3 WNBA players team up in NBA 2K tournament

Mystics’ Powers, Wings’ Gray and Dream’s Jones use video games to promote equality and empower girls and women

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The live sports world may be dormant, but that didn’t stop a few WNBA ballers from showcasing their skills on the court last week.

The virtual court, that is. Five WNBA players took part in the first-ever NBA 2KL Three For All Showdown, an event designed to, according to the league’s website, “provide NBA 2K League fans and the 2K community with an exciting and fun way to engage with our game and one another during these unprecedented times.”

Three of those players joined forces to form team Watch Us Work in the XBOX bracket. Guards Aerial Powers of the Washington Mystics, Allisha Gray of the Dallas Wings and Alexis Jones of the Atlanta Dream hadn’t played with each other before, but all three are longtime 2K players and grew up on the game.

“I’ve been playing since [2K6 when] Shaq was on the cover in a Miami Heat uniform,” Gray said. “Growing up with two brothers and you wanna ball with ‘em, that’s one way to ball with ‘em.” Gray now plays the majority of her games on a 3v3 team with her brother and her boyfriend. When she’s not playing 2K, she also loves to play Call of Duty.

Allisha Gray drives against Las Vegas Aces’ guard Kayla McBride in a game on June 22, 2019. (Photo courtesy NBAE)

Powers broke into gaming with games like Tony Hawk and Mario Kart. She’s become well-known in the WNBA as an avid gamer, often streaming her games from her Twitch profile. She began her basketball gaming career on the NBA Live franchise but remembers her transition to 2K based on the music she had on while playing. “I think it was around the first Drake album [in 2006],” she said. “That’s how you can pinpoint when I [switched].”

Jones doesn’t play any other video games, but plays 2K with Fetty Wap’s Zoo Gang Gaming and also sometimes with “a whole bunch of randoms.”

Alexis Jones’ avatar (right) reps some Atlanta Dream gear on NBA 2K20. (Photo courtesy Alexis Jones)

When Gray heard about the chance to compete in a 2K tournament, she didn’t hesitate. “It was a no-brainer,” she said. “My agent and [Dallas Wings director of communications] Sterling [Randle] both texted me at the same time asking if I wanted to be involved with this 2K 3v3 tournament and I was like, ‘Yes,’ immediately.”

“Immediately” was not an exaggeration. According to Randle, his text to Gray went out at 3:38 p.m. and her response came back before the clock could even turn to 3:39.

“It’s just dope to see women doing different things.”

– Alexis Jones

Among the many aspects of the event that the group was excited about, the opportunity to increase visibility for women and girls in the gaming community was at the forefront. “It’s just dope to see women doing different things,” Jones said. “I think it gives women opportunities to expand their horizons, do different things, and also learn to get involved with different gaming systems and just figure out the different things that they love and they like to do.”

In addition to the WNBA players in the tournament, some of the most prominent female 2K players had teams as well. “It’s really important because … it’s a male-dominated sport,” Powers said. “It’s really important to me that we get more girls playing, more girls into esports.” She hopes the inclusion of women in this tournament will be a step in that direction. “Maybe it shows some of the younger girls that are playing, ‘Hey, I too can do this.’”

“Instead of, ‘What skills do I bring to the table?’ it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s a girl, she can’t play.’”

– Aerial Powers

In February, Washington Post writer Noah Smith detailed some of the challenges women face in the esports industry—some men refuse to pass a woman the ball or to listen to a female point guard calling plays; others outright quit because they don’t want a female teammate, leaving the women to play with artificial intelligence teammates. Powers has experienced this attitude firsthand. “Sometimes when I have a headset on and someone notices I’m a girl, it’s like a big thing,” she said. “Instead of, ‘What skills do I bring to the table?’ it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s a girl, she can’t play.’”

That antiquated mindset may linger, but anyone who’s watched the work of Watch Us Work knows that, as Gray puts it, “females can game just like men can game.”

While there is still a long way to go when it comes to female representation, both the NBA Live and 2K franchises have made significant progress in recent years. In the fall of 2017, NBA Live 18 became the first NBA game to include the WNBA. After originally only including WNBA teams in the Play Now mode, it added them to other modes the following year. Last September, the WNBA was included in 2K for the first time with the release of NBA 2K20.

Jones believes the incorporation of women in the games will “show others that there’s nothing wrong with putting women in the game, and there’s nothing wrong with males playing with women.”

Alexis Jones gets past Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas in a June 6, 2019 contest. (Photo courtesy Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gray was grateful for the attention to detail that went into the process of adding the WNBA to 2K. “I was too hyped because I played 2K anyway,” she said. “Like 2K actually took the time to face scan us, get all our features down, hair down, shoes down. We weren’t in no generic 2K shoes.”

Powers appreciated another elaborate feature of the 2K addition. “The commentators now when you play at the WNBA level … they actually have live recordings of stats and stuff like that,” she said. “[I was] kind of blown away when I first played it and the announcers were like, ‘Yeah, and she does this, and they did this last year,’ and they had actual information.”

Aerial Powers rises for a jumper over Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams in Game 4 of the 2019 WNBA Finals on October 8, 2019. (Photo courtesy Chris Poss)

The similarities between playing 2K and live-action hoops don’t end with the broadcasters and sneakers, however. “It was funny because me and AP, we were both nervous,” Gray said. “We FaceTimed each other before the game … I literally was nervous like I was about to go out there and play on the court myself.”

“I’m not gonna lie, I was anxious [before the first game],” Powers added. “You know how you get before a game? I was like that for a video game.”

Those nerves quickly turned to joy as Watch Us Work swept a team of Dime Magazine writers in its first-round three-game series, capped off by this powerful aerial assault on the rim:

“We had good team chemistry,” Powers said. “Of course, we’re competitors, so we wanna win no matter what.”

The quarantine-inspired tournament brought the three together for the first time on the online hardwood, but whether in future iterations of the Three For All or other 2K events, it surely won’t be the last time they unite. “If Allisha and Alexis want to do that, of course I’m down to do that,” Powers said.

“I for sure would participate in anything dealing with 2K,” Jones added. “I would enjoy every bit of playing against fans and all that.”

In this pandemic-dictated environment, social distancing-friendly entertainment options like video games may play a more prominent role in society than they ever have. So it’s time to recognize the talents of some of the baddest gamers in the business. Powers says it best: “In this field, it’s either you got it, you bring your skills or you don’t.”

As for Powers, Gray and Jones? They got it.


Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. You can also buy Her Hoop Stats gear, such as laptop stickers, mugs, and shirts!

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