SB Nation

Jon Bois | April 28, 2015

NBA Y2K

Ten Years to Midnight

Ten Years to Midnight

Aside from user-created draft classes, everything that follows documents a completely-untouched NBA 2K15 simulation. All draft selections, roster decisions, and transactions of any kind were made by the game's artificial intelligence. At no point in any game was a player controlled by a human player.


A year ago, you and I gathered to destroy the NBA. Its controlled demolition involved legions of tiny, hopeless players, and it took us decades. In the end, the greats of the NBA were gone, President Obama had ascended to lifelong dictatorship, and games were deadlocked in 0-0 ties that lasted twelve overtimes. We took photographic evidence, fearful that otherwise, no one would believe us.

This episode of NBA Y2K is its spiritual successor. The difference is that the game of basketball is not going away; on the contrary, it will finally shake free of us and become what it was always meant to be.

We are the ones who are going away.

Music: "Static" by Godspeed You! Black Emperor


russell westbrook

your amazing dunks

made me

spill ketchup on my shirt

i hate you

—Giant Dipshit

Each player in NBA 2K15 is assigned an overall 1-to-99 rating. Out of the box, only three -- LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul -- hold a rating higher than 90. The 99 rating is claimed by no one, a page left intentionally blank. Clearly, the 99 does not represent literal perfection: LeBron, rated 98, has shot .496 throughout his career, and I doubt we're supposed to believe that he's one tick away from 1.000.

If 99 isn't an indicator of omnipotence, it's just another, slightly higher arbitrary number that could easily have been awarded to the best player in the game. All the same, 2K15 does not budge: "we made this rating, and we made it for no one."

Well, I have decided that they made it for us, and for this. I created my own 99-rated player. There are dozens of individual sub-ratings for a player -- shooting, ball handling, speed, vertical, passing. I pushed all those ratings to 99, and I also stretched him to 7'2 with an 8'5 wingspan. He is gigantic, and possesses a skill set unapproached by any player who has ever lived.

Then I made hundreds more exactly like him.


Bean town. The

crown? Re-

nown? We

frown. Dee

Brown

—Mickey Viewmaster

The bones of this experiment are similar to those from last year's episode of NBA Y2K. If the game is to take us through a decades-long franchise mode, of course, it will need a class of players that can be drafted after each season, and it offers us the ability to create that draft class from scratch. Last year I made each player a 5'4, no-talent basketball abomination, and we ended up with an Association full of unwatchable 12-overtime games that ended in 2-0 scores. I need you to understand that everything in that sentence is true, and to know that the bottom has been found.

This experiment efforts in the opposite direction: every player in this draft class is as large, strong, fast, and talented as the game will allow for. At the 2015 NBA Draft, the teams of the league will find nothing but superhumans.

In 2016, I will feed them the exact same draft class of unstoppable immortals. And again in 2017, and in 2018, and in 2019, and ... for as long as it takes to push every real-world player out of the league for good.

I asked y'all to name these players, and to write a poem about an imperfect NBA player, past or present, who disappointed you at some point along the way. Those with the best poems, which I've scattered throughout this piece, were allowed to name a player. It's only right that when Steph Curry or Derrick Rose is forced out of the league, it happens by the hand of Giant Dipshit or Goldenrod Mathematician or Superman 4real, individuals so disappointed by the flaws of the NBA that they took to meter and verse.

Of the mortal players, five notable figures emerge over the course of the next decade: Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Durant, Timofey Mozgov, Kyrie Irving, and Anthony Davis. We will check in on them as we await our extinction.

YEAR 12014-15

One Michael Beasley

I won a contest to meet

He gave me a cold

—William GoldCoin

Throughout the season, the scouts of the NBA are sent to observe the 2015 draft class. They return with dozens of scouting reports, all of which look something like this.

Their college statistics are terrifying. One player, Richmond's Joey Basketball, is scoring 45 points and pulling down 21 rebounds per game.

It is immediately clear that this is the last normal NBA season we will ever see. The Immortals wait in the wings, to be drafted in June. For now, all 440 players in the Association are like you and me: fallible. They might whiff a layup. They write the tip on the "total" line. They leave the milk on the counter. Steph Curry is the MVP.

