With the NBA Summer League wrapping up, an MVP will be named. It’s likely to be someone you’ve heard of. A top pick or a name you recognize from college basketball will take home the hardware. But for each of the 30 teams that participated, the true MVP is someone that’s never made a basket, grabbed a rebound or been featured in national television. In fact, they’ve never even touched the ball during the game.
That’s because the most valuable person for each team in Las Vegas was their equipment manager. A person who spent tireless hours packing up equipment, transporting it, washing it and much more.
For your Phoenix Suns, that person is Jay Gaspar. A lifelong Suns’ fan and Arizona native who joined the organization over 30 years ago — the 1987-88 season — as a ball boy during the Madhouse on McDowell days. From the Cotton Express and the Barkley Era to Seven Seconds or Less through #TheTimeline, Gaspar has seen it all and taken care of the uniforms and equipment of some of the biggest names in team history. It also means he’s worked more than his fair share of long stints at Summer League.
The work for Gaspar and his fellow equipment managers starts long before the team heads to Sin City. There is gear to get together and pack, uniforms to put together and much more all in a very short window of time.
“The process of getting jerseys made for Summer League is always a bit challenging,” Gaspar said. “There is only around a week between the draft and when we start Summer League Training Camp. There is always some time needed to figure out jersey numbers for the rookies. Summer League rosters are always last minute, so there does have to be a quick turnaround. Luckily I have an amazing seamstress that can get everything I need turned around quickly.”
This year the process was even more complicated as NBA apparel partner NIKE created full uniforms specifically for the Summer League.
“For the first time ever there was an actual Summer League game uniform,” Gaspar shared. “Each team has a home and road uniform. In years past, we have only used the reversible practice gear. With the growth of the Vegas Summer League to all 30 teams participating, and almost all of the games being aired on national TV, it was necessary.
“With adding additional uniforms, there is added work. I made each player 2 practice jerseys for the time they would be in summer league. We sometimes practice twice a day, and also have shootarounds, etc. By adding the game uniforms, there is a need to make many more jerseys. I have 2 jerseys of each player in both home white, and road purple. I always carry at least one backup jersey in case someone bleeds, or there is a jersey tear during a game. So if you are adding them up, that is a total of at least 6 jerseys for each player. Multiply that by the 15 roster players, that is a lot of jerseys.”
Just getting the uniforms ready is a massive undertaking but the upkeep of said uniforms during the potentially 12 day long affair is almost as difficult. While during the regular season an equipment manager has the luxuries of lockers, washing machines and more, in Vegas things are a little less Zack Morris and a little more Screech.
“When you have 30 NBA teams in the same city, and you are playing at a college facility, the most challenging task is laundry,” the long time Suns equipment manager explained. “It would be impossible for UNLV to accommodate all of the team’s needs. People from the outside may think that the NBA life is all glamour, but it is not. NBA equipment managers do things the old fashioned way during Summer League. We wash all of the uniforms and practice gear at good ol’ fashioned coin operated laundromats. Sometimes having to go twice a day in order to get things turned around in time. On any certain day you can stop by the laundromat and see 3-4 other equipment managers washing their teams gear at the same time. Another challenge is not having locker rooms for games, so players are dressed and ready to go at the hotel before busing to the arena.”
It’s not just uniforms that Gaspar and his fellow equipment gurus have to bring along the way. Unlike a typical road trip, since the team is staying in one place for an extended period there are many other things that are necessities.
“During the regular season you will likely never be on a 14 day road trip. More importantly, you will never be in one city for that long,” Gaspar shared. “You can have a 12 day, 6 city trip, but never one spot. For an Equipment Manager, that means we have to pack much differently. I do not fly to Las Vegas. I pack everything needed for the two weeks in a van and drive it to Las Vegas while the team flies. We also send our team bus and team driver up to Vegas in advance so we have transportation for the tournament. I also will pack the bottom of the bus with cases of water, Gatorade, and any other large items that I can’t fit in the van. In many ways, you have to pack as if it is a traveling training camp. We do not have the luxury of having NBA facilities to use, so I have to be prepared for anything.”
Jay Gaspar and his fellow equipment managers at Summer League have to take that Boy Scout mentality. That’s because, just like a night on the strip, anything can happen, and likely will happen, when you spend that long in Las Vegas. That readiness, the willingness to drop more dimes — or quarters — than a point guard at the laundromat and the ability to do it all at the highest level is what makes them the real MVPs.