Lang’s World: Working to Lose to Win

It all started, like pretty much everything else in the world these days, with COVID-19. Back in October of last year, I came down with the Delta variant, which swiftly knocked out my taste and smell, and kept me marooned in bed for a week or so. Once I finally emerged and started getting my legs back under me, I realized I’d lost some weight—it turns out not wanting to eat helps a lot in that regard.

I knew right then that I needed to keep it going, because keeping my weight under control has always been a struggle. Two months earlier, the Grizz Gaming season had ended in a playoff loss, and when we returned home, I saw a few pictures of myself which showed me things were, frankly, worse than I realized. I wasn’t just husky or kinda big, like I’ve been since adolescence. I was fat. And I needed to do something about it.

So, over the last seven months, I’ve lost about 50 pounds. I say “about” 50 pounds, because when I started this journey, I don’t know how much I weighed; I was afraid to get on a scale. But I know exactly how much I weigh now. I’m down 7 inches in my pants waist size. I’ve gone from squeezing into XXL shirts to being able to wear size L hoodies. I had to stop wearing my wedding ring because it kept slipping off my finger.

A few weeks ago, we had our annual Grizz Gaming media day, when the gamers get their photos taken in a variety of settings for us to use all season for content purposes. This year, for the first time, I asked our ace photographer Joe Murphy to get a specific picture of me: I wanted a shot of me in the exact same pose as one year prior, so I could compare and contrast the two. As I suspected, the difference was stark.

Two side-by-side images comparing Lang Whitaker's weight loss. Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE.

It took so much work, and so many small moments where I had to dedicate myself to making the right choice. But put together, all off those moments helped me get to where I am today.

The best way I can describe the 2K League is that each game is essentially a collective of people working together to try and solve a puzzle. You’re playing a basketball game, sure, but you can’t do it on your own—all five people on a 2K team must work in tandem, thinking together as a group. Sometimes that means not cutting to the basket just because the lane is open. Sometimes that means not taking a good shot because a great shot is a pass or two away. Sometimes that means not running over to defend a player, because there’s a chance you might give up an open three while contesting a two. And so on, and so on.

Making all those pieces fit takes players willing to buy into a team concept. It takes chemistry and it takes reps playing together, and none of that happens overnight. In many ways, it’s similar to my own fitness journey: There’s no straight line to success—sometimes you win, sometimes you lose—but if you keep pushing forward, and making more right decisions than wrong decisions, growth will occur. It doesn’t mean you’ll get the results you want immediately, but you must keep grinding, you have to keep working, if you want to get anywhere.

This season, Grizz Gaming got off to a slow start. We were way behind getting our five players into the same market together, for reasons that were beyond our control. Once we finally got all five into Memphis and were able to practice on this season’s league build, we had to figure out a lot of things. We built this roster with a specific lineup in mind, but the league build dictated otherwise if we wanted to maximize the talent on the roster. So, we tinkered, we adjusted, we mixed, we matched. And we lost a few games along the way.

It’s easy to allow doubt to creep in, to let anxiety overwhelm self-confidence. But I believed in my guys. We had a roster of veteran players who were all tough and self-aware and, most importantly, willing to be honest with themselves and each other. I knew if we stuck with our game plan and believed in each other, we could put ourselves in a position to be successful. We started 0-3, then won two straight to make it to the first 2K League tournament last week in Indianapolis. Once in Indy, we had to play the top team in the Eastern Conference, the undefeated GenG Tigers, and we led the entire game, before a late burst gave GenG the win. It was heartbreaking and disappointing, but it wasn’t the end of our season. As our point guard BP said to me after the game, “I have a good feeling.”

