Wembymania selling out Las Vegas, as Spurs rookie 'can't wait' for Summer League debut

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San Antonio Spurs' Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 draft pick, greets fans before an NBA basketball press conference, Saturday, June 24, 2023, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

LAS VEGAS – There are just some tickets that are hard to get in Las Vegas. Like Adele, for example. Or Garth Brooks. Or U2, which starts a residency there this fall.

And now, add Wemby to that list.

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Victor Wembanyama’s debut at NBA Summer League is Friday night — and it’s sold out. All 17,500 tickets that were available for Day 1 of the 11-day series of games on the campus of UNLV were gone by sometime Wednesday, largely because of the debut of the 7-foot-3 rookie who will be playing his first game in a San Antonio Spurs uniform.

“I can't wait. Can't wait,” Wembanyama said Thursday, after practice in Las Vegas with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich among those in the gym. “The practices lately have been really intense. I made a little pause in basketball with the draft and stuff, couldn't really practice. I'm getting back in shape and I can't wait. I'm having so much fun.”

The plan, as of now: He’ll play “at least one or two games” in Vegas, Wembanyama said. That means he’ll play Friday against Charlotte (and No. 2 pick Brandon Miller) and likely again Sunday against Portland (and No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson). He’s got appearances to make as well — Wembanyama is one of the headline attractions at the inaugural NBA Con event that starts Friday; he’ll be part of the Saturday unveiling of the new in-season tournament alongside Commissioner Adam Silver, and he’ll have an on-stage conversation with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a session called “Exploring the Evolution of Basketball.”

Welcome to the NBA, Wemby. People have been waiting.

“I just realize more and more how lucky I am to be in this situation,” Wembanyama said. “I'm just happy to be here. Enjoying the moment.”

Tickets aren’t just gone — this is only the fifth sellout of Summer League in Las Vegas, the NBA said — but they’re also soaring on the secondary resale markets. Vivid Seats, a resale ticket marketplace, said its data shows the average cost of a ticket for Friday was $106; that would top its Summer League record of $86 set on opening night in 2019, when Zion Williamson made his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Spurs summer coach Matt Nielsen hadn’t heard that Friday was sold out; he was told after San Antonio finished its two-game stay at the California Classic summer league in Sacramento — Wembanyama wasn't part of those games — before flying to Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

“It’s probably not the biggest surprise,” Nielsen said.

The growth of Summer League in Las Vegas is well-chronicled. The inaugural event in 2004 drew six teams playing a total of 13 games, and it seems as though the spectacle has grown almost annually since. It’s now an unofficial leaguewide meeting for anyone with ties to the NBA; most coaches show up, hundreds of players show up — many will be courtside for Wembanyama’s debut on Friday — and the final days of Summer League this year just happens to coincide with the WNBA All-Star weekend in Las Vegas.

“It’s grown tremendously and it’s a bit of basketball magic in a bottle,” said Kelly Flatow, the NBA’s executive vice president of global events. “We liken it to three key ingredients — incredible passion of the rookies, free agents that are all working to get a permanent spot on a team, and incredible energy of the fans. It seems so many fans that come back every year that make this a bit of a pilgrimage. And they visit from not just the U.S. but from all over the world.”

That seems especially true this year; NBA data shows that 98% of fans who purchased tickets through NBA Experiences for Summer League live outside of Nevada, and 13% live outside the U.S.

Wembanyama was asked what advice Popovich is giving him.

“Being myself,” Wembanyama said. “No one can worry about me not being myself. Coming into a new environment it's important not to lose that sense of just being myself, having fun and experiencing it. This is the time to experience stuff on the court — because when the season starts, it's about winning.”

This is the second time Wembanyama has arrived to play to great fanfare in Las Vegas. His French team had a pair of exhibitions last fall against the G League Ignite — a team that featured Henderson. The success of those games led to the Ignite booking another series for this fall against the Perth Wildcats.


All 30 NBA teams are represented, and each will play four games before a four-team playoff bracket is set. The 26 teams that don’t make the playoffs will play a fifth game on July 15 or 16 before leaving Las Vegas; the four playoff teams will play a single-elimination tournament with semifinals on July 16 and culminating with a championship game on July 17.


As has been the case many times in the past, Summer League provides the NBA with a chance to experiment with new rules before they get fully adopted. This year, coaches will get a second challenge if their first one is successful, and an in-game flopping penalty -- one free throw and possession for the other team if a flop is called — will also be tried out.


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