With the NBA Playoffs in full swing and garnering record ratings, NBA players find time to “hit the sticks” for many different reasons. For some, it’s a way to relax before a big game. Others use video games to release anger after a big loss. And some have already seen their real season end, only to start one up virtually. But one thing that defines the majority of NBA players – beyond their love for hoops – is a love of video games in some form or fashion.
“I have Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, the Kinect, Wii…I have all that stuff,” said Miami Heat superstar LeBron James. “I play them all." But what do they like to play, when do they find time to play it, and what is Kevin Love's gamertag? Read on to find out!
Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs said that video games are so popular that his teammates play PS3 and Xbox 360 on the road in hotels, go multiplayer with PSP on the team plane and then game at home in custom home entertainment set-ups.
“I actually travel with a portable TV for the HD purposes and I bring all my games with me,” said Atlanta Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson, who plays stereoscopic 3D games back home on his PS3. “It’s just something to keep me busy while we're on the road.”
After playing in the NBA Playoffs night after night, not every player wants to jump into the same virtual arena to relax.
“I play a lot of FIFA,” said Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett, who was on the cover of NBA 2K9. “I go back and forth between Call of Duty and FIFA. I love soccer. I'm a huge soccer fan. I play with A.C. Milan. But I'm also a huge Chelsea fan.”
A lot of NBA superstars love EA Sports’ Madden franchise. Roger Mason of the New York Knicks, who’s a big Madden guy, said he’s found that a lot of NBA players are Madden fans and a lot of NFL players are NBA 2K fans.
“I think honestly it’s weird because basketball guys are better at football games and football guys are better at basketball games than basketball players, so it works both ways,” said Nate Robinson of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“On Madden, I usually play with a bunch of teams,” said James. “I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan, but I play with everybody. I kind of go off the NFL season and whatever team they place me with, I hit random and I play with them.”
“I’m retired from Madden,” said Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce, who sticks with the New England Patriots. “Nobody could beat me four or five years ago, so I had to put it down. Right now, I’m essentially a competitor who can’t find someone to play at my level.”
Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks likes to keep it old school with his gaming. He plays classics like Galaga and Double Dragon. But you can also find him online playing shooters like Ghost Recon and Black Ops.
2K Sports’ NBA 2K franchise has dominated the virtual hardwoods for years. With only EA Sports’ NBA Jam reboot for competition, there’s at least one NBA All-Star who wants to see at least one more basketball game released on the market.
“EA, please release NBA Elite 11…I'm begging you,” said Oklahoma City standout Kevin Durant, who is on the cover of the game. “My friends want to see the game out in the store. I'm very disappointed. I was looking forward to it, but you know those guys are all about perfection out there, so hopefully they get things right.”
EA Sports will be sitting out the next NBA season, as well. The new game, which has shifted from EA Vancouver to EA Tiburon, won’t hit store shelves until fall 2012. But many NBA players, including Brandon Roy of the Portland Trailblazers, are huge NBA Jam fans and are hooked on the new version Electronic Arts released.
“I grew up on NBA Jam,” said Roy. “I really like that game because of all the outrageous dunks you can do.”
Even with just one simulation basketball game on the market, many NBA players check out the new game every year just to see their player ratings.
“For me, it’s basically what people think of you, so it’s important,” said Memphis Grizzlies star Rudy Gay. “I’m hoping next year I have 100. That’s what I’m shooting for.”
“It’s always a big deal for me to check out player ratings because they’re always snubbing me,” said Johnson. “They never give me no credit in the game and I don’t like it. I always have to boost my stats up. They always give me alike an 88 or an 89 and I have to be like a 93 or 94. You can’t do me like that, man.”
“It’s a big deal to check out your ratings, especially if you’re playing as yourself,” said Rashard Lewis of the Washington Wizards. “You want to shoot all the time and if your ratings are low you’re not going to make the shots. If they’re low, then you just cheat yourself and add some to them.”
While the majority of players believe their in-game personas should have better attributes, there are those with different opinions.
“I don’t look at the player ratings,” said Chicago Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose, who plays NBA 2K11 all the time. “I just go out there and play. I try to see how many assists and points I can get.”
“I think they got me overrated,” said Boston Celtics star Rajon Rondo. “I've seen my ratings. I'm pretty good, so they make me a little bit better than what I am.”
At the end of the day, these games were made for basketball fans. And since the majority of gamers aren’t NBA pros, it’s the fans that can connect directly with their idols through video games. The latest iterations of the NBA 2K franchise have provided gamers with updated stats that reflect the real on-court performances of players during the actual season.
“Guys in the game are shooting their real percentages,” said Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. “Back in the day with video games, some guys might be better in the video game than they really were. Now it’s more realistic.”
“It’s the evolution of gaming,” said Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh. “As the years go by, they’re going to implement new things to make the experience more realistic and I think that’s what the consumer wants.”
Since so many NBA pros are logged onto Xbox Live or PlayStation Network throughout the year, basketball fans might one day hit the lottery and face off against an NBA great. But those looking to take a shortcut and get a Gamertag out of an NBA player might find it difficult.
“My Gamertag? I can't share that with you man, I'm sorry,” said NBA All-Star Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. “But my brother's Gamertag is Gamegenie if you want to play him, so check him out.”
Maybe Collin Love will return the favor and give Kevin’s name out to the world. Just don’t expect an easy opponent. Considering the amount of free time NBA players have, when they say they’re “gamers,” they mean it.
By John Gaudiosi