Global play: The NBA Summer League has international influence

Chinese Fanbo Zeng, who plays for the Pacers in the Summer League after a season with G League Ignite, is one of the many international participants.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tim Cone is the Phil Jackson of basketball coaches in the Philippines. It’s the Gregg Popovitch. He’s the Bill Belichick.

Technically, these comparisons sell Cone a little short. Jackson, Popovich and Belichick — a trio who are among the greatest coaches of decades in professional sports — have combined for 22 championships as head coaches in their leagues. The cone has 24.

Yet in recent weeks, Cone was an assistant coach for the first time in his life. He was on the Miami Heat staff during the NBA Summer League, looking for new ideas, new things to teach, different ways to think about the game.

“It’s just been mind-blowing to me,” Cone said. “Honestly, the only reason I’m here is to bring things back, to introduce them to our league. Because you know, everything good is copied. So I’m going to bring things back, do things over there that are new, other coaches will pick up and hopefully that will lift us all up in our league and raise the level of basketball.

Cone’s presence was just part of this year’s international feel in the Summer League, which almost always has some sort of element of reminders that the game is global. China and Croatia have sent their national teams to the Summer League for the past few years, and this summer there were no less than 86 international players on the rosters in Las Vegas, meaning roughly one player in five of the league was born outside the United States.

And the world is watching: For example, when China’s Fanbo Zeng got his first Summer League field goal for the Indiana Pacers, it became national news in his country.

“He’s got good game sense,” Pacers assistant coach Ronald Nored said.

Some of the foreign-born players in Las Vegas will be on NBA rosters this season. Others will end up in the G League, and many will play overseas.

Cone’s future was in no doubt as he returns to the Philippines on Thursday to resume his season. He coaches Barangay Ginebra in the Philippines Basketball Association, still the most successful team in the league. And that experience will make his star shine a little brighter, especially considering the people he spent time with in Las Vegas.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is a Filipino-American. Basketball is the national sport in the Philippines, and the Heat are always big news there because of Spoelstra – who has visited his mother’s homeland in the past to much fanfare and will be back next year as part of of USA Basketball’s coaching staff for the basketball world. Cup if the Americans qualify as expected.

Cone, like Spoelstra, hails from Oregon. They have known each other for years. The seeds for Cone joining the Heat’s summer staff were planted a few years ago when a player from the Philippines came to Las Vegas to work with another NBA team.

“I was on the phone with Spo and he was like, ‘Why aren’t you here doing this with us?'” Cone said. “It was like three years ago, then the pandemic happened. Last year we were in the playoffs in my own league at home, so I couldn’t come. This year, we spoke again, and the subject was broached. And here I am. And I mean, it’s just been an amazing, amazing experience.

Spoelstra mentions Cone’s 24 championships and calls him “an absolute legend”.

“Tim, obviously, has such experience as a head coach,” Spoelstra said. “He was a great resource. Tim has great emotional intelligence. He is extremely humble. He is here for a great experience. From the head coach’s perspective, he’s a great guy to bounce ideas off of. It was really good for both parties.

And Cone’s presence in Las Vegas was just another reminder that gambling is more global than ever.

“There’s no doubt about it now,” Spoelstra said. “There are players from all regions.”

The coaches too.

About Kimberly Alley

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