To lose fifty pounds, the first thing I had to do was completely change everything. I began with the way I ate, embarking upon a diet from which I have refused to deviate. Every morning, I eat a cup of oatmeal and drink a large cup of coffee. For lunch, I eat a pre-packaged salad and drink a bottle of water. If I get hungry during the afternoon, I drink more water and maybe eat an orange or two. For dinner, I eat whatever I want, although I try to be reasonable, both with the meal and the protein. (I eat vegetarian at least a few nights a week, and stick to mostly eating poultry, fish and pork.) If I’m hungry late at night, I’ll eat a handful of nuts or perhaps a few pretzels and hummus. I avoid fast food altogether, and if I must eat on the run, I’ll opt for a salad or something light. I’ve also had to work incredibly hard at not cheating and telling myself it’s OK to have a bag of chips, because I understand that once I start to eat something, it can go in a flash from being a snack to an avalanche. I’ve also had to accept that this isn’t so much a diet I’m on as much as it is a new way of eating. This is how I’m going to have to eat for the rest of my life. Is it exciting? Nah, but it is sustainable, and it is reasonable.

The other big change I made was really getting into running regularly. I used to run a few miles a couple of days a week, but I wasn’t losing much weight because I was eating so poorly. Now, in addition to a cleaner diet, I run at least three miles a day, six days a week. It has required an unbelievable amount of self-control and discipline, but I’ve done it and plan on continuing to do it. Last Saturday, knowing I had a crazy busy day ahead, I set my alarm and woke up at 7:00 a.m., to get the gym and squeeze my run in before the day got away from me.

Waking up before the sun to go run? I guess this really is a new me. I’m still not skinny, but I am much more appropriately sized. I know if I stick to the way I’m eating and living now, I’ll continue to lose weight, although probably not as dramatically as I have over the last year. And if I want to continue dropping weight, I just have to keep working. And working. And working.

It’s a journey, a process. Sometimes you take a step back to take a step forward. I’ll keep plugging away, but eventually, I’ll get there.

It felt great for Grizz Gaming to get up off the canvas and fight our way into the tournament in Indianapolis last week, but it wasn’t enough. We still have a lot of work to do, and the work never stops—we continue to come to the facility seven days a week to grind and try to improve.

This week, we will start playing in the NBA 2K League’s first-ever 3-on-3 tournament. How will this go? Well, I don’t know. But I can tell you that as soon as we got back from Indianapolis, we started working on 3v3, trying to figure out our best lineups and strategies. You can’t say we haven’t been working at it.

Because it turns out, as with everything in life, from losing weight to being successful at your job, doing the work matters. Don’t try and cheat, don’t hunt for shortcuts. Put your nose down and work.

And you might just surprise yourself with the results.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Lang’s World: Preparing for Grizz Gaming Season Five

The fast way isn’t always the best way. You can get to your destination in a hurry, sure, but sometimes you miss things along the way. While building our Grizz Gaming teams the last few seasons, I was able to take the long view. As some other NBA 2K League franchises made move after move after move, I tried my best to be deliberate, to embrace the slow build. I knew the types of players and people we wanted on our team, and we invested our resources in not only finding those people, but developing them as well.

While we were able to build a winning culture and fill our roster with terrific players, the reality is we just never got good enough, or at least not as good as I wanted us to be. Even last year, when Grizz Gaming finished the regular season 18-10 and made our first-ever playoff appearance, we didn’t win any tournament money, and we didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

So, it became time to take that next step, not to rebuild but to refresh, to try to strengthen our team. While we considered our offseason options, we also had to factor in that the 2K League had made some significant gameplay changes, adding several 3-on-3 tournaments. This sounds much simpler than it actually is, but playing 5-on-5 in 2K is pretty different than playing three on three, and finding someone who excels at both isn’t easy.

We began our offseason by trading a first round pick for JMoney, who played point guard last season for Gen.G. There are really two types of point guards in the 2K League, either ball-dominant players or PGs who are really more like game managers. JMoney is one of the best game managers I’ve ever seen — he knows how to control tempo and how to maximize his teammates (he led the 2K League in assists per game last season). If we were able to build as balanced a roster as we had previously, having a balanced, dynamic offensive attack would make us even tougher to play against.

But it wasn’t just that easy. Switching to a more balanced style of play would mean a new role for Vandi, who played point guard for us over the last three seasons. Vandi and I talked and talked and talked over the options, and we eventually agreed to find a new home for him. We were able to move Vandi to Pacers Gaming, where he could continue to play point guard, and in return we picked up the twelfth overall pick.

