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NBA tournament

Mark J. Terrill / AP

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) shoots as Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic defends during the second half of an NBA basketball In-Season Tournament quarterfinal game Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. The Laker defeated the Suns to advance to the tournament semifinals in Las Vegas.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has for a long time talked about having a tournament in the middle of basketball season. It came to fruition this year with the first installment of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament, and the semifinals and championship games begin today at T-Mobile Arena.

The first-ever NBA Cup will be awarded Saturday to culminate what has been deemed an overall success in the eyes of the league.

“I think it’s incredible excitement, both excitement for what has been built, and the efforts that have gone in to get to this point, but probably more excitement for what can come,” said Joey Graziano, the NBA’s head of Global Event Strategy and Development. “There’s obviously a lot we’re going to learn from this first year. Traditions and history take time.”

The tournament marks another major event in Las Vegas that the NBA has on its yearly calendar. The NBA Summer League has called Southern Nevada home on UNLV’s campus since 2004. Now, the NBA’s latest integration could have a permanent home on the Strip.

Graziano spoke more with the Sun about the in-season tournament, what to expect when the games are played, and the league’s possible expansion to Las Vegas and other topics.

It’s an exciting time for the league and the city to get meaningful NBA games in Las Vegas. What went into the decision to bring the semis and the championship here?

I n terms of the excitement, to me, there’s nothing more exciting in all of professional sports than a Game 7. The energy, the passion, the intensity, when teams and players intimately know each other, and there’s the ultimate stakes on the line. And what the NCAA Tournament has done is given us guaranteed Game 7s. So as a fan of basketball, there’s really nothing better to be able to watch. I can’t wait to get to Las Vegas, and be able to now have the ultimate prize that much closer with this new championship.

The other part that’s even more exciting is you reference it during regular-season games. I mean, it’s just so much more than that. And part of it is the legacy piece. In a league as established as the NBA with more than 75 years of history, when do you ever get to be able to do something first, to win the first ever? It’s about cementing legacies.

On the Las Vegas piece. i t’s threefold for us. The first is Las Vegas is home between the NBA Summer League and its 15 years of history. In Las Vegas, we’ve got the world-champion WNBA Aces, USA Basketball has used Las Vegas as its training camp to kick off its runs toward the Olympics and World Cup. That part’s really strong about the city.

The second piece of it is, it’s truly a global destination. We’re going to expect fans from more than 45 states and 25 countries to travel from around the world to come to Las Vegas. And this is a global destination that our fans are hungry to be able to attend. And at the NBA, we are truly a global operation, with games in 15 countries and territories in more than 60 languages. Our fans are incredibly international. And so this is a city that makes sense for that global fan base to be able to put on the calendar as one in which they’re excited to go to.

And then the third piece is, certainly, the strength of the support that exists right now for hosting major events. And I give a lot of credit to Steve Hill and Brian Yost and the team over at (the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority). They’re incredible partners in bringing together the type of resources necessary to put forward an event of this size and scale. And so the combination of the three has made Vegas an incredible destination for us in the league.

Ten or 15 years ago, professional sports in Las Vegas wasn’t considered and the NBA was an afterthought outside of the All-Star Game in 2007. Now, looking at all that success, w What can we expect from the NBA as far as committing to the presentation of the tournament?

Our commitment to start has been that we wanted our fans to immediately recognize that, and you saw that from the courts and the uniforms and our network partners and how we presented the games across broadcasts. That was the start of how we wanted to be able to ensure that our fans understood that these were games with higher consequence, with more competitive juice on the line. As we transition toward the quarterfinals, and then the semifinals and finals in Las Vegas in particular, we’re going to set that up in a big way.

We’re going to have a full activation of Toshiba Plaza, where we’re able to extend the arena into the plaza. Both of our network partners will have their broadcast studios out in the plaza. We will have music, live musical performances, and will have a number of competitions making sure that we feel like we have a true home that extends beyond the arena. It’s a full takeover of the plaza to ensure that we are giving our fans these multiple touchpoints.

We’ll also present the game in a different way from a unique build-out of T-Mobile Arena, but also in how we’re going to present each of those two games so that we continue to take what we’ve done to start and really elevate it. And so you’ll see it come across in all three of those different verticals.

All of that sounds very interesting, especially when you say extending the arena to the plaza. How will that unfold?

It’s our desire to be able to give fans more opportunities, deeper opportunities, and to be able to allow them to have the opportunity to engage as a player. You’ll see these basketball competitions in which we want our fans to feel like they can connect on all of these different levels. One of the exciting parts of the NBA is, we feel authentic in so many different verticals. And you’ve got to meet your fans where they are. So we try to give our fans multiple opportunities to be able to get through the game.

Whenever we talk about Las Vegas and the NBA, the topic of expansion comes up. This isn’t to ask if this is another steppingstone into what fans hope for down the road, but is this a good barometer to see the true impact of the NBA in Las Vegas and w What could happen if the NBA chooses to expand here?

Yeah, I look at it as maybe another stage game, another barometer, not that any one is more important than the last because I think Vegas, as a market, has certainly proved itself across a number of other sports. But more importantly, with the NBA, and the growth of the NBA Summer League with more than 150,000 attendees, that’s one of our largest events. What we built is truly the heartbeat of the NBA in the summer. This is another opportunity for us to show our commitment to each other, particularly for us to continue to learn how to hype up our local fans.

One of the things that you’ve seen is we’ve kept our ticket pricing affordable, because we want our local fans to be able to access the tournament. (It’s) really important to us that we’re giving fans across Summerlin and Henderson, and then the network of fans that you’re going to need and that have supported us. We wanted to make sure they’re gonna have opportunities to be able to engage in this event, and to be able to see the tournament live.

I’m curious what the overall reaction has been between players and coaches on how the tournament has gone, and especially the reaction from your division and the rest of the league.

We feel really good about what we’ve heard from our players … how they felt like playoff games. All of that is really exciting. But from where I sit, what is most exciting is that we have a tradition and a history of innovation, which means that where the NBA Tournament starts right now is not going to be where it ends up. And you’ve got commitment from the league, and even from our leadership, that we’re going to continue to progress and make this better and better each year. But we couldn’t be more excited about where we are right now as a starting point.

Do you foresee more games added to the schedule instead of four each through group play? It seemed like a great starting point, but do you see expanding that format at some point?

We’ve got a great basketball strategy and analytics team led by Evan Wasch here at the league, (and) we’re open to all sorts of iteration. As leagues around the world continue to grow, that gives us an opportunity to add new competitive formats.

The great part about this opportunity in building something new is that we (can) grow as our fans and as our players are instructing us. And that’s where I would say for our side, we don’t know where all of this is going to net out, but we’re committed to continuing to push to build and to grow and to make this one of the most exciting traditions in all forms.

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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