Vegas: Friendship, Poker & a Little Summer League Basketball Too

by Hayden Alfano

Las Vegas is full of superficialities: Silicon-infused women; men who pretend to be richer than they are in order to impress those women; casinos that act as though they want you to win. It’s a quality that is both my favorite thing about the city, and my least favorite thing about the city.

Love it or hate it, however, the overall fakeness of Vegas serves the purpose of illuminating, by contrast, the real and the genuine.

I bring this up because my most recent trip out there — ostensibly to check out the National Basketball Association’s Summer League — turned out to be about much more than just basketball. Sure, I got my first look up close at Kevin Love’s textbook fundamentals and O.J. Mayo’s picture-perfect three-point shot. But those things would have been around whether I made the trek from Washington, D.C., or not.

What was unique was the opportunity to hang out with a group of guys I feel like I’ve known for a long time, but had technically never met. We’re all members of the same fantasy basketball league. We exchange hundreds of emails and instant messages about basketball throughout the course of a season. Phone calls to discuss possible trades are not uncommon. But with a few exceptions, most of us hadn’t met in person.

As evidenced by the number of bachelor parties held there, Vegas is a mecca for male bonding. Add to the usual gambling, eating, and drinking — we actually stayed away from the R-rated activities Vegas is known for — a common passion for basketball, and a good time was, dare I say it, a slam dunk. We fell into conversation and merriment as easily as a group of old college buddies would.

There’s a stigma attached to those who have so-called “Internet friends.” The stereotype is the lonely dude lacking social skills who lives in his parents’ basement, and spends his nights drinking Red Bull and playing video games. While that may have once been accurate, the fact is that the world is so connected, and the Internet so ubiquitous, that we all know people we’ve never met in person, but talk to on the phone or exchange e-mail with daily.

I, for one, feel fortunate to live in a time when this sort of thing is possible, where people with common interests can form a virtual community that eventually translates in person.

By the time the week was over, people were already making tentative plans for next year. Those who couldn’t make it this time around but had followed the proceedings through scouting reports over the league’s e-mail list were envious, and expressed interest in coming along in the future.

When I go to Vegas, I typically return with a headache, a sunburn, and maybe a few extra bucks in my wallet if I play well at the poker tables. (Note to the IRS: I got killed on this trip). This time around, I left with a lot more than that.

(Editor's Note: For results of the Vegas Summer League, please go here.)

(Photo by http2007 of Le Plessis Robinson, France via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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