It was a few minutes past 8:00 p.m. on Thursday night when I gently closed my MacBook, took off my HyperX headset, and for the first time in two hours, stood up from my kitchen counter. A few moments earlier, our Grizz Gaming team had lost a heartbreaker to Kings Guard Gaming, on a three-pointer at the buzzer. (Televised nationally on ESPN2, no less.) Dazed, I walked out into my backyard, sat down on the porch, and started lobbing a tennis ball into the backyard for my dog, GG, to play fetch. She happily wagged her tail and chased the ball, oblivious to my disappointment. But in that moment, I wasn’t sure what else to do, other than sit there and throw that ball and feel terrible.
It was a game we badly needed, to validate the work we’d been putting in, and the progress I knew we were making, even if we had yet to see any tangible results. After losing to Miami in overtime on Thursday night, which knocked us to 0-3, we were desperate for a win. Sure, there is still a long season left ahead of us, but man, getting a break really would have felt great.
We just haven’t seemed to catch that break. We’ve dealt with everything from a global pandemic to a player battling severe migraines to homesickness to loneliness as we’ve tried to get this thing going. I can’t count how many times I’ve jumped on Discord at random hours and stumbled across guys getting shots up, trying to hone their craft. I’ve found myself watching film well past midnight, looking for any tendencies I can pass along to the guys. We’ve worked seven days a week trying to build chemistry, find inspiration and cultivate teamwork, even when we weren’t allowed to be in the same room together. I’ve given motivational speeches and demotivational speeches. I’ve made them laugh, I’ve made them think, I’ve criticized them, I’ve lifted them up.
We are all trying. So hard. So, so hard. But it hasn’t clicked just yet, so all we have to show for all of this work is a damn chicken egg in the win column. Are we better than we were three months ago when we all got to town? Definitely. It just stinks that we can’t point to a digit to show people.
As darkness fell on Friday, eventually I went back inside, replaced my sweet tea with something appropriately stronger, and thought the rest of the night about that last play. When we found ourselves in that situation, up 1 with a second on the clock, the first thing I thought of was our game a season ago against Blazer5 Gaming, when we had essentially the same situation. That time we got burned on a quick cut to the basket, so this time the first thing I said was for our center, Goofy, to watch the paint and mid-range in case the Kings tried to get something going toward the rim. The other four guys we zoned around the top, having them essentially play a match-up zone, to hopefully avoid getting picked off on a screen.
And here is where I credit to the Kings: They found a hole. There’s no such thing as perfect defense—someone is gonna get open somewhere—and the Kings found their point guard, Bash, the split-second he sprung free. And give Bash praise: With the clock running down and Vandi flying at him and a national TV audience watching on ESPN2 watching, Bash greened that sucker for the win.
But the truth is, we shouldn’t have even been in that situation. We went from red hot for three quarters to cooler than a polar bear’s toenail in the fourth, missing everything from layups to threes to middies. We called time outs, we ran plays, it just wasn’t there for us.
Later that night, after we’d all had a minute to process the loss, while texting with one of the guys, I told him, “We’re gonna figure this thing out. Because that’s what we do.” Season one with Grizz Gaming, we lost seven of the first eight games we played, then rallied and finished tied for tenth place. Last season we lost five of our first six, then went 8-3 down the stretch and finished eighth. I don’t know how many 2K League teams have finished in the top ten in both seasons, but it’s not many.
Do I wish we didn’t have to scramble every season to get there? Sure. But as I told the guys the other day, that’s how life works. It’s not always fun. It’s never easy. I’ve worked my tail off to get to where I am today, and the grind never stops. It’s 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night right now, and I’m sitting on my couch tapping letters on my laptop. Would I like to be watching a movie with my family? Sure, but I can’t. Because someone has to do the work. Complaining? Doesn’t help. You have to do the work. There’s no shortcuts. Do the work.
So we will keep doing the work. We lock in. We grit. We grind.
And eventually, we will get there.