It’s 2014 and I’ve just declared for the NBA draft. All the training, all the practice, all the work, it’s about to pay off when I hear my name announced and put on that NBA jersey. This is my moment. I’ve worked for it, I’m ready, I’ve earned it. Before I go any further, I should probably clarify that I’m talking about NBA 2K14… for Xbox. Minor detail.
All I want is to be drafted by my hometown Toronto Raptors and lead the team I grew up cheering for to their first ever championship. Real life doesn’t always work out like the movies though and I guess video games don’t either. Toronto has traded their first round pick in the draft and won’t even have the opportunity to draft me.
After sweating out pick after pick my name is finally called. “With the 14th pick in the 2014 NBA draft the Utah Jazz select, point guard, Josh Wahler.” Utah?
I knew I wasn’t going to Toronto, but I had let my mind wander. Maybe I’d be winning rings with LeBron or becoming the heir apparent to Kobe as he prepares to pass me the torch. Utah though? I guess I’d have to make the best of it.
I don’t know much about them but I knew I’d be putting on the same jersey as Karl Malone, John Stockton, Pistol Pete, we’re talking legends. I dub myself “The Franchise” before I’ve even played my first game. Cocky? Maybe, but I knew I’d live up to it.
The season starts and I’m coming off the bench in a limited role. I wish I was getting more minutes, but I know they can’t keep me on the bench long once I show what I can do.
I think I should be playing more but I make the most of the time I have to prove myself. I can score right from the jump but I learn to improve and become a more complete player. I hustle harder on defense, learn to stick with my man and not give up easy looks. I start to facilitate and go from a couple assists a game to 6 or 7 to 8 or 9. I develop a nice chemistry with Enas Kanter. He’s a big boy and can bang in the paint in ways I can’t. I admire the way he plays and we have a great relationship on the court.
The season is moving on and I prove I’m more than a one trick pony. I’m a complete player and even have a couple triple doubles. As well rounded as I’ve become scoring is still my best asset and I’m proving it in spades. My points grow with my minutes and 30-point nights become standard. There are nights I’m putting up 40, 50, even a 60 point night in there!
We’re in a playoff spot and I’m shredding the league at a record setting pace. It seemed perfect, but if I was authoring a perfect season Damian Lillard has his own ending in mind.
All season I’d been dominating. LeBron? No problem. KD? No problem. Duncan? No problem. Damian Lillard? Big problem.
We played Portland 4 times in the regular season and went 1-3 against them. Every single time Lillard torched me. Every time. He made me look silly, he embarrassed me. I couldn’t figure out how to shut him down, he’d routinely break my ankles and leave me frustrated trying to score. I was an MVP against the rest of the league but against the Blazers I looked helpless.
Despite the losing record against Portland I lead Utah to a first place finish in the West. It’s not Toronto, but I’m still going to get to lead my adoptive city to their first ever championship.
Everything is on track but my smile waivers when I check the standings. On the final day of the regular season the perfect combination of wins and losses materialized and Portland had clinched the 8th and final playoff spot and a date with my Utah Jazz in the first round.
I’ve dominated the entire league and have to play the one team that has my number in the first round. I’m nervous but decide this is the chance to either exercise my demons or succumb to them.
The series starts and it’s me and Lillard head to head right from the opening tip off. I’m scoring but nothing is coming easy. He’s making me work for every opportunity. On defense I’m still struggling to stop him. Anytime I feel like I’m shutting him down for a few minutes he’ll get me to bite on a pump fake or cross me over into another dimension.
With the series tied 2-2 Portland takes game 5. I’m angry but I decide if I can just force a game 7 on our home court I’m not letting Portland walk away with the victory.
Game six starts and it’s back and forth but Lillard is outplaying me. As the game wears on, the Blazers start to pull ahead and I start to get frustrated. It feels like for every bucket I score, Lillard scores two. My frustration and immaturity start to show. I can’t stop him so I play overly aggressive to compensate.
It’s midway through the 4th quarter and we need a stop desperately. If Portland pulls away anymore it’s over. Lillard has the ball and at this point both my pride and confidence feel shattered. In frustration I take a wild swipe at the ball and get called for a foul, my 6th. I’m out. Incredulous, I watch helplessly from the bench as my teammates can do nothing to stop Portland and we lose the series in six.
I’m furious and in my mind I’m blaming everyone but myself. It’s Jefferson’s fault for missing that open three, or Kanter for not getting enough stops. That’s it. I tell myself management either needs to fix this team in the offseason or I’m out.
The offseason comes to an end and management has done nothing. Not a single impact player added to the roster. I’m done. I demand a trade and within a few weeks I’m on the Clippers. Right off the bat it’s a horrible fit. I’m struggling to find my touch from last season, have zero chemistry with Blake Griffin and am splitting minutes with Chris Paul. Again I demand a trade and from there I bounce around the league never really finding my touch. Another playoff appearance leads to another early exit. With my performance and confidence dropping off a cliff I retire and fade into obscurity after only two years in the league.
I made a brief comeback attempt in NBA 2K17, but it wasn’t to be. I struggled to adapt to the way the game had changed and the passion just wasn’t there anymore.
It doesn’t cross my mind too often anymore these days, but every once in a while I get nightmares about Damian Lillard and think about what could have been if we had won that series against Portland. I would have stayed in Utah and it could have been something special.