The story of Reginald Stonksman is one of failure. In a way, it was always meant to be.
When Dime was invited to play in the NBA 2K League Three for All Showdown, I thought it was a great opportunity for anyone on the staff that isn’t me to play some virtual basketball against some impressive competition. Basketball video games have always been a tough sell for me. Most of my sports sim experience ends a few generations ago — my favorite sports video games are NFL Quarterback Club 96, NHL 97 (Genesis), and NFL 2K2 (Dreamcast), in that order.
I write a lot about video games here these days, but for the most part my playing and reviewing excludes sports games. There just isn’t time to cover everything, and when you have a staff that’s willing to sim the Final Four with NCAA Basketball 10 you let them do their thing and edit lightly. The problem is, I have an XBox and many of them do not. As such, I was tasked with playing NBA 2K20 against professional athletes in the X Bracket along with my co-workers, Bill DiFilippo and Tony Xypteras. One problem: I had never actually played NBA 2K before.
Now this may seem like another instance in which an ignorant man assumes he could beat a female professional athlete simply on the superiority of his gender, but I promise you that is not the case here. We knew we were gonna get rinsed no matter how hard we tried. In a way, that was kind of the point. My job here would be to do the best I can and take the crash course of getting my digital ass kicked as a learning lesson of sorts.
In writing, you’re given a lot of chances to be wrong, pretty much all the time if you take them. Instead, the goal is learning how to avoid that as best you can and not put yourself in situations where you can look bad. This, unfortunately, was one of those situations where looking bad was the only option, and so I decided to have a bit of fun with it. Enter my created player, a vaguely Eastern European dandy named Reginald Stonksman, a 7’1 Paint Defender who obtained said title by working security at a Sherwin Williams.
Basically we needed a center and there’s something about a beefy boi lumbering up and down the court while a dope struggles to control them from a locked down apartment in downtown Boston. I did my best to max out my muse’s rebounding abilities and rim finishing skills and hit the courts to put a little work in to get used to, you know, the game I was about to play competitively in front of a streaming audience. Results, as they say, were mixed.
Bill, Tony, and I were scheduled to face Alexis Jones (Atlanta Dream), Allisha Gray (Dallas Wings), and Aerial Powers of the WNBA champion Washington Mystics. Suffice to say, they knew basketball and had some experience playing 2K. Our crew, meanwhile, didn’t have enough time to play more than a single Neighborhood matchup before assembling the squad and taking on Watch Us Work on Tuesday night. What we did have time to do, however, was coordinate outfits.
The broadcast made fun of us, but we noticed in playing our lone practice game that it was easier to pick out teammates if we wore similar colors. But the only thing we had that matched was the default brown shirt you start the game with, so we all made a very dumb-looking quick change before we took the court. It was basically the only thing that stood out about our games on the broadcast.
“Ryan is GoldenGoose, he’s in the orange shorts,” the official 2K stream said. “They look like the standard basketball shorts that you buy for a pickup game.”
This is, of course, exactly correct. And it delights me that this sentiment came across so clearly as it’s one of the few things I did well. Because the first game, to keep it short, did not go very well. On my first touch, I took three jerky steps in the lane, tried and failed to put up a shot, and then clanged one off the right side of the hoop. The ball went out of bounds. Our opponents immediately scored on the fastbreak, and the rout was on. We promptly got beaten like we stole something, 21-6, and things were looking bleak for Team Dime.
Some lessons were immediately learned: Reginald Stonksman was slow as hell and if I committed to rebounding like a 7’1 center should, we needed Tony or Bill to hang back and look for cherrypickers. Bill coached us up, recommended some changes, and we found a new court for a do-or-die Game 2. And this time, things actually did go better. We played better defense, moved the ball around a bit better and The Stonksman got some finishes inside. Tony and Bill hit shots on the outside. We were the ones pushing the tempo on turnovers and actually got to 10 first, but some of the same mistakes I had been making all game crept back up and, well, the better team won.
The more excited team, mind you, also won.
Listen up- @aerial_powers23 is NOT messing around tonight!
— NBA 2KL Three for All Showdown (@NBA2KLeague) April 1, 2020
It was a predictable exit, but one that provided some valuable lessons. The first of which being that the default camera angle for Neighborhood games is difficult and I was too afraid to change it during play. It’s one of the many, many excuses I could break out to unsuccessfully cover for my own incompetence. But I will not do that. We got beat, I didn’t play particularly well, and I had a mess of fun.
If we had more time to play together things would certainly have gone better, but we showed improvement and, more importantly, everyone involved stayed inside and enjoyed interacting in a safe and reasonable way. And it actually sparked something inside me I hadn’t really anticipated. With a massive, visible failure already under my belt I actually want get better at 2K.
A few days later, once I changed the camera angle and switched out of the default brown shirt, I went back in. Bill and I took the court and kept getting worked by people who have put in far more hours than we had. But we endured, strategized a bit and the shots started to fall. After a few games, we found a third player that worked well with us and made some magic happen. I have to admit, finally getting that first win felt pretty good. And if we get another shot at things next year, we’ll be ready.