This meant heading into the draft we had the 12th pick, the 38th pick, JMoney, plus two returning players in our center, AuthenticAfrican, and our power forward, Spartxn. Authentic and Spartxn are two of the best players in the 2K League and the backbones of our defense. More importantly, they are both incredibly high-quality people and awesome teammates.

With the 12th pick, we knew we needed someone who could help us out offensively, and we also understood from the beginning that the best player out there was BP. After three seasons in the 2K League, BP had established himself as the one of the best offensive players in the world, but he had never been able to really find a perfect fit among 2K League teams. We felt like with our established culture and great group of 2K League veterans already in place, we could give BP his best chance to be successful this season. As the draft slowly moved toward the 12 pick, there were a few nerve-wracking moments where it looked as though BP would be gone before we got to the 12 spot, but we made it and were eventually able to breathe a sigh of relief when we made the pick official.

Our other choice was 38th overall, at the end of the second round. We knew we needed to draft someone who could come in and play the lockdown defender position–basically a three-and-D role. But we also knew that picking at 38 meant a lot of players would already be off the board. So, a few weeks ago, as a group we started brainstorming other ideas. What were we looking for? Someone we knew would be a good teammate, someone who would listen, someone who would work hard, someone who would collaborate, someone who could be versatile. And of course, we needed someone who would be able to learn how to become a solid defender, someone who could hit corner threes and could make the proper reads while on fastbreaks.

And the name we kept coming back to was Jrod. Jrod spent season two and three as our shooting guard, and then ended up joining us midway through last season and embracing a sixth man role. Jrod is one of the most respected we’ve had come through our program, has been an integral part of building our team culture, and most importantly, Jrod has mastered every job we’ve asked him to tackle, without ever complaining once. A few weeks before the draft, I asked Jrod if he’d be willing to give lock a try, and he promised he would give it his all. I knew he would. (I also knew the draft “experts” would probably be confused by the pick. I didn’t care. IYKYK.)

So that’s how we got our five, our common denominator. It’s a team made up of 2K League veterans, all players who are talented and, more importantly, willing to buy into our team concept. I can’t wait to get everyone here in the M to start grinding together. This year there’s no sixth man, so these five are our five. We are literally all we got.

And we will be ready to go.

Grizz Gaming: Accepting the End Game

And then it ends. Just like that.

An entire year of working seven days a week—of scouting, of interviewing, of drafting, of building a team, of making calls, of trying to anticipate problems and confronting them before they fester, of scrimmaging and scrimmaging and scrimmaging and scrimmaging, of watching film, of creating content, of paperwork, of making sure every detail is taken care of, and doing it all while navigating a global pandemic. You’re up to your neck in it, and then it all ends. Just like that.

A few days ago in Dallas, season four of Grizz Gaming came to a disappointing halt with a loss in the NBA 2K League playoffs. Grizz Gaming had our best season in franchise history, finishing with an 18-10 regular season record and as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. But then the rug got yanked out from under us.

Seasons have fixed end points—that’s literally what defines a season. They go from pole to pole, from one randomly selected date to another, but there is an arc to them, and we ride that curve and write our own narrative as best we can. For Grizz Gaming, we entered this season with one goal: Make the playoffs. We’d been close, oh so close, but had never gotten over that hump.

This year, however, we did it. We made the postseason, and we won our first game, then lost games two and three, ending our story. We were close in both of those last two games, down single digits in each contest, but we couldn’t narrow the gaps. What went wrong? Plenty. There isn’t one thing I could point to, and to be blunt, some of that blame belongs at my size thirteen Space Hippies, as well. We all could have been better. Because now it’s over. Just like that.

Vandi and Spartan celebrating

And it hurts, it hurts a lot. I wanted to give my guys a quick talk on the bus ride back to the hotel after our elimination, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get the words out without my voice breaking. I don’t know if people understand is what a grind this league is, both physically and mentally. Sure, we are just playing a video game, but winning in the 2K League requires all five players working in sync, at all times. We did the math the other day and figured we must have logged somewhere around 500 scrimmage games over the last few months. You have to lock in and stay locked in for hours at a time, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. It was right around 100 degrees all week in Dallas, and in the room where we played our games, with dozens of people in there and the TV lights on, it was pushing 90 degrees, with no ventilation. (A power outage minutes into our first game didn’t exactly help, either.)

