Al-Farouq Aminu and Ike Diogu have plenty of game on the court. Turns out they’ve got some off of it, too.
In association with the Los Angeles Clippers Player Programs department, the NBA and EA Sports, Aminu and Diogu spent the week shadowing video game designers in Orlando, Florida. The Los Angeles Clippers Player Programs department focuses on the off court personal, professional, and social development of the players, guiding them to maximize their potential on and off the court. The department provides programs, resources, support services, one-on-one mentoring, education and career development opportunities. The goal of the department is the education of the players in the business of basketball while developing successful professionals that understand a commitment to community and the importance of education and career development for life after basketball.
While Diogu has participated in similar programs over the last three years, this was Aminu’s first go around with EA Sports.
“This was my first time doing this so they gave me a rundown of everything that goes on,” Aminu said. “They have a whole team that works on the game. The designers, the programmers, everything. We got to meet at least one person from every section that works on the game and we also got to meet the marketing guys and see that side of it as well.”
“I guess I’m overwhelmed almost of all the cool stuff you can actually do. All of it really interested me.”
Despite previously participating in the program, Diogu had no problem finding new things that interested him either.
“There’s always a lot of stuff to learn,” Diogu said. “I think every year you learn more and then more things become attractive to you. You get a greater appreciation for the guys that come out with the game. Everyone is excited that people in our profession are excited about their industry.”
That excitement and appreciation went both ways. Jason Barnes, the Creative Director for EA’s NBA simulation franchise, was thrilled to work with the two Clippers.
Al-Farouq Aminu brushes up on his skills while playing one of EA Sports' games. Photo: EA Sports
“Those guys can give us insight that we can’t experience,” Barnes said. “There are about 200 people in the world that get to play actual NBA basketball, and with EA Sports games we’re trying to make it as realistic as possible. We’re constantly asking them questions.”
While both Aminu and Diogu got to see the ins and outs of the project and contribute in many ways, they enjoyed one aspect in particular.
“The animation side is pretty cool,” Diogu said. “It’s all about putting life into the characters with different actions.”
Aminu and Diogu were plenty eager to learn, but they had their fun as well. The two good friends went head to head in a few different games, although the accounts of who won didn’t exactly match up.
“Ike’s really not that great of a competition,” Aminu said while laughing.
“He’s definitely not telling the truth,” Diogu said upon hearing Aminu’s playful dig at him. “I guess it depends on what game we’re playing. When it comes to college football, I’m undefeated. I don’t know when the last time I lost in college football to anybody was to be honest with you. I actually played against one of the developers and won.”
The potentially embarrassing loss for the unnamed developer would be avenged in the most unlikely of places.
“We played them 2-on-5 today,” Barnes said. “Five video game developers against two NBA players. It went well for EA, but it did not go well for your Clippers. We ended up getting two games on them.”
All the friendly competition aside, by all accounts the week was a success for both the players and EA Sports. Some relationships (a developer actually rebounded for Aminu when he wanted to get some shots up) were developed and the players learned skills in a booming industry.
Although both Aminu and Diogu have many playing years in front of them, they can see themselves one day joining up with EA Sports – and so can EA.
“Ultimately when everything is said and done, hopefully I’ll be able to make the transition when I do stop playing,” Diogu said. “It’s been great.”
“We look for that kind of athlete,” Barnes said. “We have a (former) NFL running back that was in a similar program for years, and he works in our office right now.”
Distant futures aside, the two Clippers were just happy to learn some skills and to spend some time with each other off the court.
“Ike’s one of my good friends so it was cool that he was here with me,” Aminu said. “It made the experience that much better.”
EA Sports is scheduled to release NBA JAM: On Fire Edition this Fall.