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Ranking the NBA 2K Players Tournament Matchups by Potential Trash Talk

I know nothing about video games, but I know a thing or two about NBA players interacting online. Here’s a breakdown of the games—based on everything but the actual game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NBA is partnering with 2K and the NBPA this weekend for the “NBA 2K Players Tournament” tournament featuring 16 gamers from around the league. ESPN will air the competition. I’ve thought about NBA 2K twice in the past six years, once when I tried to play it in 2014 (and quit four minutes in upon the realization that I was terrible). The second time was Tuesday night at 3 a.m. while scrolling through TikTok. Among the many dances and pranks dreamed up by the great auteurs of this generation was a challenge: Get naked and walk in on your significant other while he or she (usually he) is playing video games to convince them to set down the controller. Many were playing 2K. Almost all of them quit. The world’s going to have so many baby Capricorns next year.

Despite all of this, I am intrigued by this 2K tournament for two reasons:

  • Other than the odd pop-culture prop bet, I only gamble on sports, and their global cessation has created a void within a void. There are already favorites to win the tournament (Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton), and unlike esports, this is a realm I’m actually familiar with. Of course, being an exceptionally talented basketball player in real life doesn’t necessarily translate to being an exceptionally talented basketball player in video games, and my knowledge of 2K is limited to the occasional tweet from a player being upset at his rating. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gambled on something I know little to nothing about—2019 Cricket World Cup, I thank you again (Team India forever)—and it would be nice for things to feel normal again, i.e., me losing some money from sports betting.
  • Pitting players against each other will inevitably lead to trash-talking and other miscellaneous overanalyzed interactions, the lifeblood of the NBA, which I have missed dearly.

The matchups, based on players’ 2K rating and league tenure, are set. The first round tips Friday with the quarterfinals on Tuesday and the semifinals and finals to be played on April 11. Given that I don’t play 2K, or watch people play 2K, or watch people watching NBA players play 2K, I decided to rank all eight first-round matchups based on entertainment value outside of the game itself.

1. (1) Kevin Durant vs. (16) Derrick Jones Jr.

Draymond Green called Durant one of the league’s most underrated trash-talkers back in 2015. Now I wonder whether this was another soft recruitment tactic, though Green is intimately familiar with what exasperates people. KD winning would be a feel-good moment after having this season stripped away, but I’m torn on whether he can beat Jones for two reasons:

  • Durant has a 7-foot-4 wingspan. Typically someone with that reach has long fingers, which I’m assuming helps gamers in the same way it does pianists. But Durant is on record saying that he can’t palm a basketball. In 2014, when presented with a picture of him palming two basketballs, Durant explained that they weren’t fully inflated. Like many of the narratives that surround him, this one didn’t impress KD. “It’s nothing I can control. … I don’t know why this is a story,” said the professional basketball player famed for his abnormally long limbs. Also important: Durant was lying about his height back then.
  • Every player in the tournament will select eight teams to play with, and each team can be used only once. The wonderful people in my life who play video games have informed me that it is in bad taste to simply pick the best team with the best players. This is the ultimate advantage for Durant, a man who shamelessly joined a team that had won 73 games the year before.

2. (2) Trae Young vs. (15) Harrison Barnes

In December, Barnes pledged, unprompted, to grow the hair on his head and face until the Kings reached .500 again. At the time, Sacramento was three games away from the mark. “I just had a tremendous amount of confidence in my squad that I was like, ‘I’m not getting no line up,’ because I didn’t think it was going to be that long,” Barnes said. Tremendous confidence! In the Kings!

The Kings dropped eight straight after Barnes’s promise. Currently, with the season paused indefinitely, the Kings are 28-36. Nonetheless Barnes is still committed to his pledge, which is why I’m ranking this matchup above others. “The whiskers are out,” he told Danny Green on Inside the Green Room.

3. (4) Donovan Mitchell vs. (13) Rui Hachimura

Boredom leads to restlessness; restlessness leads to recklessness; recklessness leads to Donovan Mitchell engaging in a Twitter battle with Philadelphia sports radio host Howard Eskin. If there are three types of people I’d rather not argue with because I value reason, it’s (1) Philadelphia sports fans, (2) sports radio personalities, and (3) Howard Eskin. The fight, by the way, was about Cam Newton’s greatness. Mitchell is ready for any kind of war.

4. (6) Andre Drummond vs. (11) DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins has been one of the league’s most prolific trash-talkers the past few years. Refs have been watching him his entire career; Scott Foster once tossed Cousins in 2018 for talking to a teammate (Draymond Green) about an opponent (Enes Kanter). According to a video Bleacher Report published in 2019, Cousins is also a “VERY passionate” gamer. (I watched the clip. Cousins lost.) Drummond, meanwhile, admitted last year that he wasn’t even the best gamer on his team when he was with the Pistons. I feel a blowout coming.

5. (5) Devin Booker vs. (12) Michael Porter Jr.

Last offseason, Booker gamed competitively against professionals—and it wasn’t 2K. It’s a well-known hobby of his. In fact, he found out that the NBA season was being postponed while streaming Call of Duty: Warzone on Twitch. “What the fuck, bro?” Booker said. “Bro. Bro. What the fuck is going on, bro? Bro.” To be fair, “Bro, what the fuck is going on, bro?” is all I’ve been saying for the last three weeks too.

Booker then continued to play. Good luck distracting this man.

6. (7) Zach LaVine vs. (10) Deandre Ayton

Sportsbooks have Ayton as a cofavorite to win the whole thing, but LaVine has clearly been fed up in general for months and may snap.

7. (3) Hassan Whiteside vs. (14) Patrick Beverley

Players are inevitably upset every year when the 2K ratings drop. I’ve never thought about whether it’s warranted or not because, again, I never think about 2K, but this tournament is seeded by rating. Whiteside is an 87, ranked higher than Devin Booker, and yes, Beverley, whose hypercompetitive nature will only be exacerbated by a limited big man having a superior rating.

8. (8) Montrezl Harrell vs. (9) Domantas Sabonis

Trez has his own storied trash-talking history. In 2019 alone, he was fined $25,000 for telling a fan to “shut the fuck up” against the Wolves while Jeff Teague was shooting free throws and had a verbal altercation with Russell Westbrook’s brother in November. If nothing else, Sabonis could break out in dance.