There’s pretty good competition for biggest star of the Las Vegas Summer League, a title that isn’t exactly the most glamorous in sports, but isn’t exactly the least glamorous, either. Lonzo Ball has gotten plenty of headlines for a predictably weird number of reasons, Jayson Tatum looked fantastic until he was shut down with knee soreness, and Dennis Smith Jr.’s vertical is so good his missed dunks are going viral.
Those guys (plus a few more) are probably the leaders in terms of the national consciousness. But what about for the people actually in the building in Las Vegas? They have their own champion, and it’s a guy you probably haven’t heard of until now.
Ding Yanyuhang has spent his professional career in his native China, where he was named domestic MVP of the most recent Chinese Basketball Association season. (The international MVP? Jimmer!) Ding played for Dallas in the Orlando summer league, where the Mavs went unbeaten. Now he’s playing a role in Las Vgas, where Dallas has reached tonight’s semifinal unbeaten as well. The 23 year-old, 6’7″ wing isn’t exactly carrying the squad, averaging 6.6 points on 44% shooting, adding 2.8 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game
That’s certainly not nothing, but it’s pretty close when compared to Dennis Smith Jr. and his 16.6 points per game, or even Yogi Ferrell and his 13 per game (#YogiManiaSeason2). But what Ding does have is the raucous, incongrue passionate support of the crowd. When he checks in? The crowd goes wild. When he gets the ball? He gets encouraged to shoot. When possessions don’t go through Ding, they boo. He’s essentially a college senior walk-on, except he can play.
Why? Well, that’s not so important, and in the end so obvious as to be irrelevant: of course the fans love him. He has the hair. He has the fun game (launching threes indiscriminately, playing hard on defense, running the floor.) He has the unknown background. And, most of all, he has the name on his jersey. He’s Ding. What’s not to love?
So when he gets to the free throw line, he gets “M-V-P!” chants, because apparently fans read media guides/Wikipedia:
It became a ridiculous call-and-response anytime Ding was shown on the jumbotron:
Ding is competing for one of the NBA’s new two-way contracts, which would see him likely split time between the Mavericks and the G-League, but whether he’d take that deal over a return to stardom in China remains to be seen.
The Vegas Summer League tournament is down to the semifinals, and the Mavs are taking on Lonzo Ball and the Sideshowtime Lakers tonight at 8 PM Eastern in what could actually be an entertaining game. Moreover, the crowd is likely to continue worshiping Ding, an unlikely summer league hero.
It might only last one more game, but hey, beauty and brevity are often intertwined.