The conference room at the Clippers training center was filled with proprietary motion capture equipment. It looked like something from the set of a science fiction movie, a room usually reserved as a Draft headquarters or personnel meetings was a beacon for how Clippers players would appear in the world’s most realistic basketball video game.

In a way, it was as though science and art and the world of professional basketball was colliding. 

“That was cool,” said Clippers guard Darren Collison about going through the head-scan process. “They’re trying to get more realistic, so that was fine. I respect it because that game… in five years from now, it’s going to look like real life.”

The current iteration of the game pretty much does already. Collison is one of 10 players on the Clippers’ roster who have had their facial features scanned for the award-winning NBA 2K14 and when 2K Sports was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago they were already capturing scans for next year’s game

“We’ve had guys come in and say they look awesome and that they’re happy with last year,” said Tim Valka, who visits NBA teams throughout the season to get the most up-to-date scans for 2K Sports. “And then we’ve got other guys who say, ‘Man, I’ve come back because you didn’t get my hair right or the color’s wrong’ or something. We definitely get critique from the guys.”

According to Valka, that’s mostly because a large number of NBA players actually play the game themselves. And many have for years. Collison, Ryan Hollins, Jared Dudley and Danny Granger are among the most avid gamers on the Clippers roster. And for many of them the expectation is for the series, with the newest generation of consoles still less than a year old, to continue growing.

“I’ve seen it from its early stages, and it really captured the motion of the players,” Hollins said. “They were able to really take over NBA Live, which really had a monopoly on the game, and start incorporating things like real-time stats, all the way down to guys’ tattoos or the color shoes that they’re wearing in each game, active rosters, and things like that. So, they do their best to keep up with the game on a day-to-day basis and put a lot of work into season mode, online play, and a bunch of little nuances. So, it’s essentially really the only game to play now.”

But the process for getting players scanned is not always easy, even for a series with 15 years of success behind them.

“We’ve had guys flat-out say no and we’ve had guys come and hang out with us for 5 or 6 hours and while they’re waiting we’ve talked,” Valka said.

NBA2k Player Images


Collison is one of the players who would fall into the latter category. This summer, shortly after joining the Clippers, he traveled to the Bay Area to visit the 2K Sports studios to see the newest iteration of the game before it was released. He’s played video games for years and remembers playing the original NBA 2K for Sega Dreamcast when he was a middle school kid in California’s Inland Empire.

“I’ve been playing 2K since the game first came out; like the very first 2K, when it was on Dreamcast,” Collison said. “And I think the game means a lot to NBA players in general, because every year it looks more and more real, and more and more realistic.”

As the realism of the game has improved, taking a drastic step with the release of NBA 2K14 for Xbox One and Playstation 4 prior to Christmas, so too has the value of the game for NBA players beyond playing it for recreation.

“Believe it or not, sometimes, I think 2K helps,” Collison said. “Because any time you can see it on a game, it’s just like you’re looking at the movements and how it is, it’s kind of like watching film a little bit. I just think the game has expanded so much for players in the NBA and fans all over the world, because it gives you the chance for everybody to be that close, to see how the game is really being played.”

That also means players can be critical of their ratings, which incorporate dozens of attributes from shooting to foot speed to strength and tendencies.

“We get a lot of guys that come in and say, ‘Hey, man, my stats are wrong,’” Valka said. “’I’m a better shooter than that.’ I absolutely give them [the developer’s] number and say tell him. They absolutely know more about the game than I do. They play it a lot.”

And while there was no line at conference room, or space station, door to go through the latest round of head scans, the players who play the game know the impact the game has on the sport.

“They’re working to be better, so I think that is a testament to the NBA and our popularity,” Hollins said. “We don’t realize how big that video game is to making the next generation of kids know who we are, and know our names.”