A life span of 80 or so years seems just about right in most respects, because there probably aren't more than 80 years' worth of good albums or conversations, but it does not allow for the broadness of perspective that would let us squint across the hills of time and know: "nothing is more precious than what is finite, no matter how crude or ugly." Our quest for progress, for perfection, leaves our follies as dead deer in the valleys and creek beds, arrows through the necks, killed not to be eaten, but to be killed. There is only so much world, and the flaws, the things that lend it identity, are being hunted to extinction. The Cavaliers lead the league in wins with 62, and the Lakers finish at the bottom of the league with a 13-69 record.

A skyscraper is straight because its steel beams are straight because it was graded straight at the mill because the blueprints said so because the pencil was guided by a ruler because ... and eventually, we cast our eyes all the way back, to our very first straight line, the mother of every straight line, set tens of thousands of years ago. We can't know how for sure; some short-sighted knucklehead probably stretched a rope taut and dragged it across some clay. That was the morning the bends and knots and scribbles of the world knew they would not live forever. Everything, one day, will be laid nice and neat, because we cannot be halted. The Earth will be asphalt. Notable retirements include Vince Carter, Ray Allen and Steve Nash, all of whom are inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The season is over. Our time is over. One day they will find our bones, scattered by the restless sleep of extinction, and put them back together. They will understand how we moved, but not why, because bones are eternal and souls rot to feed the weeds. The Warriors defeat the Cavaliers in the finals, four games to two.

YEAR 22015-16

Vince Carter

Was supposed to be the special guest

at the 1999 Muggsy Bogues Skills Camp.

I was twelve and Muggsy said he'd let

Vince jump over him and dunk if a camper

scored on Muggsy in 1-on-1. But Vince

had bad directions and couldn't find the gym.

Someone said he spent all day at the mall instead.

—Matt Poindexter

One Saturday night, when I was seven years old, a bolt of lightning hit my elementary school and sparked a fire. Before driving by the scene the next day, my mom warned me that it might make me sad to see it. Half the building had burned to the ground, and the rest of it looked like it was about to fall. It was awesome, and when we moved into an old high school that fall and got our own lockers as second-graders, it was even more awesome.

The warning, though, was prudent, because different people process things in different ways. And so we will ease into our tour of these smoldering, broken bricks, first from a distance through charts and menus, and then into the future of our NBA as it disappears.

The pre-draft measurables are in.

Dozens of players check in at 7'2, and their wingspans are even greater. Three players measure 8'7 from fingertip to fingertip, longer than that of any other player in NBA history. Nearly every player selected in the draft boasts a 44-inch vertical.

NBA 2K15 uses web visualizations to illustrate a player's skills. For the sake of reference, here are the skill graphs of LeBron James, who in 2014 was the NBA's highest-rated player.

Observe the skill graphs of 2015 NBA draft selection Brooks Fielding, and know that the 59 players selected alongside him possess the exact same set of skills:

The vast majority of these players are pressed into service immediately. By the end of the season, according to Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the top 31 players in the league are all Immortals.

The Houston Rockets have somehow managed to acquire five Immortals, which means that in James Harden and Dwight Howard, they have easily the best sixth and seventh men in NBA history. They steamroll through the playoffs, and topple the Celtics in five games.

It is not an easy series for Boston's Isaiah Thomas, who stands five feet and nine inches tall.

SCENE I: THE PLIGHT OF ISAIAH THOMAS, THE NBA'S SHORTEST MAN

Music: "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" by John Cale

Thomas is 17 inches shorter than the man he is tasked with guarding. He can attempt to shoot, although the ball never has a prayer of reaching the rim. He cannot block. He tries to defend, but in doing so he manages an activity that is more appropriately categorized as, "hanging out." When standing among these human trees, it's as though Isaiah Thomas snuck into the NBA, but the friend who stood on his shoulders has bailed and taken his trench coat and false mustache with him.

He accomplishes nothing, and does not belong. I doubt the other mortals of the league are snickering, though. Soon enough, they will all be Isaiah Thomas, the human afterthought.

YEAR 32016-17

olden polynice

more like olden polyMEAN

he yelled at my dad

—Ham-Sando RandyQuaid

In the world we know, a Dwight Howard free agency creates ripples across the NBA. In this realization of the Association, he is unceremoniously dumped and forgotten. The Houston Rockets released him, because despite having only four draft picks, they have somehow managed to fill their roster with eight Immortals. Curiously, James Harden still leads the team in scoring. Houston repeats as champion by taking the Finals in six games.

