LAS VEGAS — In this age of hyperbole, it would be apt to say the Thomas & Mack Center nearly exploded on Friday evening—even before considering an actual earthquake stopped live play. Five years ago, when Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker dueled across the concourse in the smaller Cox Pavilion, the venue buzzed with the energy of a sweaty AAU gym, when teams, spectators and college coaches all pack the Sunday night 17U championship bout. Zion Williamson’s NBA debut, a clash with the New York Knicks and his former college teammate R.J. Barrett, would have broken any barometer used to measure crowd hysteria in 2015.
Zion’s debut quickly morphed into a moment more than a meaningless July basketball game. Few sporting environments truly deserve to be described as palpable. Make no mistake this was one of them. The noise crescendoed and seemed inextinguishable, oddly reminiscent of the dosimeters in HBO’s recent portrayal of the Chernobyl disaster. Tracking unprecedented levels of radiation, the devices would click uncontrollably the deeper scientists and staffers waded towards the nuclear eruption.
An NBA dosimeter would have whirred to life the moment LeBron James took his seat courtside in Thomas & Mack for the Lakers-Bulls matchup that preceded Pelicans-Knicks. During one pause in that game’s sleepy fourth quarter, James turned around to scan the crowd. A young Lakers fan shrieked the moment their eyes locked and The King waved. With five minutes remaining in the opening act, Floyd Mayweather’s eight-person Money Team of absurdly large bodyguards strolled into the arena. Mayweather employs nearly as many security staffers for the number of dwindling hours that separate Zion’s Pelicans and Anthony Davis for good.
That impending trade is, of course, the backdrop for Friday’s radioactivity. We’ve known the particulars which will send Davis to Los Angeles since the terms were agreed upon on June 18. The trade will finally be r