Portland fans buzzed with excitement shortly after noon Saturday when Anfernee Simons, a baby-faced 19-year-old guard, touched the ball for the first time as a Trail Blazer.
Simons, the team’s first-round pick, is exactly the kind of player who the fans come to Las Vegas to see.
Casper Ware Jr. is not one of those players.
A 27-year-old, 5-foot-10 guard from Cerritos, Ware’s played all over the world, sniffed the NBA in 2014 and has become a star on different continents.
The allure of one last stint in the NBA brought him out to the desert, an unpaid shot with the Trail Blazers to try to catch the right eye. For the first time since 2014, Ware was back in summer league.
But while Simons got his first touches, Ware sat on the Portland bench, his warmup shirt stuck to him like it would be for the entire game. His chance wouldn’t come on Saturday.
And Ware knows he’s running out of them.
“I’m only getting older,” he said. “This is probably the last go around I’ll give myself.”
There are gyms all across the world where Ware would never be glued to the bench – and in Los Angeles? It just would never happen.
He’s won titles in Los Angeles’ famous summer league – the Drew – just like his father, Casper Sr., did in the 1980s. He’s played against James Harden, Nick Young, John Wall and DeMar DeRozan in L.A. and didn’t look out of place.
“For me, it’s just playing,” Ware said. “I see those guys every day in the summer.”
From the Drew League courts in Los Angeles to the State Netball and Hockey Centre in Melbourne, Australia, Ware has established himself as a great player on the global stage, even winning a championship and a spot on the first team in Australia’s top league, the National Basketball League.
Ware, unlike a lot of the names on the back ends of the 30 summer league rosters, actually has NBA experience.
“It’s one of my best accomplishments, growing up, dreaming of playing in the NBA,” he said. “To play against those guys, the top players, it’s something I checked off my list.”
In 2014, he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and played in nine games, fulfilling his dream by playing 116 minutes. He scored 10 points in his final game that season, and the following October, he was dealt to Brooklyn, who waived him.
“Just to see him out there holding his own, looking like an NBA player, playing like an NBA player, I just felt great for him,” Casper Sr. said.
In 2016, Ware went to training camp with the Washington Wizards but didn’t make the team.
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“’The NBA ain’t for everybody,’” Casper Sr. told his son. “I said, ‘You’re one of the players that probably should be in the NBA that’s not. But don’t let that stop you.’
Even though an injury could impact a professional contract overseas, Ware is in the desert, receiving only a daily stipend for his time in an effort to re-introduce himself to NBA decision makers.
Sunday in Las Vegas, Ware got the chance that didn’t come in Portland’s first game. He drained a three, he grabbed a steal. He also groaned and smiled after an airball and shook his head after a turnover.
He’ll get more chances in the upcoming days as Portland wraps up their schedule in Las Vegas. He got one in 2014 as a rookie and it helped him land a job after he averaged 19.0 points and 5.2 assists for the 76ers summer league team.
But with the clock ticking, Ware’s ready for one last shot.
“He’s just too small,” one NBA general manager said.
It might not work. For most players, it doesn’t. And Ware will have plenty of options in Australia and elsewhere.
Sunday, Casper Sr. sat in the stands with the rest of his family, watching his son share the court with first-round picks and future stars – guys like lottery picks Trae Young and John Collins and Portland’s past two first rounders, Zack Collin and Simons.
Three points or 30 points, everyone was smiling.
“It’s good to see him back,” Casper Sr. said.