“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” wrote Emma Lazarus in “The New Colossus,” the sonnet that has been attached to the Statue of Liberty since 1903. One hundred and sixteen years later and fewer than 10 miles away, tired and huddled masses awaited the conclusion of the season two NBA 2K League Finals at the league’s studio in Long Island City late Saturday night.
What had promised to be a series filled with fireworks and explosive play from both sides turned into a dud on impact after two disappointing blowouts and a three-and-a-half-hour delay put a damper on the festivities.
Salvaged from that was a five-game series which, no matter your feelings on the events sandwiched between the beginning and end of it, will give the community a night that should be remembered for as long as the NBA 2K League exists, and well beyond.
“Wretched” is perhaps the last word you’d use to describe BearDaBeast’s play, who arrived on the teeming shore of the NBA 2K League earlier this year and has made his presence loud and clear since.
“They shouldn’t have let me in,” he said shortly upon his arrival some months ago. Whether a declaration of self-deprecation, appreciation, an ominous warning or some combination of the three, he made good on his promise to win a championship should he and his fellow T-Wolves figure it out early Sunday morning as he lifted the NBA 2K League trophy following what should stand as the longest series to ever be played in the league for some time. And despite the outspoken star point guard’s repeated statements of the T-Wolves’ strength as a team, only one player could win Finals MVP, none more deserving than the North Carolina native who quite simply wanted it more than everyone else.
The 12-hour marathon Finals series which literally stretched across two days and tested the dedication of NBA 2K League staff, fans and the players of both T-Wolves Gaming and 76ers GC on Saturday will go down as perhaps the most polarizing event the league will see.
It was a raucous affair before the series began, both sides bringing fans en masse to cheer them on. Vuvuzelas, drums, props and posterboards with giant player faces were abundant, with the opposing fans getting into it with cheers and chants more than an hour before game one tip-off.
The fans are feeling it right now https://t.co/GkdxKICpwN
The start of the series matched the energy of the crowd. T-Wolves Gaming came out with a clear plan of attack, forcing the 76ers to switch on defense, running BearDaBeast and JMoney pick and rolls and incorporating five-out. Meanwhile, the Minnesota defense was swarming. Feast clogged the passing lanes and Radiant was allowed little room to work, even being forced into an early cold ring. The result: 10 points for Bear and a 17-9 T-Wolves lead after the first quarter, as MVP finalist Radiant was held to 0 points.
There may have been reason to worry for the T-Wolves as a lengthy delay at the beginning of the second quarter forced administrators to restart the game, wiping out takeovers and resetting the cold rings. It mattered little as the Minnesota onslaught continued. The 76ers did little to stop Bear in isolation and paid for it, heading into halftime with a 36-17 deficit. As 76ers GC Head Coach Jeff Terrell summed it up during a time out listen-in, “I’m tired of hearing excuses. Get. A. Stop.”
But the only stop the 76ers mustered all game was the stoppage of the match because of Breadwinner’s broken shot meter. Bear finished the game with 32 points and T-Wolves Gaming dominated game one, a 71-36 win to go up on the series.
JMoney chipped in 15 points and Jojo added 11 points and 10 rebounds on perfect 5-for-5 shooting.
Talked to @NateKahl who’s here at the studio to take in the Finals. He gave me his game one thoughts and what the 76ers can do to adjust in game two https://t.co/rpXw3LZMRs
The 76ers took away any momentum T-Wolves Gaming may have had in game two, storming to a quick 14-4 lead after one quarter. Fortunes reversed as Minnesota had little answer to Radiant while Philly was able to finally contain Bear offensively.
The T-Wolves had a brief moment where it looked like they had stabilized, but the 76ers made quick work of any run the Wolves were able to make and carried its momentum through tough defense and more inspired offense to a 31-13 halftime lead.
It wouldn’t get any better for T-Wolves Gaming, who scored just two points in the fourth quarter and failed to crack the double-digit scoring mark in any quarter throughout the game. Philly cruised to the game two victory, 70-23.
The 76ers put together a more concerted team effort in the win. Radiant finished 18 points and 9 assists, ZDS added 17 points of his own, Steez put together 10 points and 13 rebounds and Breadwinner took over with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 9 steals.
Then controversy finally struck in the middle of the series, as teams complained about an alleged away side advantage. Both winning teams in games one and two were the away team. League officials enacted a full restart of every computer and a switch of court to the tournament finals floor, but a quick T-Wolves 10-0 start to game three, in which they were the away side, prompted the 76ers to complain once again.
What followed was a three-and-a-half-hour delay as the league investigated and tested the issue. While speedboosting has allegedly plagued the league build since the beginning of the season, a crop of new issues popped up on the “neutral” Finals court: Breadwinner’s ghost shot meter, home side players “long arming” shots and, most critically, a severe delay on the home side.
The issues were enough for 35- and 47-point wins for each away team, and it was at that point an open discussion, both on Twitter and in the studio, as to why it was happening.
It was unclear for awhile what exactly would happen. There was speculation abound the league would postpone the remainder of the series to a later date, as numerous meetings between league officials and both teams took place. Until the very end, even players and staff seemed unsure how events would proceed.
It wasn’t until just before 9:30 p.m. ET the league announced the series would be finished on the night, and game three tipped off at 9:57 p.m.
