This morning around 6:00 a.m. I rolled over and through one crusty eye noticed the sun was rising, and I sat up straight in bed, going from completely asleep to completely awake in a matter of seconds. The sun was out, my addled brain started piecing together, which must mean that it was later than 6:00 a.m., which must mean that I slept through my 5:30 a.m. alarm, which must mean that I’d missed Grizz Gaming’s early airplane flight to Orlando, where this week we play in an NBA 2K League tournament called The Ticket.
I was equally confused and panicked. Why hadn’t any of the players called when I hadn’t picked them up for the ride to the airport? Had they just gone on and flown without me? Shouldn’t I get up and pack and get going?
Then I realized this morning was Tuesday, not Wednesday. And I laid back and down and squeezed in one more hour of sleep before getting up, getting out and getting something.
This isn’t the first time of late that I’ve been confused by which day it is. Last week we flew to New York on Friday morning, played two games on Friday night, flew back to Memphis on Saturday afternoon, spent a few hours with my family, then came into the office and practiced all day on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. We leave on Wednesday (I think!) for Orlando, where we’ll be based until next week. Despite having some bye weeks built into our schedule this season, the NBA 2K League has remained a grind.
But what makes it worth the grind is getting results, which is exactly what’s happened with Grizz Gaming this season. We lost two games in the season-opening tournament, then lost our first three games of the regular season. Since then we’ve improved steadily, and we’ve won 4 of our last 6 games. Today we sit at 5-6, in 13th place out of 21 teams, just one loss out of a playoff spot. In our most recent game on Friday night, we put up 96 points in a win against Detroit, the highest point total any team has scored in the NBA 2K League regular season.
AuthenticAfrican of Grizz Gaming poses for a photo during the game against Wizards District Gaming during Week 7 of the NBA 2K League regular season on May 29, 2019 at the NBA 2K Studio in Long Island City, New York. Photo by Steve Freeman via Getty Images.
I suspected that it was going to take us some time to figure things out. After all, our six-man roster had three 19-year-olds, which included our starting backcourt, Vandi and Jayrod. Once they started figuring out how the League build of the game played and how it works to play on the stage under the bright lights of the studio, our team made a leap. We also made a midseason trade with Orlando for Kelmav, who has given us another dimension on the offensive end as we’ve worked him into what we do. (And at 20 years old, Kelmav also made us even younger.) We still got steady play from our vets, AuthenticAfrican and UniversalPhenom, and DDouble stepped into the role of lockdown defender and has been terrific.
So while some things feel the same—the travel, the endless scrimmages and film sessions— Grizz Gaming is in a much different, and better, place than we were at the start of the season. Which is entirely due to the work all of these guys have put in. We’ve practiced basically seven days a week since we all showed up here back in May. There have been days I’ve given the guys a day off and they all came in on their own, or times they’ve wanted to come straight from the airport to the practice facility to get back at it. We all want to get better, and when that is the prevailing attitude, there’s nothing better.
Which doesn’t mean we’re done. I think the next step for us is consistency, being able to sustain the way we play and bounce back from a bad quarter here and there. Because as much as the NBA 2K League is about playing basketball, at the end of the day, this is a video game, and sometimes, just as in life, you do the right thing but get a weird animations or a strange bounce. So we control what we can control and let the computer decide the rest. But with that being said, we want to put ourselves in the best position possible to get blessed by the game.
I know that it seems like it goes on like this forever, but the reality is we’ve cleared the hump and the season is tapering toward the postseason. We’ve got a tough schedule the rest of the way, but we also know there’s not a team in this league that we can’t beat. All season long, our toughest opponent has been ourselves, and once we all consistently believe in each other and remember to talk and trust, we’ll reach that next level. And we will get there. It’s just a question of when.
Until then, we’ll keep flying back and forth and coming in to the office seven days a week and grinding, grinding, grinding.
Because that’s the only way we know how.
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.