Late in the Suns' 71--53 Summer League win over the Magic on July 9, Phoenix forward Jack Cooley stepped to the foul line. Though the shots would give him just 10 points for the evening, a thunderous "M-V-P" chant rang throughout the lower bowl of the Thomas & Mack Center.
Tongue-in-cheek chants aside, Cooley is objectively a legend of the summer. His stint with the Suns marked the sixth straight year he has played in the Las Vegas Summer League, and the Notre Dame product's 32 career appearances are tied for the most ever.
After Cooley, a 6'10", 274-pound rebounding machine, went undrafted in 2013, his strong Summer League performance earned him a lucrative contract in Turkey. He's since played in Spain and Germany, as well as in the G League. He made seven appearances for the Kings last year on a two-way contract, but he's now without a deal. Having graduated with a finance degree, why is the 27-year-old still chasing the NBA dream?
People always ask me why I keep doing this. And I go, "If you had a chance to increase the percentage that you get your dream job, and all you have to do is take a paid vacation to Las Vegas, stay in a five-star hotel and play the game you love, you're telling me you wouldn't do that?"
The economics get pretty nutty. With the Suns we had a team dinner at Hibachi Grill. I love Hibachi Grill. That's another, like, $100 meal right there that is just tacked on. When I reached the Summer League championship game with the Bulls in 2016, they paid for our entire meal at STK. I ordered a steak off the menu that cost $200. It's nothing to scoff at for two weeks of work. And you get all the exclusive practice gear with your name on it. I've played for the Grizzlies, Rockets, Cavaliers, Jazz, Bulls, Kings and Suns. My basement looks like a warehouse now. And you get to be on ESPN.
The per diem is a lot too. With the Suns we get about $260 every two days. It averages out to about $2,500-$3,000, depending on minicamps.
I only do Summer League if there is an actual opportunity with the team I'm playing for. The Suns have a very, very good roster for a guy like me—someone who's willing to make other guys' lives easier. So I played this year to capitalize on that opportunity. I'm unemployed right now. I'm trying to work my way into getting a job. I'm hoping that comes from this, that it all comes full circle.
The MVP chants are pretty sick. They're pretty cool. It's extremely patronizing—extremely patronizing—but I can't complain. It draws a lot of attention. It builds hype, which a guy in my situation needs. So, it is what it is. If I were to say anything to the contrary, people would hate me. So, I kinda get boxed into a corner—I have to embrace it. It's O.K., though; I had a dunk in a practice, and my teammates were all like, Oh, all right! And I was like, No, y'all can't do this too. Don't do that, man.
But it's funny. I embrace it. It's positive. People can just be super negative; there are those people on Twitter who are super negative but have no reason to be. I'd much rather have people be like, "Hey, man, I was chanting 'MVP' for you last night!" As opposed to, "Hey, man, even I can do what you do on the basketball court." It's better than that. So I'll take it.
I heard there were kids chanting my name in the stands one game, saying that I'm a Summer League legend. God, that's so funny. I figure that after five years, this being my sixth, I'm basically the Vegas NBA player. I'm like their adopted son. I should get a street named after me at UNLV. I think it's only fair at this point. Maybe a sidewalk?