Chiquita Evans, a 30 year-old professional NBA 2K player who splits her time between Chicago and Mobile, Kentucky, loves winning and really loves basketball. Today, she may become the first woman to be drafted in the NBA 2K league, and she’s more than ready to grab the W.
Evans is one of two female NBA 2K players who are in the 198-player pool for today’s NBA 2K draft in Brooklyn. The popular basketball game had its first pro season last year, in which more than a dozen real-life NBA teams also had esports teams made of top players of the game. All of those players were men, but, this year, two women, Evans and Brianna Novin, are eligible to be drafted to the virtual Celtics Crossover Gaming, Raptors Uprising GC, or the rest of the league.
Evans plays as a small forward, and is in Brooklyn for tonight’s draft.
Long before she tried to play virtual basketball competitively, however, Evans was playing the real thing. As someone who spent some of her youth in Chicago during the heyday of Michael Jordan’s Bulls, wanting to get on the court was maybe inevitable. She said she started playing when she was twelve or thirteen, and made it onto her middle school basketball team. Although they won the championship and went undefeated, she rode the bench for the season.
“I was happy that we won a championship,” she told Kotaku over the phone, “but I was upset that I couldn’t showcase what I could do.”
That summer, Evans drilled the fundamentals, determined to see some time on the court the next season. She would walk to the park to practice, dribbling there and back.
“The next year, my seventh grade year, I started and I’ve never rode the bench ever again,” Evans said. “I’m just too competitive to feel defeated.”
She said an injury ended her pursuit of real-world basketball, so she turned to the virtual thing. She started playing the NBA 2K with 2K09 in 2008. It kept her close to the sport. She started playing competitively with 2K16. Although she tried to get into the league last year, she met some resistance from other players during the Combine for the first season of the NBA 2K league, a qualifying event for people who are eligible to be drafted which took place last February.
“A few things got me discouraged,” she said. “You’re going through the Combine and people don’t want to pass the ball, and my gender became an issue.”
In a profile video for today’s draft, Evans said that when she talked on the mic during the Combine, people noticed she was a woman and then stopped cooperating with her.
“I’d get on the mic and say, ‘I’m open, I’m open,’ and they’d be like, ‘That’s a girl?’” she said. “I’d get iced out the whole game.”
Evans said that with the group of players she normally plays with, being a woman has never mattered and that her current team has four women on it. At that Combine, it was different. She said it got in her head, and she withdrew from the Combine. But Evans stressed that even when the men she was playing with weren’t giving her her due, nothing would keep her from playing basketball.
“I just can’t let it change who I am or change what I was going to do,” she said, “because someone feels like I don’t deserve to be here or I shouldn’t be doing something that I love to do.”
Since last year, league officials have been trying to diversify the draft pool, and now that Evans and Novin are in the pool this year, some of those efforts have paid off. That’s only two of 150 new draft picks though, and Evans is excited to start breaking down barriers. It should be noted that the league did include Evans and some other female gamers at a showcase event last July. She just hasn’t been able to get onto a pro team just yet.
“I do feel like if I get drafted a lot more women will be interested and they will feel more comfortable with being themselves and going out here and competing,” Evans said. “I can only imagine, you know, four or five years down the line, how many women would feel comfortable enough to go out here and compete.”