LAS VEGAS – The smell of cigarettes and cheap beer that cloaks the Vegas casinos has weakened by 7 a.m., though a handful of blackjack players are doing their part to keep their Sunday night from becoming a Monday morning.

The table minimums have dropped, the slots aren’t ringing and employees are standing around with nothing really to do.

A town that rarely sleeps has, for the most part, tucked itself in.

But inside the Palms Casino and Resort, nearly 20 students, wide-awake, are attacking Monday morning with enthusiastic discussion in the corner of a 24-hour café.

They’ve paid $2,500 to come to Vegas to try to hit the jackpot – making the right contacts, learning the right information and eventually, scoring a job in the NBA.

At the center of it, Larry Coon, a computer scientist from Rancho Santa Margarita, is surrounded by students during his “office hours.” Between bites of $12 eggs and sips of strong coffee, they digest the basketball news that’s dominating the NBA world: Tim Duncan, 19-season fixture, 15-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, has announced his retirement.

The sports talk shows will compare Duncan to Kobe Bryant and argue about Duncan’s place in league history. But, that’s not the primary interest of these students.

They ask the one kind of question they came all the way to Vegas to fully understand.

“What does this mean for (Duncan’s) salary cap hold?”

As his students reduced one of the best players ever to a monetary figure over breakfast, Coon munched fruit and filled in the gaps of the conversation.

In a city that derives so much pleasure from gluttony, this tiny corner of the Palms is slathered in sports geekdom, causing Coon to crack a big smile.

It is, after all, a world he helped create.

That Coon is the godfather of this movement defies visual expectations.

A middle-aged man who’s more likely to buy a pocket protector than come off a screen-and-roll and throw a pocket pass, one who says he has no desire to even pick up a basketball, has become one of the most knowledgeable people in the NBA.

His hair has grayed, his shoulders tend to slouch, and this day in Vegas, he looks like any one of the thousand convention-goers in town, corporate polo and khakis included.

If Coon looks more the part of office-dweller than NBA revolutionary, there’s a reason for it.

He spends his days in the information technology offices at UC Irvine, managing major projects and evangelizing business analytics.

But over the course of more than 15 years, he’s used his nights to become an indispensable part of the NBA fabric, operating the go-to reference used by teams, players, agents and reporters.

When it comes to understanding the rules that get your favorite players to and from your favorite teams, Coon is the person people turn to.

To read the full article, please click here: Meet the Yoda of the NBA’s salary cap