Right now, as I write this, I am completely drained. I am sitting in my hotel room in Dallas, my sweat-soaked clothes and hat from last night’s game in a pile over in the corner. We are a few hours away from our flight home to Memphis, and I’ve spent the last hour filling out spreadsheets to get my guy’s travel booked from Memphis to their actual homes. They each moved to the 901 for the last six months and gave it their everything. They were willing to sacrifice to be part of a bigger whole, and I will forever love each of them for that. There were people off the virtual court who also put in so much work, from Token helping us get ready for the draft, to Lexi, to Sam and Stef, to Corey, to our web team and our video team. From the top down, the Grizzlies organization has been unbelievably supportive of us. And I have to also say thanks to my wife and son, for being so understanding when I basically disappear each summer.

The last few months have been a blur. There’s so much happening outside of the 2K League world right now that I haven’t even had to time to fully process, from the Braves moving into first place to the start of the college football season to the loss of Charlie Watts. I’m looking forward to having time to do some of the things that I enjoy over the next few weeks.

I’m also looking forward to getting back some pieces of me (shouts to Ashlee Simpson). I’m tired of being too nervous to eat before our games, of having a constant low-grade headache on game days, of the perpetual stress of keeping this train on track, of having my mind so filled with things that need to be done that the thoughts spill over onto the Notes app on my phone, lest they be lost forever. We may have lost in the playoffs, but I have become an undisputed world champion at internalizing anxiety while projecting confidence, although this comes with consequences. (One trick I learned this season was instead of sucking on Ricola during games, Rolaids can be helpful.)

Of course, six months from now I’ll forget all of that and be ready to be back at it. Because at the end of it all, there is no feeling as amazing as winning, and there’s no feeling as awful as losing. We learn to live with the losing so that we can experience those blissful winning moments.

It’s hard to understand it’s over until it’s actually over, and it’s equally difficult to accept that we had a great season while we’re still in the shadow of our season-ending loss. At some point, hopefully soon, we’ll be able to laugh about some of the great times this season produced. Right now, we’re still in pain.

You play and you work and you compete, with everything that you’ve got.

Then it ends. Just like that.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Grizz Gaming's Vandii & AuthenticAfrican React to First Franchise Playoff! | JUST GRIZZLIES Podcast

Grizz Gaming’s Vandii & AuthenticAfrican React to First Franchise Playoffs Appearance!

On today’s episode of JUST GRIZZLIES, Kelcey Wright Johnson is joined by Grizz Gaming veterans Vandii and AuthenticAfrican on location in Dallas via Skype for the team’s first ever NBA 2K playoff appearance. The trio talk about the team’s journey to the playoffs, what’s different this year from years past, and what makes 2K and Esports fandom in general unique for new or casual fans who tuning-in for the first time.

Grizz Gaming: Mission Accomplished, but Plenty of Work Left

As the sun rose on Thursday morning, I rolled over in bed, and the first thing my wife said to me was, “Well, how does it feel?”

She didn’t specify a topic, but I knew what she was talking about: Twelve hours earlier, Grizz Gaming had finished our 2021 season in the NBA 2K League with a 2-0 sweep over Raptors Uprising. The wins locked us into the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and left our record at 18-10 for the regular season. This was our best finish in franchise history, and the first playoff appearance in franchise history.

I felt a range of emotions, but more than anything, it felt validating. We’d been so close for so long, finishing one game out of the playoffs for each of our first three seasons. As I’ve said before, it would make you shake your head and laugh if it wasn’t so ridiculous. But the truth is, at the end of the season it doesn’t matter if you finished one game or one hundred games out of the playoffs—either you’re in or you’re out.

From day one of this season, our goal has been making the playoffs. To be honest, that’s been our goal every season, but it wasn’t until this year that I was willing to say it out loud. Previously, we worked and we fought, sure, but I kept our goals private. This season, I took a page from Oprah: I would try to speak our goal into existence. What else did we have to lose?

