Originally written on NBA 24/7 365  |  Last updated 11/19/14

My hometown of Bar Harbor, Maine is a tourist-driven community.  The place is crowded with vacationers from late May through the end of October, and business booms.  Most everything gets boarded up after that, though.  Many full-time residents of Bar Harbor, including myself, make a living catering to the so-called “summer people.”  Since I was old enough to walk I helped out at the motel that my grandfather bought like 30-some years ago.  My family recently let the business go, so this summer I spent my time serving Thai food to Indian people instead.  It was an… interesting experience, that’s for sure.  Anyway, the summer people… you’re happy to see them show up because it means the warm weather has arrived, but even though their departure marks the coming of winter, you’re always ready to see them get the f@ck out, too.  When they get the f@ck out, that means I can get the f@ck out!

Every November I make a five-or-so hour trip to Mendon, Massachusettes, where I spend the Holiday season feasting on my mom’s home cooking.  Although it’s not too far from Boston, there’s not a whole helluvalot to do.  That’s fine with me, though.  As a matter of fact, I like it that way.  It’s a goddamned good excuse to plant myself on the couch in the basement and absorb NBA basketball on a daily basis. 

I made my annual journey to Mass this morning… but, obviously, it’s totallty different this time around.  About an hour and a half after my arrival, the clock struck 7 PM.  Not a single NBA basketball game to be found.  No league pass music, no fantasy lineups to set, no NBA Game Time at 1 AM… no nothin’.  I went out to eat with my mom and her husband instead.  I wasn’t hungry, so I just ordered a piece of cheesecake, which was absolutely scrumptious.  It was good to see my family, and I’m sure any of my “normal” readers would consider cheesecake and socialization a far more exhilerating night than one spent stapled to a basement couch trying to watch three or four basketball games at the same time.  With all due respect to my mother, and cheesecake… it wasn’t, though. 

So… it’s 10 o’clock.  Everyone else in bed, but my body clock says this day doesn’t end for about another four or five hours.  What in the hell do I do now?  I’m in a completely unfamiliar predicament.  It’s November 15th, I’m in my basement, I’ve got my little bottle of red Gatorade and some knock-off Cap’n Crunch in the cupboard… but there’s no f@ckin’ basketball.  For the first time, this lockout has really hit home. 

Desperate for some semblence of NBA basketball, I resort to Youtube.  Thank god for Youtube!  I begin with a video of Larry Hughes showing off his Lamborghini, which apparently sparks memories of former Maverick/Raptor/Spur/Rocket/Hornet Pops Mensah-Bonsu… not really sure what the connection is there, but no matter, my problem was solved for the night: I would spend this Tuesday evening reminiscing about Pops Mensah-Bonsu–and other favorite fringe players–ballin’ in the NBA’s Vegas Summer League (which we were robbed of in 2011 due to the lockout).

My fascination with basketball was peaking around the summer of 2006.  I’d just come off my first season with access to NBAtv and NBA League Pass… and sh!t, I recall feeling like life had been completely redefined; like I’d found a secret key that unlocked this magical basketball universe where the ball never stopped bouncing.  I remember being a little sad when the regular season ended, and then when the Finals wrapped up, but nice weather and a bounty of pickup games that I could actually participate in dried those tears real quick.  Oh, and this realization: 

NBAtv has basketball in the summer, too?!

Kobe and LeBron may not have been there, but I ate that sh!t up regardless.  I’d play basketball until the Dallas Mavericks came on, watch that sh!t, then head back to the court where me and my brother would be the Rawle Marshall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu of our dusty, concrete domain.  That’s right, Rawle Marshall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu.  Those two made the Dallas Mavericks my favorite Summer League team back then.  Pops dunked every ball as if it was his last, and Rawle Marshall… I guess I just liked the way he scored (27 in one game!).  I recall likening some of his ball handling tactics to personal-favorite Jamal Crawford.  Exactly how on point that comparison was, who knows… I was still in high school… not really that smart.  Anyway, you can catch a glimpse to the dynamic duo in the following video.  You’ll also see exciting players like Jason Maxiell, Gerald Green, Shannon Brown (bet you forgot he was once a Cavalier who rocked braids!), and Sebastian Telfair ballin’ in relatively unstructured games.

 

The 2007 version featured Rudy Gay and Nate Robinson, among others…

 

Did you see that one-handed windmill by Pops?  Have you ever seen anything quite like that from anyone else?  The man is a complete freakazoid at 6’9, 235.  His lack of a well-rounded game has, for the most part, kept him out of the big boy league, but man, he used to wreck house in Vegas.  Come to think of it, he used to do some crazy sh!t in garbage time with the Raps, too.  I can honestly say that Pops Mensah-Bonsu is the only player who’s games I’ve ever tracked in hopes that his team would be put away very early on every single night.  A few years back I used to watch Toronto’s score like a hawk.  If they got down big, I switched over to watch Pops do his thing…

Despite his inability to do much other than jump really high, I’m surprised there’s not a spot on a team’s roster for Pops.  He plays really hard, and he’s obviously an extremely unique athlete.  He was crazy popular with Raptor fans because when he actually got the chance to contribute he typically pitched in, and did so in his typical exciting fashion.  In addition to being a freakazoid, he was a solid hustle guy off the bench.  I certainly feel that there’s many less-useful players who ride some team’s pine year after year.  As far as I can see Pops isn’t even playing pro ball at all right now; according to his wikipedia page he’s a free agent.  That’s a damn shame.

I’ve gone off track here, haven’t I?  What was talking about?  Oh yeah, the Vegas Summer League back in ’06 and ’07.  Let me just wrap this up by emphasizing how much fun it was watching those games.  Nate Robinson, Lou Williams, Rodney Carney… talented, explosive athletes were tearing that league apart night in and night out.  It was truly a blast.  The Knicks were probably my second favorite squad.  I don’t give a f@ck what anyone says, Ranaldo Balkman can ball (always wished George Karl would free the poor guy).  Hell, how ’bout some Greg Oden?  Ol’ dude had some of his best post-college moments.

I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly tune in for some of that action if it was live on my television right about now.  I was gonna say I’d settle for it, but I don’t even feel like I’d be settling.  Summer League was the sh!t in ’06/07.  Awesome memories!  NBA-less night #1 well spent.

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