Lang Whitaker, a fun and good NBA writer, announced yesterday that he is going to work for the Memphis Grizzlies. The announcement post contains more than its fair share of Players’ Tribune-ese:
I had the chance to talk with a bunch of the world’s leading content providers [...] So I started looking at it as a question: Did I Believe Memphis? [...] A few weeks ago I knew I was going to have the chance to test unrestricted free agency. [...] I’ve missed Waffle House and SEC football and Chick-Fil-A and sweet tea and having the chance breathe and enjoy life as it unfolds.
All of this is mostly dressing up the relatively unremarkable fact that the Grizzlies have hired Whitaker to do blogs and podcasts for Grizzlies.com and its bespoke blog offshoot, Grind City Media. Where the post gets extremely inscrutable and weird is its discussion of Whitaker’s role with the Grizz’s forthcoming NBA2K team:
Seventeen NBA teams will have their own squads of video gamers who will represent their franchises and play against each other in NBA 2K. I’ll be running the Memphis Grizzlies’ squad: drafting players; hashing out strategies; generating content along the way; coaching up our players; basically being all-in on the Grizzlies eSports team.
It’s been publicly announced that the league will have 17 NBA teams with five gamers each. Those gamers—who will be playing as created players, not actual NBA players—will be scouted at a February combine and drafted in March, before the season starts in May. (It’s a shame that each team will only consist of five gamers, which deprives cyber-fans of the joys of gamers brawling for playing time and teams resting their best gamers in order to tank for a better pick.)
Beyond that, though, if you can explain what exactly Whitaker will be doing here, please email the Compete staff. For that matter, get in touch with Whitaker. I called him this morning to ask him exactly what he’d be doing with the Grizzlies’ esports arm, and while he did clarify some things, unanswered questions remain.
When I asked Whitaker if there were any prospects that he was scouting, he asked me, “Can you play?” before saying that he was going to ask Grizzlies VP John Hollinger to go to the combine with him to scout gamers. The Grizzlies admittedly are pioneers at poaching bloggers, having previously hired Hollinger away from ESPN. One questions how many of the minutes Hollinger has on his clock he should spend on this.
Whitaker is enthusiastic about the whole venture, but unsure, as we all are, about the details. (“There’s gonna be a league of people who play 2K, and the Grizzlies are gonna have a team in this league, and I’m gonna be in charge of the Grizzlies team.”) Will he and other coaches be sitting in the room calling plays? Will there be a salary cap on gamers’ contracts? Will the gamers be unionized? Can they get cut for shitty performance? Is doping legal? Whitaker isn’t sure, but he’s already mastered the vaguely utopian talk that accompanies so many high-profile esports ventures. As he told Compete:
It’s going to be doing content for Grind City Media and Grizzlies.com, but I also want to take this 2K thing and be on the leading edge of content with that, too. What I’ve been doing for the last 20 years is generating content, so with this league, there should be a lot of opportunities to do stuff around it...
Maybe we can do things that NBA teams haven’t been able to do. Maybe we can play five point guards at the same time. Remember the Kings were talking about playing four-on-five at one point?
I don’t know how exactly [it will] work. There’s gonna have to be some sort of framework. That’s why the Spurs are so good, right? They have this system that they’ve had for 20 years. A player comes in and you learn your role within that system. That seems transferrable to this, too. We should have a system that works, and we can plug players in.
The NBA2K league begins play in May.