Lang’s World: Grizz Gaming season two was a journey worth taking

It was 3:22 in the morning and I was lying in bed, wide awake, in a shoebox-shaped hotel room 36 floors above Times Square. I set an alarm (three alarms, actually) to wake me up at 4:30 a.m., to make sure I could get to the airport in time to escape from New York, but I knew in actuality that I wasn’t going to need any assistance. Sleep was not coming, not for me, not on this night.

The primary reason for my discontent was because in my mind I was facing a hard truth: I knew the Grizz Gaming season was probably over. This happened last week, just hours after we closed out a win over Magic Gaming to finish our regular season at 9-7, the best record in franchise history. And now we couldn’t do anything but wait and see if it was good enough to make the playoffs.

Heading into the last week of the regular season, we knew that we needed some help to get to the postseason. So we watched to see which other team would give us a boost. We needed Blazer5 to beat the T-Wolves. They didn’t. The Celtics needed us to beat the Magic so they would get in. We did. We needed the Celtics to beat the Pacers so we could get in. They didn’t. We needed the Nets to beat the Pacers. They didn’t. When the dust finally settled, we finished the 2019 NBA 2K League season in eighth place out of 21 teams. We started the season 0-3, then got it to 1-4, and then found our footing and became the kind of team I’d hoped we would be—a team that could cause real problems defensively and was able to score with a multi-faceted approach on the offensive end. We went 8-3 the rest of the way. It was good, but ultimately not good enough to make the playoffs.

Lang Whitaker interviews David Beckham

And that was nobody’s fault but our own. Some help would have been nice, sure, but we left ourselves in that position. What made it impossible to sleep wasn’t finishing with 7 losses, or even missing the playoffs, it was thinking about what might have been. What if we hadn’t lost to the Mavericks on the last shot of the game? What if we hadn’t lost to the Wizards on the last shot of the game? What if we hadn’t lost to the Blazers on the last shot of the game? What if we hadn’t started so flat in tournament games against the T-Wolves or the Magic? What if we’d found our identity earlier in the season?

And then my brain kicked over to wonder; What could I have done differently? It took me almost an entire year of coaching games in the 2K League, but our late-season game against the Brooklyn Nets was one of the first times I really felt comfortable, like I finally knew what my team needed from me. What if I’d gotten to that point sooner?

But mostly I thought about the guys on my team and how much I appreciated all six of them. These guys all came to work every single day wanting to get better, and put in hours and hours to achieve that goal.

I thought of Vandi, who has all the skill in the world and developed the confidence to show out on the 2K League stage and lead us to some big wins. Lowkey, he’s kind of glitchy.

DDouble, who worked himself into one of the best lockdown defenders in the 2K League, and kept our team loose with an endless barrage of humor, some of which was actually funny. (Toward the end of the season, Dan actually tried to pull a “Yo Mama” joke on me during a game. If nothing else, you have to admire his dedication to his craft.)

Jayrod, who played multiple positions without complaining once, and put in hours of work on his own time to master those roles.

Kelmav, who arrived midseason and brought with him that extra jolt of heart and confidence and energy (and offense) that we so badly needed.

UniversalPhenom, who showed up months ahead of time to help get everything ready for his teammates, and fully embraced every role that was asked of him. He even revived Old Tom Morris.

And AuthenticAfrican, one of the best players in the 2K League, but more importantly one of the best people in the league, and the cornerstone of our franchise.

After a sleepless night, the next morning we assembled in the lobby for our van to the airport. It turned out everyone else was equally exhausted; nobody had been able to sleep. We’re playing a game, sure, but it wears on you like any other pursuit. We dedicated months of our life to this and couldn’t quite connect the dots.

The end of the 2K League season is like when camp ends and you go home and promise to stay friends forever, and then everyone slowly drifts apart. For the last six months these six guys have been part of my life in an intense way that’s probably hard to understand from the outside. We spent seven days a week with each other. We sat around airports together waiting for delayed flights. We ate meals together. We went to amusement parks together. We battled to win games. We learned, we laughed, we argued, we disagreed, we lifted each other up. We lost, but we won more than we lost. We became a team.

And now it ends. I won’t arrive each morning and have to clean up empty soda cans off the practice facility desks. I won’t have to turn on all the monitors and schedule practice sessions and content recording and streaming times. I likely won’t have words like “baited” and “cap” in my everyday lexicon, and won’t have to try and eat healthy while these kids order every meal from Chick-Fil-A.

We filed onto the commuter airplane as the sun rose outside over Newark. I grabbed my window seat, nestled up next to the wall, plugged my airpods into my ears and closed my eyes. I knew I would sleep on the plane and then land and go straight to the office for a bit, then head home and steal a few hours of sleep before my son got home from camp and I could devote some much deserved time to my family, who hadn’t seen much of me the last five months. Eventually I’ll start ramping up for season three of the NBA 2K League, but for now, we all need to catch our breath, to rest and recharge.

The one thing I told my guys from the day they arrived was that if they could commit to improving every day, even just a little bit, then by the end of the season we would be in a really good place. And that’s exactly what we did. It just wasn’t quite good enough.

Which doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t worth taking.