This past month, my son has been awfully helpful around the house, taking out the trash, turning off the lights and cleaning up more than usual. At first, I thought he had turned a corner, showing us that he had matured beyond his ten years and was becoming a little less self-absorbed. When I sat him down to thank him for his extra efforts recently, he listened hard, and then responded thusly:
“Dad, now can you buy me the Kobe Legend-Gold edition of NBA 2K17?”
Of course, there had to be a catch. Turns out, the NBA 2K video game franchise is not just a hobby, it is a lifestyle that my son has been irrevocably sucked into. Since first getting NBA 2K16, he has mastered the game. From an Anthony Davis alley-oop, to the fast break pacing of the 2001 Lakers, he has it all down. Whereas I play my stars all game long, as to not have to deal with substitutions, he finds the right rotation of bench players when his stars become fatigued. Online, he follows NBA 2K YouTube stars who comment on the games–guys with names like JessertheLazer and Cash Nasty–and he has even begun talking smack to me when he defeats me by 30 when we play each other–even though I choose a team like the 2015 Cavaliers and he plays with the current roster Milwaukee Bucks.
The newest version of the video game (NBA 2K17) is set to launch this month and is available for pre-order in three separate bundles. There’s the Paul George cover edition, the standard version, that costs $59.99… and then there are the two “Kobe Legend” editions, retailing for $79.99 and $99.99. It’s a far cry from when I shelled out $22.00 for my copy of “Double Dribble” in junior high.
“I’m not getting the lame Paul George version,” he explained when I said that the standard game would do just fine. “I want the ‘Legend-Gold’ – it comes with all of Kobe’s shoes, a lenticular insert and 70,000 V.C.”
“Vince Carter?” I asked.
“Virtual currency,” he responded.
The mid-range ‘Legend’ edition includes a Kobe hoodie (not real, only virtual) Black Mamba controller skins (I HOPE these are actual items) and even a Kobe poster, which I would have loved as a kid. These extras also include playing as the 1992 Dream Team (cool) and something called “early tip-off access” which means kids can play a whole four days before anybody else.
“Dad, this isn’t a new thing,” my son explained. “Early tip-off access happens every year.”
Color me ignorant. This game has become so involved, it basically serves as an online university where kids major in NBA General Manager Training. Thus, I am either raising the next Mitch Kupchak, or I am raising a future couch potato who will fall into a depression when he finds out that the 2029 Legend package doesn’t include all of the shoes of recently retired NBA superstar Ben Simmons.
A lot of parents I know keep their kids away from video games, but I was never one of those dads. When my son was born, we played Wii and some phone games, but it was all harmless and took 30 minutes a day. But now I understand some parental concerns. On weekends, my son gets up at 5:30 in the morning and plays entire seasons before I have a cup of coffee. I guess the good news is that he’s not blowing up entire villages in Call of Duty or hunting for Pokemon around 100-foot cliffs.
As is our ritual, my son and I recently sat down and played against each other. I used to beat him handily, often clanking free throws to keep games close and “accidentally” shooting full court three pointers. I barely finished the game. He knew every move. The spin move, step-back, the fade away, the put-back dunk… He threw down a 360 on me with a circa 2001 Tracy McGrady. He made a 3-pointer with Shaquille O’Neal. The killer, though, was when he scored 43 points by using former benchwarmer Brian Scalabrine.
“Brian Scalabrine?” I complained.
“He’s the G.O.A.T.” he said.
“What? He sucked!”
“No way, not the White Mamba! Scalabrine is LIT, dad.”
It was true. Somehow, in the NBA 2K community, something was added to the game that turned Brian Scalabrine into an “amethyst” level player with an overall 90 rating. He is unstoppable and ridiculous, flashing Lebron-like skills on every play and filling the stat sheet nightly.
“I want a Brian Scalabrine jersey,” he said.
Come next week, I have to decide whether to get my son the $99.99 edition or the $59.99 edition of the game. The truth of the matter is, that I encourage my son’s NBA obsession – it rivals mine as a kid with baseball and I love it. I’m also very pleased to announce I have stopped buying $50.00 Star Wars Lego toys, and have been saving for Clippers tickets instead. It’s nice to have another sports fan in the house.
“OK, are you going to keep up your chores like you have the past couple of weeks?” I asked him when I proposed pre-ordering him the game.
“Of course I am,” he said, staring into a Pistons-Celtics matchup on the screen.
“This better be worth it,” I said.
As I walked back towards the kitchen, I heard him yell out a highlight from the screen, as a certain player dunked all over ex-Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace.
“Scalabrine!” Echoed through the house.
Images: NBA 2K Games