Summer League Diary
At NBA coach Mike Woodson’s annual gala, Mya and Tyronn Lue were celebrated and reality was escaped, if only for a few hours
Sports and entertainment are our go-to escapes. Most of us turn on the television to take it all in — to cheer on Serena Williams or the magical gymnasts who will represent us this summer at the Olympics. The lucky and/or devoted ones head to Las Vegas to check out the NBA’s summer league games in person — that’s the annual summer break gathering where fans can get a close-up view of (potentially) the next big figures in the league. An even luckier few are invited to VIP events such as the Las Vegas Invitational, where for two days, an eclectic assembly of celebrities and sports figures gather to party in support of Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson and the Nations of Coaches, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing coaches together “through guidance and knowledge.”
Sunday night is the party; today is the golf scramble.
On Sunday night, singer/songwriter Mya headlined the event — and for about 40 minutes shimmied through her biggest hits in a golden Tina Turner-inspired tassel dress. She belted out songs including her 2000 “Best of Me” remix which features rapper Jay Z, “Movin’ On,” and her 2001 Grammy-winning collaboration “Lady Marmalade,” a song she recorded with Lil’ Kim, Pink and Christina Aguilera.
And those in attendance included actor Anthony Anderson, 2016 NBA title-winning head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers, singer Jeffrey Osbourne, NBA father and son duo Gerald Henderson Sr. and Gerald Henderson Jr., comedian Chris Tucker, NBA greats such as Larry Johnson, John Starks, Eddie Johnson and Byron Scott, former baseball player David Justice, former boxer Winky Wright, singer Eddie Levert, rapper Coolio and actor Cedric The Entertainer.
It was the place to be on the Las Vegas strip Sunday night. The atmosphere was a much-needed relief from the cable television loops of news about black men being gunned down by police officers, and members of the Dallas police force being murdered by a sniper. For four hours, the constant reminder of carnage was far away; there was a fun music soundtrack filled with tracks by the likes of Salt-N-Pepa, Biz Markie and En Vogue while people sipped drinks from the open bar, snacked on passed hor d’oeuvres, snapped Instagram photos, sprang into action when “everybody get on the dance floor” line music was dropped and greeted one another in brotherhood.
This night, effectively, was in celebration — a happy huddle, if you will — of black men.
The same black men who make us forget and escape either by entertaining us on the big screens, the small screens or dominating their respective athletic fields. And as Mya twirled through a collection of her ’90s hits, the air was light and spirited. And it was needed.
Woodson at one point addressed the crowd and spoke lovingly about how he once coached the newly minted, championship-winning coach Lue, and how important it was that everyone in the room understand the importance of giving back to young men and women. The event is in its third year, and it’s the become the preeminent summer league entertainment affair — it’s a gala where people are in ball gowns, sundresses, fitted suits or Kangol hats. This year’s event took place at one of Las Vegas’ hottest spots — 1Oak, in the Mirage Hotel.
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris and professional golfer/designer Seema Sadekar co-hosted the event, and introduced the celebrities who were signed up for the tournament — as their names were called, each person danced Soul Train style to the center of the dance floor to applause while a snippet of a song played. That fellowship was needed. A reprieve was needed.