There is something different about a live draft, whether it’s fantasy football or the NBA Draft at Barclays. The very first NBA 2K League draft was no exception.
When Adam Silver stepped to the podium at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, he may or may not have known that Adrian Wojnarowski had dropped a “Woj Bomb” as to the identity of the #1 overall pick whose hand the commissioner was about to shake. He may or may not have known exactly why Artreyo Boyd, or “DatBoyDimez,” was deserving of the first overall pick.
But he knew, as he had communicated to the assembled media and spectators at a press conference preceding the draft, that he was taking a big step in committing the NBA to their esports venture.
And what a step it was. Silver, 2K League director Brendan Donohue, and Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick all made more than appearances at the event, co-hosting a press conference before the draft. Before Silver announced the first pick, Donohue announced the remaining 101, and Zelnick made further appearances.
Silver said all the right things at a press conference that unsurprisingly focused its attention mainly on him. He stressed the importance of gender diversity in future drafts, acknowledging that he and his fellow panelists would have liked to have seen more gender diversity and have created a task force to address it. He declared his desire to have foreign franchises competing, and confirmed that the NBA 2K League is projected to have all 30 NBA teams by its third year. And he cited NBA Jam and Asteroids as key factors in his gaming history that led up to the momentous present day.
The densely packed crowd was hardly shocked to see Dimez go first to MavsGG, and oFab, another point guard, go second to CLTX Crossover Gaming. The first round flew fast and furious. OS-interviewed players did well: Mootyy, 4th overall, and Worthingcolt_, 31st, went to Shaq and Kings Guard Gaming; Detoxys went 24th overall to Raptors Uprising GC.
Ten point guards (of 21 available) heard their names come off the board in the 17-pick first round. The first international player to go, who plays under the name “Authentic African,” went 20th to Grizz Gaming; Harry Hurst, a British center, was the last international player to go — and the last player in general, the very first NBA 2K League Mr. Irrelevant. Many players foretold championships; many castigated teams for passing them over; several did both. Emotions ran high. Tilton Curry, or “TFreshyy,” picked by 76ersGC in the fifth round, held back tears as he declared his imminent arrival. “I’m coming,” he reiterated fiercely — great promotional material for 76ersGC seems to have already arrived.
Players are focused. Dimez told me that while this event hadn’t topped winning $250,000 and the Road to the All-Star Game Tournament, bringing home a championship belt certainly would. This time, he’s playing for $1 million. Mootyy cheered robustly when the Kings announced their third-round pick, timelycook, a player many expected to go in the first round. Players began to bond with their teammates immediately, or at least in whatever time they could find in between being shuttled from interview to interview.
There was also a palpable sentiment that there are real athletes here. As Silver said in the press conference, “Yes, they’re athletes…This requires physical and mental skills.” Many players told me that they wanted to set precedents for people aspiring to be gamers. And why not? They’ve put hours and hours in, and they’re about to reap their rewards.
Dimez said: “10-plus years, man. 10-plus years. Everybody always asks me how much I play. I don’t really have a specific time, but I play every day all day, almost literally 24 hours, 16 hours. I play every day as much as possible, and that’s not going to stop now.” Several team managers told me that they’ve already been working on creating individual player brands.
The league put behind it any scandals, controversies or mysteries it had carried with it so far. It forced them into the shadows, away from the flashing lights of NBATV and 2KTV glimmering on player interviews. The league, supported by commissioner Silver and the players’ sheer love for the game is stronger than ever because there’s just nothing like a live draft.