So when we started the scouting process heading into this season, each time that our retained players (Vandi and Authentic) and scout (Token) and I spoke to potential draftees, I made clear that it was playoffs or bust.

It helped that I finally felt like I was getting closer to figuring out this 2K League coaching thing. Almost every coach in the League has some kind of history in the 2K community, except for me. So I’ve spent the last four years playing catch-up, learning animations and coverages and badges, while trying to keep us winning games.

But the real reason we won two-thirds of our games this season? We have a great team. It’s simple and obvious, but sometimes the obvious answer is the correct answer. The group of players we have on our roster right now are six great 2K players, who more importantly have all bought into the team concept. They understand the value of sacrifice, of putting team over self. That’s not a lesson I’ve had to teach them, which makes it even more satisfying.

We got off to a 9-1 start to our season, and everything seemed to be trending in the right direction. Then things swung the other way, when we had a stretch against our toughest competition, and to be honest, we stumbled, going 3-8. But we buckled down and fought back, making some adjustments and finding our way forward. And wouldn’t you know it, we managed to win 6 of our last 7 games, on the way to that 18-10 record, and the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The other thing most people will never understand is just how much work is involved. We practice seven days a week, for about five hours per day. That means all summer long, when my son is out of school, I’m at work every day. It would probably be easy for me to set up some scrimmages and let the guys come in and scrim without me, but that doesn’t seem right to me. If they’re going to work, I’m going to be there with them. That sacrifice is what makes us a team, a unit. These guys have done everything I’ve asked them to do, all season long. What more can a coach ask for?

With one mission accomplished, what’s next? Well, now we go to the postseason and look to make some noise there, which we are fully capable of doing. Along the journey of this season, we’ve seen enough to know how to play at our best. We’ve reached our destination. Now it’s just a matter of executing.

And to my wife’s question? It feels good. Pretty, pretty good.

Grizz Gaming's Mehyar Ahmed-Hassan, aka Authentic African

Exploring Esports with Grizz Gaming’s Authentic African

On this episode of Just Grizzlies, Kelcey Wright Johnson is joined by one of the best NBA 2K players in the entire world; Grizz Gaming’s Mehyar Ahmed-Hassan — better known as Authentic African in the Esports world. Double-A discusses how he got into gaming, all about his character and his play, how he finds success in the league and more. He also dishes on his teammates and helps listeners get to know the Grizz Gaming squad.

Grizz Gaming: I Still Believe

Have you ever taken a cold shower? I don’t mean this metaphorically–we’ve all stumbled into a surprise from time to time. I’m talking literally: Have you ever intentionally stepped into a spray of freezing cold water?

Last week my wife was due to travel for a few days, leaving my son and I alone for a spell. I got him dropped off at camp, went by the gym and put in some miles on the treadmill, then hustled home to grab a quick shower before Grizz Gaming scrimmages. I turned on the shower to let it warm up, then walked out and undressed and readied a towel. Before stepping in, I stuck a hand in, and was greeted with what felt like ice water. Huh.

Ten minutes later, after checking the water heater pilot light (out) and discovering I couldn’t get it re-lit, I knew it was a problem more complex than I could solve with my rudimentary home improvement skills. I also knew that I couldn’t go to Grizz Gaming practice smelling like I’d just left an actual basketball practice. There was only one option: I would have to take a cold shower.

As I did my best to pre-soap my body, I took a moment to try and convince myself that this was a good thing. I told myself that taking cold showers couldn’t be that bad. People camping and out in nature step into cold waterfalls all the time. Heck, it was (probably?) even good for me, as an anti-inflammatory recovery from my run.

I stepped in. The next few seconds were a blur. There was coldness everywhere, so much coldness, as if I was being subject to a Dementor attack. A high-pitched, involuntary howl erupted from somewhere deep inside my soul. While I fought to find a breath, I swifty scrubbed my hands all over my body, as much to help get the soap off as to try and force blood back into my trembling limbs.

It was horrible. I’m not sure I lasted even 20 seconds during that arctic flash. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was reminded that the prime reason for this shower was fully practical: I needed to wash off the sweat and stank from my workout. I had no choice but to endure it. I needed it.

