The Orlando Summer league takes place in an empty practice gym filled with coaches, scouts and reporters. THis makes a different kind of television product than the sort we are used to in the NBA. The camera is set up at a very low angle, because there’s no space to set up a wide shot. This makes understanding broader player movements more difficult but gives you a more acute sense of the bigness of the human beings who play in the NBA. You can hear everything on the court: shoes screeching, bodies crashing, players calling out defensive assignments. The only people who react after baskets are the coaches and teammates.
The experience of watching OSL is more clinical and less visceral. All of the feelings coming out of your television is generated by the players on the court instead of the braying and hand-slapping of a hyper-stimulated crowd of consumers. There’s less for the viewer to lean on as a narrative crutch it’s just a basketball game, not fuel for the circus of emotions in the arena. It's basketball for no audience, sketches of strategies playing out in front of people watching for information, not thrills. The NBA brought to you by Fredrick Weisman. The players make the juice, not the crowd.
In today’s game between Orlando and Detroit’s summer league teams, Victor Oladipo was juicing.
An empty gym and no stakes but he was still crushing, picking off passes (the steal at 26 seconds is a straight snatch), getting into it interpersonally with Casper Ware (Ware seemed to bait him into a terrible “Shut-em-up” iso-brick at the end of the first half), making some good looks. In the second half he gave everyone watching a skip of breath when he took a tumble after twisting his ankle. It wasn’t a big deal; he waved off a substitution and kept playing, even though there was nothing at stake and no one to impress.
Pierre Jackson also went down in this game, but it was a big deal. The D-League stand out, in line for a permanent spot in an NBA rotation this year, ruptured his Achilles tendon in the first half. It’s truly the worst thing that can happen in an exhibition season, so awful that even writing about it feels glib. Jackson was so good in the D-League last year that his non-promotion to the Pelicans and a healthy NBA payday was regarded as a minor injustice by D-League watchers.
If the empty gym made Olidipo’s in-game intensity more palpable, it also made Jackson’s injury worse to watch. The announcer pegged what happened immediately: a non-contact injury that took him out at the ankles, telltale Achilles tear. Without a crowd there, it was just Jackson, a bright future right ahead of him, stopped in his tracks and lying on the ground, unable to get himself off the court under his own strength. There was no crowd to “Take the air out of the building.” Everyone in the gym had seen a horrible basketball injury before, there wasn’t a mass disassociation or confusion. Not a shocking scene that scandalizes everyone in attendance, just a human being on the ground in pain on television.