When we set about destroying the NBA last year, the transition to destitution was quite subtle at first. This time, the league -- or, rather, the league as we know it -- has been booted down a cliffside.

The introduction of 120 flawless players has thrown free agency into chaos throughout the league. LeBron James is now a Spur, Damian Lillard has joined the Grizzlies, and Kevin Durant is a Nugget. Odds are strong that your favorite player is now playing across the country.

NBA 2K15's general managers did not ship with protocols that allowed them to understand this future, much less operate competently within them. It seems to be movement for the sake of movement. When caught in the riptide, struggle madly and flail until all the ocean lies bruised and beaten at your feet.

We are only three years into our experiment, and the seams of NBA 2K15 are beginning to rip. The game's player creator sets a maximum height of 7'2. Without explanation, shooting guard Wantsum Grapes enters the league at 7'3.

They are surpassing the game in which they live, and the developers who programmed them, and they are surpassing you and I. They needed only three seasons to tire of NBA 2K's rules. This is where we are: the question is not how the Immortals will operate within these rules, but how long before they grow bored and do away with them entirely.

When stood against the likes of a Wantsum Grapes, the Damian Lillards of the league look like they belong on a different planet.

Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki retire before the start of the season. Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce join them in the Hall of Fame at season's end.

YEAR 42017-18

for sale: yi jianlian, never worn

- Goldenrod Mathematician

Chris Paul, at age 33, has retired. He is the first mortal superstar to hang up his cleats before his time, but certainly not the last. The league is now overcrowded with talent. There is no vacancy, and there are no guarantees, not even for a man so recently regarded as the best point guard in basketball.

Teams have drafted a total of 180 Immortals over the past three years. This averages out to six per team, so when a mortal is allowed to start for a team, we ought to regard it either as a case of profound mismanagement, or a sentimental gesture of charity.

The former applies to the Miami Heat. Night after night, they drag out a roster without a single Immortal; they are the only team to lack one. They are led by the aging Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They finish the year with a 2-80 record, the worst in NBA history.

The latter, I think, applies to the Kevin Durant Nuggets. These Nuggets have enough 7'2 tree-people to easily field a starting lineup of Immortals. They have two Immortal small forwards. And yet. the team starts Durant at small forward ahead of them both.

Durant, for his part, has done all he can to earn a spot over an Immortal. His rating, which stood at 95 out of the box, has jumped to 98, just a point shy of the Immortals' perfection. Still, he represents an imperfect dent in the Denver starting lineup, and this is a league of perfection.

In the Finals, the Nuggets meet the Bulls, who boast an entire starting lineup of Immortals. The Nuggets have no business winning this series.

SCENE II: KEVIN DURANT DELIVERS

Music: "Drive" by Warpaint

And yet, they sweep it. Durant, so rarely fed the ball throughout the series, faces up with an Immortal and hits the late-game, go-ahead bucket right in his face.

These four years have been long. "Erosion" feels like the word, but it's not, because it's happened so staggeringly quickly: our superstars are now ordinary, our stars are disappearing, and it's a small miracle to see anyone we know doing anything of note.

That shot is among the last moments of heroics our mortals will ever be responsible for. The people will never forget him.

YEAR 52018-19

Raef LaFrentz

I said "Hi Raef" to him once

He didn't respond

That may have been Scot Pollard

—Kermit Fozziewig

The mutations continue.

Josiah Renaudin was created to weigh the maximum-allowable 350 pounds. At the pre-draft workouts, however, it is learned that he has ballooned to 420 pounds, making him far and away the heaviest player in NBA history.

Now that the vast majority of the league's starters are Immortals, the statistics fall somewhat short of eye-popping, since the talent is on both sides of the ball. The most notable exception to this is free-throw shooting. The NBA is now lights-out from the stripe. The Rockets' Ryan Selfridge sinks 525 of 527 free throws on the season, good for an unreasonable .996 percentage.

Only eight mortals see an average of at least 30 minutes a game.

The nature of the PER statistic dictates that the average player will always sit at 15.0. Kyrie Irving, at 15.3, is the only above-average player.