The last few weeks have felt almost like a cold shower in the middle of the 2K League season. Thus far, Grizz Gaming has played 18 of our 28 regular season games, and we’ve won exactly two-thirds of those games, giving us a record of 12-6. We played two games in a tournament on July 15, but since then we have been off, with our next regular season game coming later this week, on July 30.

Fifteen consecutive days off is a long, luxurious break, at least by 2K League standards. We could have easily taken advantage of this and tried to squeeze in some vacation time. But by the same token, while we were 12-6 overall, we had lost 7 of our last 10 games. Things were not trending the direction we wanted them to trend at this point in the season.

So while did we take consecutive weekend days off, which is rare for us, we otherwise worked just like normal. We met. We talked. We made adjustments. We watched film. We made changes. We scrimmaged. We scrimmaged again. And we scrimmaged again. And we scrimmaged again.

It felt, in many ways, like a blast of cold water. It was a rare chance for a re-set, right in the middle of the hustle of our season. It was, in some ways, strange, and pretty uncomfortable to be out of the rhythm we had established over the first few months of our season.

But before we jumped into it, I told myself it was good for us. It wasn’t fun, to just stay here and work, but it was something we needed to do.

I started this season using the word “Believe,” stolen shamelessly from Ted Lasso, and I was trying to get my guys to buy into each other and the team goals. And it’s worked! But now, we start the final sprint. Three weeks. Ten games. Handle our business, and we can make the playoffs.

There’s only one thing left to do.

Believe. In ourselves. In each other. In this team.


Grizz Gaming: Appreciating the Moments

I woke up at 6:30 on Saturday morning, rolled over and grabbed my phone, and, for about the fiftieth time in the last eight hours, watched this video:

What you see there is a view from inside our gaming facility of the last few seconds of our game on Friday night against Magic Gaming. After being down 4 points with a minute left, we fought our way back and stole a win at the buzzer.

I kept rewatching that video because it was one of those moments that we will remember forever. We worked and worked and worked and, in a must-win situation, put ourselves in position to get that W. We were down 4 points with 1:11 left, down 3 with 34 seconds left, then down 1 with 19 ticks remaining. Which is when Follow somehow got a steal from the Magic, and we called our last time out to set up our final play.

We decided to try a pick and roll, hoping to generate a switch by the defense. (Usually teams don’t switch on a simple pick and roll, but in late-game scenarios teams are more likely to switch every action, just to avoid someone springing free unguarded.) The last piece of advice I gave Vandi was to remember that we didn’t want to take the last shot — we were behind and wanted to take the best shot possible; if we left time on the clock, our defense would have to win it for us.

We got the ball inbounds, Authentic came up and set a screen for Vandi, Vandi came off the pick and… to their credit, the Magic played it perfectly. Their center showed just long enough for their lock to get back over to Vandi, and they recovered quickly on the roll, effectively squashing our play.

So that was out the window. But we still had the ball, with 13 seconds left and the clock ticking. Authentic popped back out to screen for Vandi again, to maybe see if the play would work for a second time, and this time the Magic’s defender got caught on the screen, leaving Vandi guarded by the Magic’s center. Vandi saw the mismatch and backed the ball out. Vandi dribbled up near the top of the key, with about five seconds remaining, and as he did, a Magic defender pinched, or came over to help out, and momentarily double-teamed Vandi. This left our shooting guard, Chess, briefly open on the right wing, so Vandi kicked the ball over to him. A Magic defender noticed Chess open and rotated over to defend, and Chess kept the ball moving over to the corner, hitting Spartxn, our power forward, who was standing there wide open with two seconds left on the clock. Spartxn caught the pass and calmly drained the three to put us ahead by two, and give us a 75-73 win.

Those are the facts of the play, a pragmatic description of how things went down. What I love about watching the replay of that video in the room are those seconds of silence. Watching the video, you can hear the tension in the room building to that moment — Authentic nervously warning that there are just four second remaining, my voice counting down the ticking clock. When Chess catches the pass and quickly keeps the ball moving to the corner, you can hear the room go completely silent. That anticipation, that sharp intake of air where everyone is hanging in there to see how our future plays out? That’s the moment, right there. That’s when I felt all nervous and hopeful and anxious and pretty much every emotion you can think of, all rolled into one. That silence was us waiting to see what our future held.

