Life is imperfect, but it’s literally all we have. As the theme song from Cheers, a television show about high-functioning alcoholics, goes: “Wouldn’t you like to get away?” Well, if you’re like me, and have a shaky attention span and a deeply wounded outlook on current events, the answer is: yes.
Thank heaven for video games.
Anyone who has ever soothed the rough surface of their soul with the basketball video game 2K knows what the random computer-generated player is. As one plows deeper into the cocoon of a game’s franchise mode, further and further into the “future,” the game will necessarily have to populate its virtual rosters as real-life players age out. The results are often a bouillabaisse of individually banal traits that come out slightly weird.
There are 400 players in the NBA at any given time. You are going to be unfamiliar with some of these dudes. But, once you experience the randomly generated player, you start seeing him in real life. And once you see him, you can’t stop. (It’s actually not a great situation.)
What makes a flesh-and-blood, honest-to-goodness human NBA player resemble a randomly generated video game player? A randomly generated player is a concept, not a thing. It’s a collection of generic ideas about what NBA players are. A crucial thing about a computer-created player, though, is those stereotypical traits are not selected in any obvious relation to each other. Here, for instance, is Al-Farouq Sullivan, a player created by the computer during the virtual 2023 offseason.
Or, consider Jalen Braxton:
Braxton was created by the 2K engine in the virtual year 2025. Perhaps that’s why his overall vibe is “Simon Phoenix’s brother makes the NBA.” The algorithm styled his hair in braids, which … OK. But why are they platinum blond? He’s got a James Harden–esque beard, which does not match the color of the hair on his head. What about the name? One part familiar (Jalen Rose, Jalen Jones), one part novel, in the context of the league (there has never been an NBA player with the given or family name Braxton). He wears no. 42, a common enough basketball number — but it’s been retired only four times across the league. All of these details, taken together, go into creating the look and feel of a randomly generated player.
An NBA player can be said to resemble a randomly generated player when his attributes appear notably stereotypical, but bizarrely out of sync. To quantify this, I’ve created an RGS (Random Generated Score). It’s the sum of three traits — a player’s name, his hair, and his facial features (called “head” because: video games). These traits are subjective, until you see enough randomly generated players, that is. Then you objectively will not be able to stop seeing it.
Each trait is measured on a scale of one to five. One represents notability — a ragged scar or a strangely shaped haircut, for example. If it’s memorable, it’s rated a one. Five denotes a humdrum or otherwise forgettable trait. A haircut so normal you couldn’t describe it to your barber is the perfect example.
And now, your RGS Power Rankings.
1. Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Forward, New York Knicks
Hair: 5 (Preset: “Shaggy”)
Kuz is a 27-year-old rookie from Lithuania. That sentence, in and of itself, is similar to something a computer would say when virtually birthing a Euro dude. His given name is common and a reference to the first Grand Duke of Lithuania. His hair is an actual preset: “Shaggy”. Overall, he has a face that would have been easily reproduced by the last generation’s gaming console technology. He rocks the jersey no. 91, which has been worn twice: by Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace, two of the most memorable players ever.
Kuzminskas’s combination of low-res character-model features, a hairstyle lifted from a carving of a nymph on a baroque water fountain, the absence of a shooting sleeve or headband, and the jersey number all make him an easy pick for the most RGS player in the league. And, arguably, the most RGS player ever. His video game self looks like a nonplayable character from the latest Final Fantasy game.
What happens when you run a Google Image search based off a player’s digital face: “Basketball player” and Monica Seles, for some reason.
2. Thon Maker, Forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Hair: 4 (Preset: “Buzz”)
Shouts to my dude, Thon, for sending Birdman to hospice on Tuesday night. Whoowee.
Well before Thon was drafted by the Bucks, gamers have been creating him in video games. As one would expect for the no. 2-rated RGS player in the league, making the video game version of Maker is easy. His head is literally the “Head 1” preset. Some light sculpting is necessary to make the ears the correct shape, but Thon is basically all presets. His hair is “Cropped 5,” and “Eyebrow 2” tie his features together. No wonder no one is really sure how old he is.
Doppelgänger Google Image Search: “Milwaukee Bucks”
3. Klay Thompson, Guard, Golden State Warriors
Hair: 3 (Preset: “Short Afro”)
Being the son of a former NBA player basically makes Klay a real-life randomly generated player. How long does it take to make Klay in 2K without scanning his face? Three minutes? I think I could do it freehand. My dude is like if an engineer from Prometheus, an Easter Island statue, and the NPR logo merged in a teleporter. My guy looks like the laziest police sketch ever. Klay’s face is so blank that the image search of his video game face returns “Man.”
Doppelgänger Google Image Search: “Man”
4. Cristiano Felicio, Center, Chicago Bulls
Hair: 4 (Preset: “Buzz”)
I’m actually not sure that this guy isn’t made up. Like, I think this guy might actually play for Tottenham Hotspur’s youth team.
Doppelgänger Google Image Search: “Basketball player”
5. Nikola Jokic, Forward, Denver Nuggets
Hair: 4 (Preset: “Buzz”)
Nikola Jokic emerged as one of the surprises of last season. A 6-foot-10 soft-shooting stretch forward, everything about him seems as if it was created in the Vlade Divac Memorial Balkan Big Man Factory. Absolutely swagless buzzcut? Check. General vibe of an inmate from the Alien 3 space prison? Check. Zero muscle tone? Bingo.
Doppelgänger Google Image Search: “Athlete”