Many happy returns for LVSL's charity table tennis tournament

Atlanta's Dennis Schroder and Brooklyn's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson get in on the action during the tournament. Courtesy of Adam Reisinger

LAS VEGAS -- New Orleans Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were huddled outside the entrance to Rain, a nightclub at the Palms Casino, when Warren LeGarie spotted the duo.

"Hey, no meetings," the agent and czar of Las Vegas Summer League said. "No team meetings. This is about fun."

"This" was the 2016 Table Tennis Challenge at Las Vegas Summer League to benefit the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, an event that has become a staple of the NBA's summer calendar and continues to grow every year.

"It's almost a spontaneous combustion of enthusiasm," LeGarie said. "We're looking for something to take you away from basketball. We've been going through a number of grind days, so this gives you a little reprieve to have fun with your friends, the basketball community."

The event wasn't always a table tennis tournament. One year the organizers hosted a golf tournament, but LeGarie said it was so hot in the Las Vegas sun that he "was afraid people were going to die." As it turned out, the fundraiser quickly grew from small beginnings into something much bigger.

"We first started off with a dinner, believe it or not," he said. "We were at Southern Wine & Spirits, they put on a dinner. We also did it the night LeBron [James] made 'The Decision.' We had an auction to raise money and then after that, it was starting to outgrow its location."

NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum has been impressed with the growth of the event over the years.

"To see it grow and to see it expand and see the basketball family come together for this wonderful cause and have a good time is a great thing," he said.

Between the table tennis tournament and the silent auction, the Hoops for St. Jude program regularly raises more than $50,000 each summer, which is just a part of the league's ongoing relationship with the hospital.

"I love it," Tatum said . "What [summer league organizer] Albert [Hall] and Warren have done here has really created a platform around summer league and this table tennis tournament that's fun but also for a good cause in terms of giving back to St. Jude. The NBA has a long-term relationship with St. Jude, not only the Grizzlies support St. Jude, but when our visiting teams come into town, they also make it a point to stop by St. Jude as well."

Tatum was one of the many NBA figures to take part in the 32-player table tennis tournament that is the highlight of the event. Each player pays a $100 entry fee that goes to charity, though Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, one of the lead organizers of the event, often pays for many of the entrants' spots, which goes a long way toward raising money for St. Jude's.

"That's what it's all about, to help the children out," Demps said. "St. Jude's is unbelievable. It's a great experience to come out and compete with your peers, but everything is for the kids and that's the best part about it."

The tournament might be one of the only events on the NBA calendar at which a team blogger go up against a league executive on one table, with an active player taking on an opposing GM one table over. Morey himself has been a frequent participant, even winning the event in 2014, and his presence helped legitimize the event in the eyes of the NBA community.

"Daryl, if he's doing something, it signals it's OK," LeGarie said. "He got a lot of the guys to show up, especially when he started playing."

Morey wasn't able to attend the event this year, but the league was well-represented in the field. Among the competitors were former All-Star and current Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Nick Van Exel, Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder, Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Denver Nuggets rookie Malik Beasley.

Hollis-Jefferson was bounced in the second round after taking on -- and barely beating -- an 11-year-old in the first round. Still he had fun in support of a good cause.

"It means a lot to be here and be a part of it and play a sport that I love to play -- I wouldn't say as much as basketball, but just being able to play it and have fun for a great cause says a lot," he said. "It's a fun event. The setup is awesome. The people here are amazing. What more could you ask for?"

And while Tatum played in his regular work clothes, Demps showed up and competed while wearing a custom USA Table Tennis jersey with his name on the back but insisted it wasn't a sign of the quality of his game.

"I was here last year and had a dingy T-shirt on, so my wife got this for me for this year," he said.