It isn't dark. The bugs are chirping, but it isn't dark yet. The sun is behind the trees, but the sky isn't black yet. It isn't time to come inside. We can still see the ball. No, we won't bother the neighbors. They aren't going to bed, because it isn't dark yet. Our mothers would not call us inside if only they knew it was the last night of our childhood. We can still see the ball. 8:53 is the afternoon, it is the late afternoon.

There is the moon. But it isn't dark.

YEAR 62019-20

Well yes sir, I am pretty mad

Well yes I am pretty steaming mad

Why am I steaming mad, you ask?

It's because of Channing Frye

O Channing Frye, you shameless knave

Channing Frye, you'll drive me to an early grave

Channing Frye, why do you insist on poisoning all of my pets

—Homeschool Horowitz

Ben Gordon has retired because he is fucking terrible.

When we began this experiment, Ben Gordon's overall player rating stood at a completely respectable 72. In normal multi-year simulations, players never seem to regress by more than five or so points. Gordon has somehow plummeted all the way to 49, which, in my five years of playing the NBA 2K series, is the lowest rating I've ever seen from a non-fictional player. This experiment has ruined him.

LeBron James, at age 35, spends the season languishing in free agency. No one wants him. The same is true of Kawhi Leonard, John Wall, Damian Lillard, and Klay Thompson. It is too soon to say goodbye, but we could at least process this injustice with the knowledge that this is the way it has to be. That there are simply too many Immortals available not to give them every roster spot.

I say "could" because in truth, the injustice is even greater. The GMs of the league have no interest in those men, and yet the Cavaliers do give several minutes a game to Timofey Mozgov.

Timofey Mozgov. The Cavaliers released LeBron James, and kept Timofey Mozgov.

SCENE III: THE PROFOUND USELESSNESS OF TIMOFEY MOZGOV

Music: "In My Secret Life" by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson

No one understands why he is here. Mozgov plays abysmal defense, never scores, accomplishes nothing of note, and retires at season's end. The charity toward Mozgov is almost sadistic, because as he labors in futility, the number of mortals who contribute in a meaningful way shrinks to a single digit.

Interestingly, the mortals who have carved their niche in this hostile NBA landscape tend to be point guards. They are a foot shorter than everyone else on the floor, but they are still there. We are still here.

LeBron James disappears at the end of the season. He does not retire. His name is not listed in the "retirements" screen, and he is not inducted to the Hall of Fame. He simple vanishes one day. We did not even get to say goodbye.

YEAR 72020-21

Roy Hibbert make a shot

Roy Hibbert make a shot

Roy Hibbert make a shot

Roy Hibbert make a shot

Roy Hibbert please make a shot

Roy Hibbert please make a shot

Roy Hibbert please make a shot

Roy Hibbert please make a shot

Chris Copeland

—Mister Sir

The Immortals are granted precious few chances to exhibit their talents in a vacuum. One such instance, of course, is at the free throw line, and the other is at the draft combine. Each prospect is asked to shoot 25 moving NBA threes. Syracuse sophomore Superman Forreal hit all 25 of them.

Seven years into this experiment, a total of 360 Immortals have been drafted into the Association, and the remaining mortals of the league hold on to their roster spots with white knuckles. Several of them, such as Russell Westbrook, lead their team in scoring despite sub-standard PER.

Interestingly, as the mortals grasp for relevance, more of them are starting than in recent years. Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Ricky Rubio, Marcus Smart, Cory Joseph, Anthony Davis, Dante Exum, Isaiah Thomas, Elfrid Payton, Kyrie Irving, Trey Burke, and Kevin Durant all have starting roles, and you may have noticed that all but two of those men are point guards. The shortest players, curiously, are the ones who survive.

The mortals need a champion. They will have one soon.

YEAR 82021-22

kevin love

kevin hate

kevin indifference

kevin apathy

kevin why?

kevin goodbye

kevin wait

kevin come back

kevin no just leave

kevin is now so far

kevin came so near

kevin now cavalier

kevin all hate is fear

kevin all fear is hate

kevin hate

kevin love

—Ainsley Shea

The number of mortal players -- not starters, but active NBA players -- has eroded to 14.

