It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the relationship between professional athletes and video games has grown closer over the years.
Gamers, once seen solely as geeks and wedgie targets by those in the sporting life (sorry for bringing up any painful memories), have recently been embraced by the world of millionaire jocks. Athletes can be made even richer through lucrative game endorsements, and manufacturers want to co-opt athletes' cool so that they too can see some more green.
And besides, what's the real difference between a pro athlete and a kid with a controller in the basement? Both are just playing games, after all.
On June 18 at the NBA Store in midtown Manhattan, those two worlds – the full-time professional athlete and the gamer who would love to make it a full-time profession – collided.
They came together at the final round of the Nokia NBA 2k5 Championship, NBA 2k5 being 2K Sports' popular answer to Electronic Arts' powerhouse NBA Live series.
The final four contestants were competing for $10,000 in cash, an appearance on ESPN2's morning talk show "Cold Pizza" and, perhaps most importantly, eternal bragging rights.
Four rising NBA stars also had their own mini-tournament, with the winner receiving $25,000 for the charity of their choice. They were: Andre Iguodala, 21, the versatile Philadelphia 76ers rookie; Chris Bosh, 21, a 6'10" Toronto Raptor who just finished his second season; 20-year-old New Yorker Sebastian Telfair, a straight-out-of-high-school Portland rookie who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated while he was still in homeroom; and Corey Maggette, a Los Angeles Clippers guard and the eldest of the bunch at 25 years old.
Couches were set up in front of two big screen televisions on the NBA Store's scaled-down basketball court. One station had NBA 2k5 for Xbox, and the other TV was reserved for Playstation 2. It was a high-pressure atmosphere, at least for the regular Joes. NBA players are no doubt used to high-stakes games, gawking onlookers, dancing cheerleaders, bright camera flashes and announcers waiting to pounce on ever mistake.
Ah yes, the announcers. The whole affair was being taped for broadcast on NBA TV, the league's cable channel. Lingering behind the contestants were play-by-play man Gary Apple and color-commentator Ed Lover, the wisecracking former co-host of "Yo! MTV Raps." Now, if you think two professional broadcasters analyzing an 18-year-old's video game basketball skills – while cheerleaders shake pompoms just off to the side - is an unusual scene, well, let's just say you're pretty much dead on.