There were shades of game one and two as Bear immediately attacked Newdini in the 5-Out, getting a couple of quick drives to the basket and then nailing a 3-pointer from deep.
But whatever the league “fixed” seemed to do… something. No longer did the T-Wolves, the game three away team, run away early. 76ers GC stuck around, just about matching the T-Wolves basket for basket, albeit both teams playing with a tinge of rust from the lengthy delay. But what was a 20-20 ballgame at one point turned into a 29-22 halftime lead for Minnesota after a late run of good play.
The run would only continue for the T-Wolves in the second half. The close game quickly turned into a laugher, and it had nothing to do with what team was on which side. The 76ers were outplayed: throwing poor passes, turning the ball over and still unable to stop Bear on defense. The lead ballooned, and while a late run by the 76ers—led by a ZDS takeover stretch—the T-Wolves advantage was too big to overcome, ending with a 56-47 win and 2-1 series advantage for Minnesota.
Bear finished with 23 points and 8 assists, with Jojo and Feast adding 11 and 10, respectively. ZDS led the way for the 76ers with 28 points.
It wasn’t until game four that the league, the community, the fans got the match they deserved. Close at every stage, it was just a two-point contest heading into the fourth and final quarter.
Radiant had looked a little more like the MVP finalist that dominated the playoffs and turned up in the regular season, forcing opposing lockdown defender Turnupdefense to commit four fouls early.
It almost looked like it wouldn’t matter. Despite the 76ers advances and markedly improved play compared to game three, the T-Wolves hung around, matching the 76ers every step of the way.
But ZDS’ mere five points in game four were perhaps the most important. The sharpshooter, fresh off a 28-point performance in the previous game, was quiet for most of the do-or-die match. Until he hit a 3-point bomb with a hand in his face to swing momentum and give the 76ers enough breathing room to even the series at 2-2 with a 53-46 win.
Bear was able to muster 16 points and 9 assists in the losing effort, while Feast had 13 points. Steez added 14 points to the 76ers’ total.
Nerves prevailed to start the decisive final game of the series, both teams not playing to their normal standard with a meager scoreline of 3-2 in favor of the 76ers four minutes in, and the opening quarter ending just 8-5 in favor of T-Wolves Gaming.
The defensive slugfest only continued in the second quarter, but some slightly better T-Wolves basketball was enough to give them a 20-13 halftime lead.
The T-Wolves defense continued to suffocate the 76ers offense. Radiant couldn’t carry the momentum of his previous performance into game five, finishing with just 8 points on 33% shooting, 7 assists and an unsightly 12 turnovers. Those 8 points were still almost a quarter of the 35 points the 76ers scraped out in the ultimate game of the season, while Radiant’s counterpart Bear put in 23 points and 8 assists.
It wasn’t long into the fourth quarter when it became inevitable what the final outcome would be. As the 76ers continued to turn the ball over and the T-Wolves out-defended, out-rebounded and simply out-played them, the lead grew and grew until the final few seconds ticked away and the expansion franchise had clinched its first championship in just its first season with a 52-35 victory, sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday morning.
It was a subdued celebration initially, the players seemingly more relieved than excited as the final buzzer sounded after being in the studio for over 12 hours. The relief would soon turn to celebration as Bear unfurled everything he had likely wanted to say as he accepted his trophy and Finals MVP honors, a release of emotion and energy building up not just since these T-Wolves were at 3-6 and in do-or-die mode since May, but since his exclusion from the league in season one despite averaging over 40 points per game in the combine.
You couldn’t blame Bear for his feelings following his triumphs. Neither could you for Feast, a season one standout who, due to circumstances outside his control, would have to continue his career not with the team that originally drafted him and the players he initially won a Tipoff title and made it to the semifinals of last year’s playoffs with, but with a franchise starting from scratch and winning it all against his old team.
Nor TURNUPDEFENSE, months removed from falling short of $250,000 in the finals of NBA 2K’s MyTEAM tournament in Charlotte at NBA All-Star Weekend. “Redemption,” he said after last night’s victory.
Then there’s JMoney, a talented player who found himself still on the board at the bottom of the third round of this year’s draft then traded away from, at the time, a winning team in Heat Check Gaming to a losing team in the T-Wolves. He also averaged over 40 points per game in season one’s combine and wasn’t included in the draft pool.
Jojo, the ultimate role player on this T-Wolves championship team, dropped out of school to pursue his NBA 2K League dreams and sacrificed his own stats to man the sharpshooting rebounder at center and give his point guard all the room in the world to operate in the paint.
Don’t forget Nacho, the most confident and charismatic sixth player in the league, challenging his team to do better on the practice court every day and graciously accepting his role on the bench.
It was fitting then, just minutes away from the monument that gave those coming to America a symbol of warm welcomes and acceptance, that Bear would write “Equality,” on his pregame sneakers. The T-Wolves are a collection of different races, cultures and backgrounds, he explained, but came together as both a team and family to win the ultimate prize of the NBA 2K League through a season of immense adversity.
While Saturday night’s events threatened to turn the league’s biggest event of the year into an abject disaster, everyone can feel just fine about the end result. It wasn’t the epic showdown it could have been, but a five-game series in which the better team won on the day is plenty of consolation.
And in the end, we can say beyond a doubt the league indeed should have let Bear in.