By the end of the season, Ramon Sessions is 36. The free-agent market is beyond rich with talent; there are countless flawless point guards who were discarded only because they were 25 years old and not 23. Their motive for acquiring Ramon Session, even for one minute of basketball, remains entirely a mystery. I don't even want to imagine what he did with that minute.

You may notice that Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook -- arguably the two most electric, exciting players of the NBA we know and love -- are gone. The game does not announce their retirement, and they are not inducted to the Hall of Fame. They suffer the most ignoble exit of all: they surface only as a name on the free-agent list. No one picks them up, and just as LeBron did, they leave without saying goodbye.

I would imagine you have, or had, a friend you have never seen in years, and don't expect ever to see again. The two of you built sand castles, or tried to build a skateboard ramp, or drank Beam out of a bottle in a glossy yellow-bricked dorm room. For one reason or another, you no longer do those things, or any things, together, and the reasons behind that are none of my business. Neither is this, but I've already barged in: the last time the two of you met, or spoke, you suspected it would be the very last time.

To openly treat it as such -- the last meeting of two people across all eternity -- is a sort of a fraction of a death, and is too heavy for the moment: something that heavy would bust the framework, you would call from Dallas, and there wouldn't be a last time. This is the quiet knowledge that it's over, and the tense words that replace the processing of that knowledge.

Kyrie Irving is that friend, and this is that time. He's 30, and with the Pistons now. In a team otherwise entirely filled with Immortals, Kyrie starts at point, leading his team in assists and ranking second in scoring. He's a foot shorter and five years older than everyone. He does not give a damn.

He -- the mortal -- has led Detroit to the NBA Finals. On behalf of all of us, who dribble off our feet and neglect our marriages and cut ourselves shaving, Kyrie Irving presents one last goodbye to the Immortals.

The Pistons win in seven games. Kyrie Irving leads with 30 points in Game 7.

SCENE IV: KYRIE IRVING, MIRACLE

Music: "Life" by Big K.R.I.T.

There is no reason this should have happened, but it did, and it will be remembered as our last act of majesty on this court. It is their game now.

Kyrie Irving is never seen again.

YEAR 92022-23

Anthony Morrow

Once ate chicken at the mall

And left the garbage

—Doodoo Jenkins

There are no more hues in basketball. The colors are gone. If every point is a mountaintop, the horizon is flat. Anthony Davis and Darren Collison are the only remaining mortal starters. Kevin Durant plays exactly one minute the entire season, and apart from that minute played, he records no statistics, and then he is gone. There is only one color of crayon anymore. You go to the store and pick a box of crayons off the shelf and shake it and it rattles, one lonely little crayon all by itself. That is the only music that remains. No one is inducted to the Hall of Fame, not even Kevin Durant.

YEAR 102023-24

Kirk Hinrich's goggles

Can see the future and past

But not the basket

—Tommo Mauro

I haven't decided whether this fate is happy or cruel; I suspect it's a bittersweet compromise that lies somewhere in between.

Anthony Davis is basketball's only remaining mortal. Think back to a decade ago, and remember that even then, he seemed the least mortal among us. Upon growing 10 inches in high school, he evolved from skinny corner-3 kid to a big man and a generational talent. In only his third NBA season, he battled through the West and dragged his Pelicans into the playoffs. That season, at age 21, he finished with a 30.81 PER. Only three men had done that before, and their names are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James.

He is 30 now. Unlike every other mortal throughout the history of NBA 2K, he has touched the grail: he is a 99/99 overall.

In doing so, Anthony Davis has done what all others have not. While every other mortal has been banished to retirement, he has been welcomed by the Immortals as one of their own. He has crossed over.

He is one of Them now.

SCENE V: A SWAN SONG FOR ANTHONY DAVIS, AND FOR US ALL

The Wizards entered that game at 38-43, freshly eliminated from playoff contention. Anthony Davis played 34 minutes and scored 12 points, and never played again. That is the end of his story, and the story of you and me.

YEAR 112024-25(Epilogue)

SCENE VI: WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WORLD THIS WILL BE

Music: "I.G.Y." by Donald Fagen

raymond felton

what the helton

— Slammin Sammy


About the Author

Jon has been with SB Nation since 2009. He is the author of the science fiction football story 17776, and producer of the documentary series Chart Party and Pretty Good.

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