It’s the opportunity basketball fans around the country would kill for – an intimate boot camp with NBL team the Sydney Kings, as part of the launch celebrations of 2KSports NBA2K12. But as I was to discover, there’s a lot more to professional basketball than what the 2K game prepared me for…
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
I look up at the monster in front of me. Way up. Clad in his purple warrior uniform, sweat dripping from the tip of his nose, I am an intruder in his domain. In his home.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
I look into the monster’s eyes. They squint, ever so slightly, before he nods at me. I bounce the basketball one more time before lifting it up, aiming and pushing it forward towards the basket. Disappointingly, it bounces off the rim into oblivion, taking my chances of making a good first impression at Boot Camp with the Sydney Kings with it…
It’s not an opportunity many people get. 2K Games has organised a boot camp event with NBL team the Sydney Kings to celebrate the launch of NBA2K12, and I’m beginning to have second thoughts. Firstly, there’s my skill with a basketball – I have the honoured position of being kicked off the “social” basketball team in high school because I was just that bad. Secondly there’s the fact I don’t really have the attire for a proper boot camp. Wearing a pair of brown dress shorts and a Threadless tee, I immediately feel out of place in the sports centre where the Kings are training.
Fortunately, I am not alone.
I wait, watching the Kings as they complete their training. Passes hit, baskets are sunk, rebounds grabbed – it’s mate against mate, and these guys are holding nothing back. Shoes squeak loudly on the floor, sweaty arms grab each other time after time in a quest for athletic superiority. These guys may be sixth on the NBL ladder at the moment, but they train like a team on top.
As the Kings finish up, I eventually gravitate towards my own training regime for the day’s activities: The two Playstation 3 consoles set up with copies of NBA2K12. My mission is to try and replicate the fluidity of the live action b-ball using Sony’s plastic controllers. Immediately, training is a failure… Passes go wide, fouls are made again and again and shots are missed regularly as I come to grips with the controls. NBA2K12 looks amazingly lifelike, with an almost overwhelming level of detail for real NBA fans, but like the game of basketball itself, it takes a bit of practice to get used to.
“Show me what you’ve got,” says Kings forward Alex Gynes. My nerves get the better of me.
“What? Dribble?” I ask.
“Shoot. Show me what you’ve got,” he replies.
The result, as we’ve already discovered, wasn’t pretty. Fortunately, I’m not alone amongst this group of technology, games and sporting journalists. Coach decides to take us back to basics.
“Bounce the ball in your fingertips,” he tells us. “Control it all in your fingers.”
It’s funny, but such a simple drill is exceptionally reassuring. Learning to control the basketball in your fingertips, rather than the unwieldy palms, gives a lot more control. And it’s a lesson later taken to the PlayStation, where delicate movement of the analog sticks offers a lot more control over the virtual NBA players in NBA2K12.
We continue drills for about 15 minutes, dribbling, circling, weaving the ball around our bodies. As the difficulty increases, the ball begins escaping, but confidence is definitely growing.
Then we move to the basket.
Like everything in professional sport, the shooting is competitive – team against team. We rotate from basket to basket, shooting as fast as we can. Balls bounce everywhere. Occasionally, one goes in. Occasionally, more than one goes in. And just when we’re feeling pretty good about the challenge, coach drags us in for some competitive games – against the Kings themselves.
Somehow, I manage to win a round, eliminating other journalists and professional basketballers in the process. Of course, I’m well aware that there’s a possibility that those Kings playing against us were enviously watching their teammates playing NBA2K12 after a hard training session. Or maybe they just went easy on us. Either way, after taking out my second challenge, the call is made to lower the basket, so we can dunk.
In a world full of man mountains in the NBA who make dunking in both real life and video games look as easy as dropping something in a bin, it was shocking to actually discover that even with a lowered hoop, dunking is hard. Controlling the ball all the way into the net, while jumping as high as you can and trying to catch the ring, is much harder than I thought it would be.
But boy is it exhilarating.
The lowered net got the Kings excited as well, as they took turns to both teach us to dunk, as well as dunking themselves. Guard Luke Cooper threw up the ball so I could try an Alley-oop, although the end result ended up looking more like an alley-oops, even after multiple attempts.
As the heat began to overwhelm us, it was time to take on the Kings on the virtual court. Matched up against Kings’ Guard Ben Madgen, I’m given a false sense of confidence.
“Sometimes,” I respond.
“You good?” he follows up.
“I’m okay,” I answer. I’m lying of course, but I don’t want to admit that to a professional athlete.
As the game begins, I watch the score rack up against me. Two, four, six, seven, eight, eleven… quarter time and I’m down by eight. Worse, I’m being trash-talked.
“Here comes the alley-oop!”
“Ho-hoooooooooo!” (he dunked).
Thankfully, time runs out before I get completely embarrassed, but it’s clear that the Kings love basketball both on and off the court. Kings players watching us compete on the PS3 offer their critique of the lifelike NBA players performance over our shoulders.
“Man, he can’t shoot threes in the game either!”
As we go to lunch, the Kings clap us on the back and congratulate us. They thank us. Despite taking the time to teach us the basics of the game, encouraging us to take part in their sport, they still offer us their thanks.
The NBL is rebuilding. And while it will never reach the lofty heights of the NBA, with its own video game franchise, lucrative crowds and obscene sponsorship deals, it’s definitely on the rise. Which is a great thing, because as 2KSports and the Sydney Kings taught me today, white men can jump (when the ring has been lowered as far as it can go).
Nick attended the Sydney Kings Boot Camp as a guest of 2K Sports. Stay tuned for a full review of NBA2K12 soon.