NBA2K14 is the weirdest game I played in 2013. For three reasons.
1. It's a sports game.
2. The integration with the real-life NBA season is an astounding and slightly magical fusion of entertainment media.
3. I suck at it.
Way back in 2002, I visited New York. As you can imagine, the mood on the streets wasn't exactly jovial (it was three months after September 11) and as such, my holiday seemed more solitary than usual. It was the dead of winter. At one point walking through Times Square, my chin went numb because it was so cold. I didn't even know chins could do that. I strolled through Central Park, saw an off-Broadway play and visited Harlem. I also bought a ticket to see the New York Knicks.
I had a bit of money behind me then and asked the ticket seller to give me a good seat at Madison Square Garden. I ended up six rows behind Spike Lee, who still to this day sits at courtside during every New York home game. The Knicks lost to the Orlando Magic but that was irrelevant. The spectacle of the event left me reeling. The lights, music, enormous hot dogs. It was amazing.
Since then, I didn't really follow the NBA but the Knicks were always there. I had decided they were my team. Cut to 2011 and I played some of NBA2K12 on the Xbox 360. I enjoyed what I played but I felt there was something lacking to prevent me from really delving deep into it.
All that changed with NBA2K14.
I have never really been a huge sports games fan and probably less of a sports fan. But this game, man. This game has turned me right around. I'm playing the PS4 version and at certain points, it seems way too well executed for a launch game. The visuals and animations are some of the best I've ever seen. The more the players run around, the more they show perspiration. The spin moves are smooth and when they pump their fists after sinking a three-pointer, it's completely infectious. And the icing on the cake is the commentary. It is so dynamic and fluid that it borders on witchcraft.
The learning curve is steep as a brick wall. Whether you're playing a team season or taking your individual rookie through a career, the first few games are rough. Missed rebounds, bad passes and low scores. But with a superb training camp and series of tutorials, the nuances of control start to become clear. Face away from the defender before doing a half-spin for that fadeaway jumper. Time it right before attempting that steal. Try a crossover dribble behind the back before rushing to the paint for a two-handed jam. All these skills come slowly, but surely. Much like controls in Black Box's Skate series, everything you need to become the next Jordan or LeBron is there from the start. You just need to learn.
I don't what it is about New York. As of this writing, they're having one of their worst seasons ever and when they play badly, it seems like they have zero idea what they are doing. But since that day at Madison Square Garden, I will always be a Knicks fan.
NBA2K14 has changed me as a person because of its stunning dedication to basketball. I now try to watch every New York game regularly whereas a few months ago, I couldn't have cared less. I've even ordered some Knicks merchandise. Crazy, right?
2K's obviously deranged love for the sport of NBA is felt everywhere but no more so than the constantly updating NBA Today feature. Load the game up and one of the menu options is all the (very) recent real-life scores and highlights from the NBA season. It just works. Like magic.
Currently, the Knicks are second last in the Eastern Conference division. My Knicks in NBA2K14 are doing roughly just as bad. Despite these depressing standings, I'm making progress. I feel I'm improving. I'm more aggressive with offensive rebounds and the timing on my free-throws is more precise. It will be a long road until the playoffs in 2014 but I plan to go game-for-game with the real-life Knicks. That sounds a little extreme but so does buying a hat of a team you just started following a few weeks ago.
That's how compelling NBA2K14 is. And that's how powerful video games can be when they're made with such dedication and excitement. Come on Knicks. Let's show Cleveland who's boss.