At the same time, I was pretty confident. Yes, it was the first three pointer that Spartxn had attempted all night, which means he hadn’t had much chance to establish a rhythm or groove. But I’ve seen him make that shot literally hundreds of times during practices. I knew he could make it. And if you watch that video, you see my right arm shoot up into the air as the ball gets rotated over to Spartxn, almost like a referee signalling a three attempt is on the way.

As the ball swishes through, you can see Follow and Authentic basically attack Spartxn to celebrate. What you can’t see is me, wildly gesturing that 0.4 was left on the clock and the Magic called their last timeout. I didn’t think that would be enough time to get a shot up, but I wanted to be sure we were back and had the situation covered, just in case something happened.

But nothing happened. The Magic threw a harmless lob pass to nobody, and we inbounded the ball and let the clock expire to escape with that two-point win.

I also like the broadcast angle of the shot, where you can see Follow and AA disappear from in front of their cameras and reappear on Spartxn’s as the shot drops…

You can see the shot and the celebrations. But here’s what you didn’t see from last week: Scrimmages literally all day Monday and Tuesday; Scrimmages Wednesday morning; Film sessions on Wednesday afternoon; Two games on Wednesday night, where we won the first game going away, then let the second game slip away. Scrimmages all day Thursday. More scrims on Friday, then film sessions scouting the Magic. And then two more games to end the week, which ended with, well, if you read this far, you know how it ends.

A season is a narrative, an overarching storyline that will, eventually, tell a full story. But that arc is made up of a lot of small moments, both good and bad. We don’t know yet how this season will end. I do know that it’s rare to have moments where everything clicks and comes together and months of work pays off, and this time it happened in a forum where we were being filmed, and we get to have this clip forever, to hang on to that moment.

For now, if we’re being honest, I’m tired, y’all. We’ve been on this Grizz Gaming grind for months. And it gets tougher each week, as the competition rachets up and as the stakes get higher and higher. The good news is there’s no quit in us. We are going to fight and battle each and every day, whether it’s in practice or a game. We are built for this.

And we can cherish all these small moments, to help carry us along this path.

Grizz Gaming: Making Adjustments

“Dad,” my son began, with all the pathos an 8-year-old could muster, “I’m really going to miss you when you leave.”

“I’m going to miss you, too, man,” I told him.

Both of these statements were absolutely true. With a league-wide bye week for the 2K League, I had the opportunity to decamp to the Florida shore for some much-needed time off, and I had the chance to really concentrate on my family. This was something overdue, but also something that’s hard for me to do during the 2K League season. All week long I’m thinking, thinking. On game days I walk around in my own head, doing my best to seem cordial but really just wanting tip time to arrive.

As someone who values self-awareness, I can admit that during the 2K League season, I can be a pretty awful person to live with. I spend most of my time thinking about Grizz Gaming: our last game; our next game; our practice plans; scheduling; and on and on. We play or practice six days a week, which usually leaves me with maybe one full day to lock in with my family. On the other days, my default reaction is plotting and overthinking. While other families take summer vacations, my family spends the summer watching (and living with) the NBA 2K League.

So even as we drove down to Florida, I sat there in stony silence, until my wife finally asked what had me consumed. I explained that I was thinking about an adjustment I wanted to make to our overall defensive strategy, something that would involve everyone on the team having to adjust and make changes. I sat there in the driver’s seat and weighed the options. How would we implement these changes? Was it worth the lift, which is to say, would we get enough of a boost from the changes to make the work worthwhile?

My wife snapped me out of my reverie by asking what I was thinking about, and I took a few minutes to explain my conundrum, and all the thought processes I was trying to think about and process.

Why mess with something that was working? After all, we were 10-4 heading into our bye week, tied for second place in the Eastern Conference. It was the first time in franchise history that we’d won 10 games, and we still have half of the season still ahead of us.

