LAS VEGAS — Even with the presence of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Floyd Mayweather, and 18,000 other fans on hand to watch the NBA debut of Zion Williamson, Mother Nature would not be upstaged.
What appeared to be a typical glittery, star-studded Friday night in Las Vegas turned into a surreal scene when an earthquake rocked the NBA Summer League and postponed the Knicks-Pelicans game with 7:53 left in the fourth quarter.
The floor at the Thomas & Mack Center began shaking violently, which prompted officials to stop the game and pull the players off the floor as the scoreboard and speakers above the floor swayed.
It was later reported that a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Ridgecrest, Calif., about 238 miles west of Las Vegas, and those reverberations could be felt all over the city.
The players were sent to the locker room while the game officials consulted with Las Vegas police to determine whether the game could continue. Meanwhile, another summer league game between the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs played in an adjacent Cox Pavilion continued. Cox is a smaller gym without a scoreboard hanging over center court.
As the NBA determined its next move, some fans began departing while others remained, waiting for an official announcement. After about 25 minutes, the Knicks-Pelicans game was postponed. The Pelicans, leading 80-74, were declared winners.
The Suns-Nuggets game that was scheduled to follow also was postponed.
The Spurs-Magic game was canceled about 45 minutes after Knicks-Pelicans was called off, with the Magic declared the winners.
The WNBA game between the Las Vegas Ace and Washington Mystics that was about 2 miles away at T-Mobile Arena was also interrupted by the quake and eventually postponed.
There have been NBA games canceled because of natural disasters, but this was believed to be the first game in recent memory postponed because of an earthquake occurring during the game. It conjured memories of the 1989 World Series when a 6.9 earthquake shook San Francisco’s Candlestick Park 30 minutes prior to Game 3 of the World Series between the Giants and A’s. The series was postponed for 10 days.
By the time Friday night’s quake occurred, James and Davis had left. Mayweather and his entourage left following the postponement.
The sellout crowd filled the arena to see Williamson, the 6-foot-8-inch, 285-pound forward who was drafted first overall last month by the Pelicans.
As the Knicks and Pelicans hit the floor for warm-ups, the crowd came to its feet as if were the Indiana state championship game.
The Las Vegas Summer League began Friday with perhaps the most anticipated summer debut since James hit the floor at UMass Boston 16 years ago.
Williamson, who spent a season at Duke University, is the most intriguing player to enter the league since James made his debut, and the hulking man collected four dunks in his nine minutes for New Orleans.
The Pelicans are going to be careful with him in Las Vegas and he was pulled after bumping knees in the second quarter.
Williamson used his brute strength to get to the basket, drawing two fouls against center Mitchell Robinson, who had the nerve to try to stand his ground and defend him. Robinson got bulled to the floor each time.
Williamson tried a couple of midrange jumpers that missed badly, and he also missed two free throws. But overall, Williamson lived up to his billing. He is physically already one of the strongest players in the NBA, but he is going to have to learn how to deal with longer players, such as Robinson, who blocked three of his shots.
The buzz, the celebrities in the audience, the anticipation was a sign that the NBA has become a 365-day-a-year sport. Once upon a time, summer league games were simply sparsely attended scrimmages to help rookies get acclimated.
The atmosphere on Friday night was electric, with the crowd cheering each time Williamson touched the ball and booing when an official called a foul on a Knicks player that made contact with Williamson as he was dribbling vigorously toward the basket.
Williamson finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and a steal, but his debut paled in comparison to the stunning earthquake.