I decided to play NBA 2K17’s MyCareer mode as myself, except athletic and much taller. That’s me in the screen above, via NBA 2K17’s face scan feature. That’s also someone who will one day be wanted for a string of Burger King robberies in the Jacksonville area, but for now, he’s the best high school basketball player in the country.
I guess the MyCareer story doesn't really align with the face of a balding 31-year-old or, say, anyone who isn’t an 18-year-old man, but I’ll give NBA 2K17 this: the scan worked pretty well. You can even see the scar under my right eye (drunk laser tag accident) and the evidence of other mistakes everywhere else on my mug. But what you can’t see is that I know nothing about basketball or how to play NBA 2K17.
A career begins
I like basketball, and I watch basketball, but the main thing I know about playing basketball is that you need grit. I think. Or hustle maybe. You’ve gotta want it. And if you don’t want it (or have the hustle), you might blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Well, I want it. But because I suck at NBA 2K17 so extraordinarily, I probably won’t make it anywhere near the Finals, even in a videogame—some fantasy.
(By the way, I tried to name myself ‘The Warriors Blew A 3-1 Lead In The NBA Finals’ but it didn’t give me enough characters so my first name is 'The Warriors Ble' and my last name is 'W A Three-One Le.' I chose number 69.)
NBA 2K17’s MyCareer mode tells the story of your career starting after high school, and so we open on a chat with my old coach, who doesn’t mind at all that I look like Paul Giamatti found a Zoltar Speaks machine and wished to be big.
I get some good advice—remember your fundamentals, that kind of thing—and from there I have to choose a college to grace with my talents. I pick Louisville because that was my Kentuckian stepfather’s team and I always loved how he said ‘Loovulle.’ Sadly, as I think coach 'Matt Walsh wearing a rubber Matt Walsh mask' can tell, I am about to let Loovulle down.
Everything I do during my college career—which MyCareer represents as a public practice and a few games—counts toward a scouting grade that’s going to determine how early in the draft I’m picked. I’ve got to take good shots, make good passes, and demonstrate what some basketball writers call ‘basketball IQ,’ which translates to, ‘being good at basketball.’ I don’t know how to do any of that.
I thought MyCareer would be a tutorial mode—the campaign that prepares you to play for real—but I was wrong. It didn't tell me anything! So I just go out there do the best I can.
I’m a center and I don’t know what a center does, for instance, so I decide to stand directly under the net (it’s in the center) as much as possible so that I can dunk—dunks obviously being the most important part of basketball, and what the scouts want to see. I’m called on three-second violations three times. Then I take and miss four shots and get dunked on twice. So, not a great start.
I’m intimidated by the extensive controls list, so I just start spinning the analog sticks around whenever I have the ball and hope it’ll do something that looks like basketball. Except no one is passing to me—probably because one time I got the ball at half court, spun the analog sticks around, and lobbed it far to the right of the basket—and so I end the practice without a single point. Between events I get to see comments from the press.
“The Warriors Ble w a three-one le’s feel for the game is still raw,” writes Peter Edmiston. “His basketball IQ is going to need to take a big step up if he wants to play at the next level.”
Screw you, Peter. I’m the center and as the center I stood in the center. I don’t see the problem, but the scouts took note and my draft projection lowered from mid first round to late first round. At least they got a good photo of me.
After a cutscene in which I call my mom—which means I’ve called a virtual mom more than I’ve called my real mom this month, shamefully—I manage to score 7 points in my first real game, with 0 rebounds, 0 assists, and 0 blocks for a scouting score of D+. I’m improving!
“Raw,” writes Nate Duncan. “The Warriors Ble needs to cut down on the mental errors, and show more value for the ball.” Screw you too, Nate. The ball is the most precious thing in the world to me. I consider it my child.
