By Mark Hansel

Las Vegas is showing it can draw fans from all over the country to watch National Basketball Association games. About one in 10 fans who come to watch NBA Summer League Games at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion is from out of town. That’s why, according to Gail Hunter, NBA marketing director, the association chose Las Vegas as the site to showcase its young players. It’s also why the NBA envisions Las Vegas as the permanent home for the Summer League.

“People love coming to Las Vegas, the city is phenomenal,” Hunter said. “Fans can come for one day or a long weekend.”

The NBA promotes the Summer League in NBA markets with participating teams through all-access ticket packages and hotel packages. This year, 3 percent of the sales were package deals that included access to all games. The NBA sent players from 21 teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, to participate in the Summer League this year.

Hunter said the league has gotten a boost because in recent years young players showcased here have become some of the NBA’s biggest stars. Fans from around the country hope their team just drafted the next Chris Paul, the New Orleans Hornets all-star point guard and Summer League alumnus who has taken the NBA by storm, and are coming here to get an early glimpse.

This year’s top prospects participating in the Summer League include the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo of the Memphis Grizzlies, drafted fifth and third. The players were swapped for each other in a multiplayer draft-night trade and played in adjacent venues Monday night. Love scored 18 points for the Timberwolves, while Mayo wowed the crowd with an unbelievable shot from beyond half court as time expired in the first quarter.

“People are just really excited about the Summer League now,” Hunter said. “There is a real energy, because it comes right off the draft and it’s really the first exposure to the NBA for a lot of these players.”

The NBA also brings a total of 950 people to the Summer League that stay at three official NBA Summer League hotels: Mandalay Bay, Wyndham Hotel and Platinum Hotel. That includes players, coaches, staff and scouts, who are checking out the players likely to make the NBA rosters this year. There are also a lot of scouts from foreign pro teams, looking to pick up the players who have some skills, but probably won’t play in the NBA this year.

For every O.J. Mayo looking to hone his skills for the NBA season, there are a handful of guys such as Malick Badiane looking to just prove they belong in the NBA.

Badiane of Senegal has one NBA attribute that can’t be taught – height — and another he might never acquire — agility. The 6-foot-10-inch center, a second-round draft pick in 2003 and Mayo’s Summer League teammate, picked up four fouls in 15 minutes of game time Monday. His most agile move was leaping a chair as he chased a ball out of bounds.

Although Badiane might struggle to make it in the NBA, he would probably be a good fit for some foreign professional teams.

The fact that people will fly across the country to check out a few Kevin Loves and a lot of Malick Badianes, Hunter says, demonstrates the value of Las Vegas as a venue for the league. About 3,000 people per day attend the games.

“We can play on two courts at the same time and the entertainment options and hotel access is tremendous,” Hunter said. “The main thing is that it’s very affordable ($20 for a ticket to all of a single day’s games) and the fans can get very close to the players.”

It’s hard to say what the actual economic effect for Las Vegas is, because the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority does not track the numbers. Attempts to get even a vague response from the LVCVA, or Las Vegas Events, which sponsors the event, were unsuccessful.

The real value may be in having a Las Vegas dateline attached to sports stories in at least 21 NBA cities. Las Vegas has been trying to attract a professional sports team for a long time and any connection between the city and professional sports can only help that effort.

With its ability to attract spectators from the local market and draw fans from all over the country, Las Vegas would seem a likely candidate to become a permanent home for an NBA team. If 300 fans a day from outside the market would come to town to watch a few potential NBA players compete in games that are essentially meaningless, one can’t help but wonder how many would come to see their teams in a game that counts.

Hunter, however, would not even discuss the possibility of Las Vegas as an NBA market.

“I’m just here to talk about the NBA Summer League,” she said.

Maybe that’s because NBA Commissioner David Stern has made it clear that he thinks gaming and basketball do not mix. Despite the city’s best efforts to prove it can separate the two, and the fact that the recent betting scandal involving NBA referee Tim Donaghy reportedly had no connection to Las Vegas, Stern remains unconvinced.

It seems the NBA doesn’t mind using Las Vegas as a host city for its Summer League, because there are probably only a few cities in the country that could attract enough fans to make it a success. When it comes to bringing a team here permanently, however, there is less interest from the NBA.

For now, Las Vegas will have to be content to get a glimpse of some future NBA stars competing for the first time as professionals and graciously accept the tourism dollars that their fans bring into the community.

Mark Hansel covers retail and real estate for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at 259-4069 or at