How even LeBron James couldn't get into a packed gym to watch LaVar Ball coach
The best basketball player in the world showed up too late to the biggest game in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- An unprecedented mega-event.
A new level of insanity was reached on the summer recruiting circuit when Big Baller Brand, featuring LaMelo Ball and coached by the loquacious LaVar Ball, went up against SC Supreme, led by Zion Williamson, the beastly YouTube dunk superstar who is the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2018.
It was much more than just a game in the Adidas Summer Championships. It was AAU-level basketball at its wildest, its most anticipated.
While NBA players such as Lonzo Ball, Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray and Thon Maker sat courtside in reserved seats, one superstar who planned to be in attendance never made it in: LeBron James.
Yes, the LaMelo-Zion showdown was so big it lured the most important athlete in the Nike family to an Adidas event -- and even he couldn't get in.
James showed up shortly before the game was supposed to start at 9 p.m, but by that point approximately 1,500 people were being turned away at the door, with hundreds more already inside but unable to get anywhere near the court. It was a mob scene, and a dozen police officers were on hand to calm the ruckus.
"I spoke to him, we shut him down," Adidas marketing consultant Dan Cutler told CBS Sports. "Just safety of him coming and going. He was 13 deep. But, him sitting there would have been fine, it's just getting in and out."
Will James try again to catch the two biggest draws currently on the circuit? That remains to be determined. The invite is out for him to come back at any point Thursday, Friday or into the weekend; Ball and Williamson will play other opponents multiple times at Adidas' summer centerpiece tournament.
The coach of the Big Baller Brand squad doesn't care if James shows up or not.
"That doesn't mean nothing to me," LaVar Ball said. "He's not the biggest player to me. The biggest player to me are my boys. I don't care about no LeBron. [Let] LeBron do his thing, I just worry about my boys. I don't worry about all that other stuff."
Speaking of James, a number of veteran coaches told CBS Sports that the only event on the recruiting trail they could recall that matched the buzz and scene of Wednesday night was when James played on the circuit. Back then, he was billed as perhaps the greatest high school player in decades, if not ever, and so the draw was in his talent but also the unknown. Conversely, the Ball family is bringing in huge crowds and massive Facebook Live numbers exactly because people know what they are getting.
Adidas officials estimate 4,000 people were surrounding court No. 5, a court set up to seat a little over 1,500 people. At the busiest point in the night, Adidas estimated more than 5,000 people were in the 483,000-square foot facility.
"The corners were 500 deep, that's where it got insane," Cutler said.
Cutler claimed it was the biggest night, by far, in his 10 years of working in the business.
An hour before tip, it was basically impossible to have a view of the court. Here's a taste of what Williamson was doing pregame. This might be have been his third-best dunk.
Zion Williamson putting on a show in pregame. pic.twitter.com/lOhVFOll83— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) July 27, 2017
LaVar Ball entered the Cashman Center to a frenzy of cameras. Given the surreal nature of his entrance, one couldn't help but wonder if he would be brainstorming about holding his own summer events, be they NCAA-sanctioned or not, come next year. LaMelo still has one more year of spring and summer basketball, after all.
"I just worry about these kids right here, man, that's the fun thing," Ball said. "I'm not trying to promote all these venues and say, 'Hey, we're going to have the best game right here.' Nah, just come. Let my team entertain. What they do see is the guys going out there as hard as they can. They see me screaming at them, but they're going hard."
But if we're being completely honest, although the big draw and frenzy was because of the Balls, there were throngs of wide-eyed teenagers staking out views for Williamson nearly two hours before the game started.
"You've got two of the biggest players in the game," LaVar Ball told CBS Sports. "A skill player [LaMelo] and a power player [Williamson]. ... They're going to have to get a bigger venue. When the Big Baller Brand come to town, you better get something big."
The scene was so unruly that for a moment there was brief deliberation about cancelling the game because of worry about crowd size and fire-code violations. But of course the show had to be put on, and SC Supreme won 104-92. Williamson had 31 points and eight rebounds -- including, finally, his first dunk of the game in the final minute of play -- while Ball finished with 36 points, nine boards and five assists.
CBS Sports walked with LaVar Ball as he made his way out of the Cashman Center and to the team's rental van. He thanked a cluster of fans who made their way to the back exit and wanted to take videos of him, just to see the loudest man in basketball say a few words.
"I'm the baddest dude on two feet, and I'm driving a van -- that's how I do," Ball said.
The Cashman Center was finally quiet. LaVar dangled the keys, unlocked the door, sure to return with another story to tell and more hype to sell.
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