See Future NBA Stars This Month at Summer League in Sacramento

Everything to eat, see, and do in Sacramento when NBA Summer League tips off in California’s capital city next week.

Golden 1 Center with the beam alight
Photo by Francisco Chavira, courtesy of Visit Sacramento
Photo by Francisco Chavira, courtesy of Visit Sacramento

It’s only been a few weeks since the Denver Nuggets won the 2023 NBA championship, and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone might still be hoarse (and hungover). But the rest of the league has already turned its attention to the future of the NBA, with the annual NBA Draft and next week, the start of the NBA Summer League at the California Classic on July 3 and July 5 in Sacramento.

NBA Summer League is an annual showcase for young players, a place for just-drafted rookies to get their first taste of NBA-level competition and for some older players without NBA contracts to prove they belong. It’s the first time fans will see their future favorites take the court, a chance for young players to announce themselves, like Donovan Mitchell scoring a casual 37 in 2017 or Blake Griffin showing off powerful dunks and crafty passes in 2009. It’s also a time for overlooked players to shine, like Nate Robinson, who was so dominant that his Summer League jersey was retired in 2008.

The bulk of Summer League takes place in Las Vegas, but since 2018 the Sacramento Kings and the Golden 1 Center have been hosting the California Classic, an opening showcase for a select few teams, including three of the four California teams. The Golden State Warriors and the LA Lakers will be there, and of course, the Sacramento Kings will play in their home arena, too, with young players trying to light the beam for the first time.

This year the California Classic may present a particularly special opportunity—it could be fans’ first chance to watch a truly unique player, the best prospect since LeBron James, 7-foot-4 French rookie Victor Wembanyama, just drafted first overall by the San Antonio Spurs. Even better, for his potential first matchup, they’re playing the Charlotte Hornets, who held the number two pick and took Alabama wing, Brandon Miller.

Downtown Commons in Sacramento
Photo courtesy of Visit Sacramento

The local teams’ rosters look like a lot of fun too. The hometown Kings’ squad is headlined by the new second-round draft picks Colby Jones and Jalen Slawson. The Golden State Warriors are set to show off first-round rookie Brandin Podziemski from nearby Santa Clara University and second-round pick Trayce Jackson-Davis from Indiana. The LA Lakers will also be making an appearance, bringing first-round pick and another hyphenated Hoosier, Jalen Hood-Schifino. The roster also includes the second-round pick Max Lewis, a standout guard from Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Beyond the games themselves, the NBA and the Golden 1 Center are going all out to make this a fun, affordable, and accessible way to watch NBA talent take the court. Tickets start as low as $22, and you buy them by the day, so you have access to all three games each day. Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys will be DJing both days, and on July 5, country star Niko Moon will perform after the games. If you buy a two-day pass, you also get a discount on tickets to the Fourth on the Field Fourth of July festivities at Sutter Health Park, Sacramento’s minor league stadium.

The Delta King riverboat hotel
Photo by Micadew on Flickr

If you’re headed to Sacramento for the California Classic Summer League, it’s worth checking out all the other cool stuff to do in California’s capital city. In addition to all of the historic and governmental sights, there’s also a shockingly underrated food, drink, and coffee scene in Sacramento these days. Here are some of our tips:

Drive time:

One and a half to two and a half hours from San Francisco, depending on traffic.

More things to do in Sacramento:

If you’re into California history, Sacramento is the place for you. The California Capitol Museum is an easy win; in addition to the museum, there are guided tours of the capitol itself on the hour and a large and lovely park out front. The Stanford Mansion is a spectacular Victorian home that is a National Historic Landmark that served as the Governor’s office during the 1860s and has seen a ton of significant moments in California history. And the waterfront along the Sacramento River makes for a gorgeous stroll.

Where to stay in Sacramento:

Because of its political and agricultural importance, many hotels in Sacramento are primarily concentrated downtown. All the major chains have an outlet or three, so feel free to pick your favorite or the one where you have the most reward points. Some particularly lovely options include The Citizen, a downtown high-rise that blends historic architecture with trendy design and political artwork, and The Kimpton Sawyer, which is upscale and boutique-y and extremely convenient to the Golden 1 Center. If you want to get a little wacky, you can also stay on the Delta King, a 1927 paddlewheel riverboat that was remodeled into a hotel and moored along the Old Sacramento Waterfront.

Where to eat and drink in Sacramento:

The city may not have blown all the way up as a food destination, but it’s still a great eating city. As the nerve center of California’s Central Valley, the produce is absolutely unreal, and Sacramento’s diversity lends itself well to interesting regional cooking. Nixtaco is a special modern taqueria with incredible tortillas and salsas, Yue Huang is a Cantonese legend, and if you’re balling out like you just signed a shoe deal, Localis and The Kitchen are the city’s two Michelin-starred restaurants. Temple Coffee Roasters is a magnificent local option for your caffeine fix; Fieldwork and Alaro make great craft beer, and Nico Wine and Good News are two fun and funky natural wine bars.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.