But coming off the week that was, we knew we needed to improve. We’d played two games against the defending champion Wizards, and lost both matchups. (Game one was 72-50, game two was 73-66.) One night later we squared off against a tough 76ers GC team, and we split the series (won game one 70-61, lost game two 60-55). We were coming off a six-game win streak, and to be honest were probably due for a down game. While our first game against the Wizards wasn’t great, we got better as we went along, and by the time we played Philly I felt like we’d gotten our identity back a bit. The two games against the Sixers were like heavyweight fights, two good defensive teams slugging it out with points at a premium, and it felt comforting to get at least one win out of the four games.

After a week at the beach with my family, and after a few players visited home and their families, I drove back to Memphis and we got right back to work. This week we have two tough divisional matchups, against Charlotte and then Orlando.

We’ve made adjustments. We’ve focused on the little things. Now we just have to do what we do.

Lang Whitaker

Grizz Gaming: Week 4 – Enjoying the Process

I knew things were different with Grizz Gaming this season, when one day last week we swept a scrimmage block against a team that currently has a good record in the 2K League. After the games, while we were dissecting our day’s work, I asked the guys if they could pinpoint what was wrong with the team we had played. Why had we been able to beat a good team rather easily?

“Well, it’s not that they’re bad,” Authentic answered. “It’s that we’re good right now.”

I blinked, as I realized Authentic was correct. This was something I had not even considered as an answer. I’d become so used to analyzing everything, to always looking to improve and get better, that I wasn’t ready to pause and give ourselves a little credit. Grizz Gaming has been playing well, at least right now.

After a disappointing end to the season-opening tournament, we got off to a 9-1 start in the regular season. This is not only the best start in franchise history, but the best start in the 2K League this season. Have we been perfect? Haha, not even close. Have we been the best team in the 2K League? I’d argue that we still have a lot to prove on that front. But have we played well? Yes, yes we have.

Authentic African

To me, last week was a great test of where we stood among all the 2K League teams. We had to play four games against two very good NBA 2K League teams, Knicks Gaming and Blazer5. All four games were hard-fought, with different challenges popping us throughout, from falling into ruts on offense to opposing players getting red-hot to defensive lapses.

But the great thing was that we kept finding ways to overcome those challenges and finish each game on top. We entered the weekend 5-1. We went 4-0. We exited the weekend 9-1.

If we’re being completely honest, I’m rather uncomfortable talking about how well we’ve played this season. As a sports fan, I’ve always been conditioned to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. We all know how traumatic it can be to finally, finally believe in our team and then have that joy yanked out from under us. In order to cope, I’ve long subscribed to the theory that the best option is just to not buy in at all, or at least not until the very last moment. You can’t be sad if you were never happy to begin with.

I remember being at Super Bowl LI in Houston, and ducking into a restroom just after the Falcons jumped ahead to a 28-3 lead. In the hallway outside I could hear Falcons fans celebrating wildly — prematurely, of course — and I clearly recall shaking my head, knowing that it was never over until it was over. (And as we all know now, it wasn’t over.)

Grizz Gaming is ten games into our season, and we’ve played really well. I do not want to discount all the hard work that has gone into this start and getting us into this place. Because it feels great to be in first place! We’ve been challenged ten times and as a team have come together and overcome nine times, which is remarkable.

But the season isn’t even halfway over, and we all recognize that we’ve only scratched the surface of the work that lies ahead. All of the members of Grizz Gaming have been through at least one season in the 2K League. We understand that there will be ups and downs, but what really matters is how we ride out the journey. When we reach adversity, will it be just a speed bump in our path? Or can we process it in the moment and keep it from knocking us completely off course?

So, I’m doing my best to keep everything in perspective. I couldn’t be more proud of the way all six guys on this team have bought in and sacrificed and trusted and believed in each other. It’s been fun to set goals and accomplish those goals. It’s been fun to put in work and be rewarded. And I’ve tried to remind myself to enjoy the process along the way.

One day after turning in a 4-0 weekend, we all came in on Sunday and broke down film together and found another team to get some scrimmages in against. Did I want to spend my Father’s Day away from my son and in our practice facility? Not particularly, but as we all understand, there is no shortcut to putting in the work.

Because the work is what brought us this far. And we aren’t done. We can be better. We can be sharper.

We can grind harder.