Obviously, though, Duncan is right. I should get into some analysis of how NBA 2K17 plays here, though it’s difficult because, as I said, I don’t know how to play basketball. Plus, a lot hinges on the stats of my hideous player, who’s 6’11”, 258 lbs, once killed a man, and moves like a redwood tree on a yoga ball. But I am impressed by the number of actions NBA 2K17 has mapped to two analog sticks and the triggers (and if you didn’t know, you need a controller). If you want to do a mid-air change shot or a post shimmy hook you can do those things, provided you know what they are and how to manipulate the analog sticks to make them happen.
I quit out of MyCareer mode to practice a bit so I don’t totally disgrace my Loovulle team, and start to get the hang of moving, pivoting, and taking shots as the more agile Steph Curry. The animations are smooth and—as a side note—NBA 2K17 runs at a steady 60 fps on my original GTX Titan and supports my ultrawide monitor, so no complaints there.
The hardest thing for me is basic movement. I’m used to games where when you let go of the analog stick, your character stops. But NBA 2K17 does its best to approximate the weight and movement styles of its players, leading to a lot of contextual animations as you power around the court. It’s frustrating to end up somewhere I didn’t intend to, but I enjoyed learning to think of every push of the analog stick as a complete movement, eventually getting comfortable making Curry’s quick layups and threes.
Stepping it up
Back in Loovulle, my game isn't getting much better, though I manage one B- performance by accidentally grabbing a few rebounds. I’m clearly feeling more confident , though, because I’m calling my virtual mom a second time to tell her I’m planning to go pro. I’m not sure why any team would draft me—I guess MyCareer mode just doesn’t expect players to be this consistently bad. It has some plans for that contingency, though: my nickname is ‘The President’ because I announced my college pick in front of an American flag (it’s a whole thing), and this jerk said they should impeach me.
But I sure show him when I’m inexplicably picked to be on Team USA, despite putting up the worst numbers in the history of college basketball. I spend a lot of time on the bench but manage 6 points and 3 rebounds in a game against Australia, which really isn’t bad considering I’m from the beginning of Men in Black. It’s almost draft day, and things aren't looking so bad for The Warriors Ble W A Three-One Le anymore, despite going from best high school player to worst college player.
The cutscenes in MyCareer mode aren’t skippable as far as I can tell, so I have to sit through the entire first round of the draft. I don’t think you’re supposed to have to sit through 27 announcements, because again you’re supposed to be good at the game—but I did. I watched 27 players get drafted before finally being picked by the Phoenix Suns. I’m a pro now.
Of course, I’m still treated like a star—I have an agent looking for shoe deals and everything—while objectively being the worst player on the Suns. At this point, I have a calendar of games and practices and promotional events I can attend, and there's a whole story that takes off from there. Instead, I decide to retire after going to one team practice and failing all the drills. (Rather than making practice sessions into mini-tutorials, if you don’t know how to execute a pick and roll you just suck.)
So that was that: The Warriors Ble W A Three-One Le retired after one practice session with the Suns, went back to college and majored in political science. It was the right choice.
There's much more to MyCareer, obviously, had I stuck with it and risen to NBA stardom despite not understanding the three-second violation. (At least I didn't blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.) But it's probably best that I get better at NBA 2K17 and start over so it makes sense that I'm in the NBA and not, say, a jail cell for streaking across the court, which seems more probable. I also think I'll skip the face scan thing next time.
I had a lot of fun playing MyCareer. The unskippable, sometimes pointless cutscenes can be a bit rough—I remain haunted by Matt Walsh's Matt Walsh mask—and it clearly doesn’t work as an introduction to NBA 2K17, which I mistakenly assumed it would. But sitting on the bench, waiting to go in for a chance to show off was exciting. I wanted to impress the Loovulle crowd every time. I wanted to live up to my high school reputation and be picked first in the draft. I felt the pressure, despite bumbling around like a toddler.
MyCareer portrays me as the character I already am in my sports fantasies: humble, but also the greatest player of all time, and it’s a privilege for everyone else to play with or against me or even see me play, because that’s how good I am. I don't have any kids to project my unfulfilled, impossible athletic dreams on, but here I can live them out without ruining anyone's childhood—or wasting money on one of those fantasy camps where I'd probably just drink Gatorade and cry about back pain. Sucking at NBA 2K17 is much better.