The 15th NBA Summer League crowned the Memphis Grizzlies champions Monday night at the Thomas and Mack Center. Fans from Nashville-to-Memphis, from Graceland-to-Beale Street can rejoice. Or, at the very least, have hope.
It’s the summer league, but it’s a title, and No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant didn’t even play.
“It’s a huge start, from guys that are going to be in Grizzlies uniforms, or (G League) Hustle uniforms that played, to guys that were on the sidelines … we want to build something special in Memphis, and we’re not gonna wait ‘til October,” said Taylor Jenkins, the only NBA head coach to coach a summer league team. “We did it now, and the foundation we laid is super important to me. To watch the growth of the young guys and even some of the vet guys to see what we’re gonna be about, hopefully that sinks in and they take ownership of that and we can be able to hit the ground running come Oct. 1.”
Memphis, a 30-1 shot to win the event, controlled the tempo the entire game and built a 17-point lead before holding off the late-charging Minnesota Timberwolves, 95-92.
And it wasn’t only Grizzlies fans who were ecstatic for their win, but bettors celebrated too.
Paul Schwarzenberger, a former professional basketball player in Germany is enjoying his first summer off in quite some time after retiring and scheduled his vacation to Las Vegas around the summer league. His intention was to see Morant and Zion Williamson play. He arrived the second day of the event, and by then Williamson was shut down after a knee-to-knee contact sidelined him for the remainder of the summer league. So, he bought tickets for the semifinals and championship night, and wagered on all three games.
“You are more into the game if you put money, even if it is not a lot,” said Schwarzenberger, who went 3-0 at the window with his wagers. “You’re cheering more for the team and feeling a little more part of it.”
Underdogs got the best of the favorites during the 83-game event, going 43-38. One game was canceled due to the earthquake and surprisingly, only one game was a pick’em. Totals were 41-40-1 with the over eking out the extra win. This year the league included two international teams, as both Team China and Team Croatia each went 3-2 against the spread.
Jeff Sherman, VP of Risk Management at the Westgate’s SuperBook, said his property took in more than three times what was wagered during last year’s event. Adding first quarter, first half and second half wagering on every game helped drive up the handle, he said.
“It’s definitely picking up every year,” Sherman said. “The interest is there. It’s at the perfect time of the year and I think it’s going to grow each year.”
Sherman said the championship was one of the more heavily played games of the event, with much more interest on Minnesota in the championship game and the total getting a lot of two-way action.
Memphis opened +2 and closed +4 before winning outright. The Grizzlies were +170 on the money line, while the total opened and closed at 172.5.
Summer league co-founder Albert Hall said he doesn’t believe betting on the games helps spike attendance, it simply adds some intrigue for those attending and having action during the game. He noted how the popularity of the non-gaming “NBA Pick‘Em Summer League” grew during the event.
The free-to-play live predictive gaming experience, fans can predict seven different outcomes for each summer league game while competing against NBA fans around the world and in the crowd for exclusive MGM prizes. With a mobile gaming lounge available to help guide participants and in-arena calls to action during each game, NBA Pick‘Em is a fully immersive second screen experience for basketball fans.
That said, Hall added he knows several fans who come to the games with wagers in hand.
“They seem to enjoy the games just a little bit more,” Hall said. “I talked to a couple of guys (this year), who last year seemed to have done really well on it. I know these guys play, from what I was told, pretty big numbers. The handle will continue to go up, the hardest part is just knowing who’s gonna play.
“Now obviously you want to bet responsibly, but if it adds some excitement and some intrigue — I think the NBA has been very open about their stance on it, and their transparency — we embrace it.”
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