Esports and the NBA: A New Dynamic Duo

A look at the promising partnership between the National Basketball Association and the growing world of esports.

Throughout mediums such as history, fiction, sports, etc., there have been great duos. Bonnie and Clyde, Jak and Daxter, Timone and Pumbaa, just to name a few. Specifically, we have seen some dominant duos emerge throughout the history of the National Basketball Association: Kobe and Shaq, Nash and Stoudemire, KD and Westbrook, among many others. But one of the more promising partnerships is not between two basketball players, but between the world of basketball itself, and a little rising scene called esports. Let’s take a look at how the two games have come together.

Two Laker Legends turned Esports Mainstays

Two championship winning players that donned the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers have been pivotal celebrities in the growing world of esports. Those two are Rick Fox, and the master of Shaq Fu himself, Shaquille O’Neal.

Fox has been a fan of esports for a while now, appearing on national television shows such as NBA TV and The View to talk about how cool esports are. He and his son also attended the NA LCS finals in Madison Square Garden last year. Fox took the next step in the LCS offseason, purchasing the LCS slot vacated by Gravity Gaming, and naming his new esports organization Echo Fox. The Echo Fox LoL team finished seventh in the 2016 Spring Split with a 6-12 record, but were forced to play a third of that split with substitute players due to various visa issues.

Fox has since expanded his organization, forming a CS:GO roster that now features notable North American talent in Seangares, ShahZaM, and roca. Echo Fox has also signed a Call of Duty team, as well as legendary Smash player Mew2King.

But Fox is not the only one from Laker country to get involved with esports. The big Shaq Diesel has become a familiar face in the scene, as an investor and as a personality. Shaq reached out to NRG Esports this year in March, and is now a primary investor in the organization that was formed by, and here is another NBA connection, two co-owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball franchise. Shaq has since started talking smack towards Fox whenever NRG emerges victorious at Echo Fox’s expense. Shaq also presented the award for Esports Team of the Year at the VGAs to OpTic Gaming, and has been a part of a number of promotions for ELEAGUE.

Speaking of ELEAGUE, Shaq played a part in a pivotal moment in the league’s early history.

ELEAGUE’s television debut on Inside the NBA

ELEAGUE, the televised CS:GO league that has just started, made it’s television debut during a segment of Inside the NBA on TNT. After Inside the NBA host Ernie Johnson introduced the segment, the camera moved to James Bardolph from FACEIT, Richard Lewis, and Duncan “Thorin” Shields on the ELEAGUE set. The three discussed the series that took place earlier in the day between the new OpTic Gaming CS:GO roster and the CSGO Lounge roster from Poland. After Thorin took some friendly jabs at Shaq, the two groups traded playful banter to close out the segment. Watch the full interaction here.

This segment is a bigger moment than it may seem initially. The first televised appearance of the league is important, even if fans do not understand the decision to be on television in the first place. But this first appearance had many CS:GO and esports fans nervous, as fans new to the scene were not sure how TV audiences would react, and veterans of the esports scene remember all too well the last time Counter-Strike appeared on television. And if you have never heard of the TV disaster that was the Championship Gaming Series, consider yourself lucky, and do not bother looking it up.

Thankfully, the first segment went off without a hitch, and now we can enjoy the ELEAGUE action.

The Players who Play

We have discussed a couple of former players who have made their mark on esports, but we are forgetting a crop of current NBA players who are avid esports fans.

Jeremy Lin, point guard for the Charlotte Hornets, is most well known in the basketball world for the Linsanity period, when an undrafted Lin stole the spotlight of Madison Square Garden with an outpouring of exceptional play while a member of the New York Knicks. But in the world of esports, Jeremy Lin is known as an avid Dota 2 fan, and has appeared in both the Free to Play documentary produced by Valve, and on the analysis desk of the Dota 2 International Championships in 2015.

Lin is not the only MOBA man in the NBA. Gordon Hayward, a small forward for the Utah Jazz, is a well-known League of Legends fanatic. He and Rick Fox have spoken about LoL a number of times on NBA TV, he has defended esports against sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he streams regularly, and he’s written about esports in the Players’ Tribune, a site that features articles written by professional athletes themselves. ESPN even made a highlight video in the style of LoL after he had an exceptional game against the Boston Celtics. He also claims to be better than LeBron James, in League of Legends of course.

Speaking of the Celtics, Jonas Jerebko, Swedish small forward of the Boston Celtics, is quite the CS:GO player. He is frequently on Twitter, offering to play games of CS:GO with fans, and given that he is from Sweden, he is probably a fan of Ninjas in Pyjamas and Fnatic, two synonymous with success.

Last, but certainly not least, we return to Los Angeles, where center Roy Hibbert is quite the Call of Duty fan. Hibbert frequently showcases his performances on Twitter, calling esports the next big thing on Twitter, and has even done CoD videos on IGN.

ELEAGUE represents a new stage in the relationship between the NBA and esports, and I for one cannot wait to see what the honeymoon phase looks like.

Image credits: CLG and ESPN