LOS ANGELES — Video games have taken over the NBA.
From the NBA 2K League, which features gaming squads for 21 of the league’s franchises, to Josh Hart and Reggie Jackson competing at the Fortnite Pro-Am at Epic Games’ Summer Block Party in June, it’s impossible to walk into an NBA locker room without finding a few players ready to throw down in their favorite video game.
“The biggest gamer I know personally is Josh Hart,” said Lonzo Ball at PUBG Mobile’s Team Up Superstar Showdown event. “Just being around him, I know he is streaming all the time. He loves games to this day.”
For Ball, who was recently traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the New Orleans Pelicans alongside teammate Hart, his love for gaming dovetailed with his dream growing up of playing in the NBA. The first video game he played was NBA Street on the Nintendo Gamecube, which released in 2002 when he was only 5 years old. His love for sport-simulation games such as NBA 2K continues, as he plays whenever he can.
Having grown up with two younger siblings, Ball quickly dismisses the notion that he’s the biggest baller in his family when it comes to video games. That recognition goes to the youngest Ball brother, LaMelo, who is currently projected to be a first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“It’s [LaMelo] for sure. I don’t play as much as him,” Lonzo said. “Sports games, I’m better than him, but when it comes to shooting games and stuff, he probably has that.”
In Detroit, Pistons big man Andre Drummond is a connoisseur of a wider array of video games. Whereas Lonzo and other gamers in the NBA generally stick to sports simulations such as 2K or Madden, Drummond began his love of gaming through story-based, open-world games. He’s a fan of the Grand Theft Auto games, especially the fifth installment in the series. Currently, he’s enraptured with the newest God of War game, which was released last year, praising how the game’s story has kept him engaged.
He will occasionally bust out his PC to play games, but when it comes to his console collection, he has a variety of old and new games. Drummond mentioned the NASCAR video games as some of his favorites, shouting out the retired Jeff Gordon as his favorite racer. Yet, regardless of how many consoles he owns or how many games he completes from beginning to end, Drummond doesn’t think he is the best video game player on the Detroit Pistons.
“[It’s] definitely Reggie Jackson, by far,” Drummond said. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen play Fortnite. I’m terrible at it, but I still play. [Reggie] gets me wins, so it looks good on my part, but I don’t have to do anything. He plays [games] any chance he gets. Anytime he’s not doing anything, he’s probably playing. I’m pretty sure if I call him right now, he’ll be playing.”
Isaiah Thomas, newly signed by the Washington Wizards and a bit older at 30 than the other athletes on hand at the PUBG Mobile event, isn’t the biggest fan of Fortnite. Although he loves to play (and beat) his children in sport-simulation games, the NBA veteran isn’t ready to let his kids download the free-to-play video game that has become a worldwide phenomenon.
“They wanna play Fortnite, but I’m not allowing them to play yet,” Thomas said. “My boys are only 7 and 8, and they’re always saying all of their friends are playing Fortnite, why can’t they play? They’re big on the iPad, so they’re big on video games and that [stuff] in general, so the older they get, I’ll introduce them to games like [PUBG], but I gotta keep the shooting away [for now].”
One player who doesn’t keep away from shooting games is Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons. Be it on a phone for PUBG, on a console or on his gaming platform of choice, the PC, he is one of the best video game players in the entire league. During the PUBG Mobile event, he starred throughout, trash-talking all the way.
“I started with Call of Duty shooter games, 2K … I pretty much play everything,” Simmons said.
The MVP of the league, Milwaukee Bucks‘ Giannis Antetokounmpo, used to be an avid gamer, getting calluses on his hands from playing so often, but he has stopped gaming as much since entering the NBA. His old favorites were the sport-simulation games such as Pro Evolution Soccer and NBA 2K, Tekken when it came to fighting games and the original Ratchet and Clank game (but none of the sequels, which he made very clear) on Playstation 2.
Above all else, there was one gaming series that captured the heart of the NBA MVP.
Not a fighting game.
Not a shooting game.
Not even a sports game.
For the Greek Freak, it’s all about Lego.
“This might sound corny … I used to play a lot of, you know, the Lego games,” Giannis said. “The Lego games are fun. You can be the superhero Lego and all that; that was fun with [versions such as] Indiana Jones Lego.”
Next year, when players wake up at the crack of dawn to run for miles or hire shooting specialists to improve their jumpers, maybe instead they should fire up Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures on the Playstation 2 and get to work.
Hey, it worked for Giannis.