but when Jason got the call, I decided to jump back in."
To prepare for Detroit's game, I decided to practice a few things I had learned from NBA photographers online in action. I sat down next to Orlando's official photographer (one of two), who taught me a few more things, namely how not to get your gear crushed when a 300-pound center falls on you. One of his cameras had already been broken that day, and yet he didn't get a scratch during the regular season. "Summer League is insane, they play so much harder, everyone has something to prove here."
I heard Frank again behind me, not 10 feet away, talking to a few guys who were watching OKC and Indiana finish their game. I turned around to see Lawrence talking with Andre Drummond and Kim English -- this was the first I had seen either (or any Piston) at the event. I couldn't make out their conversation, but I wasn't trying. I lifted the camera and fired away.
Andre left the gym while the Pacers/Thunder game wound down, to return in the final minutes. The only seat available was about four feet away from mine, directly across the aisle. Andre took it. He was mouthing along with the music in his headphones, getting ready for game one, and it was clear that he wasn't to be disturbed. So without bugging him, I snapped a few quick pictures without drawing attention to myself.
The game itself was hard to take in with a camera in my hands. I was focused (no pun intended) on getting great shots to share, so minutes would go by and I wasn't sure who was winning. I spent a few minutes of every quarter camera-free just to get to know the new guys. KCP was quietly frustrated, you could tell that he wasn't feeling great about his first game. Siva was poised, capable, active on defense but quick to defer on offense (which in itself is a welcome kind of problem). I can see why Mitchell gets his knocks about motor -- he was there to do a job, he doesn't come off as deeply invested. Then the action starts and he works SO hard on both sides of the court. Instantly, his Piston DNA was evident, even if he looks disconnected between plays.
For the rest of the week, I might try to take a game off from the photos. I'll try to get a seat near half court to really take in a game and get to know each player a bit better. When I am shooting, I'm right under the hoop, just outside the lane, my foot just inches away from the baseline. This is the best seat in the house. You don't just see the action, you feel it. The ball, the rebound battles, the driving, the defense -- you feel it in the floor.
More to come, Pistons fans. I'll be back in Orlando Monday for game two against the Celtics. Look for me right under the hoop with a big camera and wide eyes. I'll keep the photos coming and I'll work for some post position on a few interviews.