It was the first week in May, and the inaugural Grizz Gaming team was landing at LaGuardia Airport in New York City to play our first game in team history. As we filed through the airport and looked for our sprinter van ride into the city, our power forward Antonio Saldivar, a.k.a. UniversalPhenom, turned to me and said, “We really just flew all the way to New York City to play a video game?”
General Manager Lang Whitaker of Grizz Gaming laughs during the game against the 76ers GC during the NBA 2K League Mid Season Tournament on June 8, 2018 at the NBA 2K League Studio in Long Island City, New York. Photo by Michelle Farsi via Getty Images.
Did we ever. And it wasn’t just a one-time trip. This was the first of what would be 16 trips from Memphis to New York to, yep, play video games. Specifically, we went to NYC to compete against 15 other teams in the NBA 2K League, a league that is built around the uber-popular NBA 2K video game series.
That first trip didn’t go so well—in the opening tournament, we lost all three games that we played. We bounced back and won our regular season opener one week later, and then lost four more to get off to a less-than-ideal 1-4 start.
But we worked. We gritted, we grinded. We turned things around, and Grizz Gaming finished our first season with a record of 6-8. Which is not ideal, obviously, but considering that start, to even be in the playoff race down the stretch was a positive.
For season one, all of our games were played in a studio in Long Island City, which meant a bounty of hotel and frequent flyer points, a lot of van rides over and back across the East River, and a lot of late night walks through Manhattan to grab dinner. It was tough, to be sure, but as the season went along we began to settle into a groove and become familiar with the rhythm of life in the 2K League.
And then, by August, it was done. Our players packed up and returned to their homes, all across the United States, and for a few weeks I just sat back and waited for my head to stop spinning. Eventually, two teams that we had beaten, Knicks Gaming and Heat Check Gaming, faced off in the 2K League Finals, with the Knicks taking the crown.
Knicks Gaming celebrates with trophy in a huddle after winning Game Two of the 2018 NBA 2K League Finals on August 25, 2018 at the NBA 2K Studioin Long Island City, New York. Photo by Alex Nahorniak-Svenski via Getty Images.
We pivoted to start looking forward instead of backward. We retained two players from our season one squad: UniversalPhenom, as well as Mehyar Ahmed-Hassan, a.k.a. AuthenticAfrican, who set the NBA 2K League single game scoring record when he poured in 84 points during a triple-overtime loss against the Sixers. As fall turned into winter, thousands of players began attempting to qualify to make the draft pool for season two of the NBA 2K League. And I started quietly slipping into streams to watch potential players do work. (Yes, I will freely admit that this GM has a burner account. On Twitch, at least.)
Now that we’re into 2019, the season two draft is just a few weeks away. I’m assembling my crew and getting ready to put in hours scouting and prepping for the season two draft. Season one was not easy, but going through it taught me a ton, about myself, about my team, and about the 2K League.
We’re ready for season two. Press start, y’all.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.