Golden State Warriors guard—and I’ll get this out of the way now, my favourite player currently in the NBA—Klay Thompson, was watching ESPN the other day, and did not like what he saw.
In a segment on NBA Today, the hosts were interviewing a man who is legally known as Ronnie Singh. Singh, a long-time employee of 2K, used to be known simply as the “digital marketing director” for the NBA 2K series, but as those games have increased in popularity—and further entangled themselves in the worst excesses of influencer and brand culture—he’s now simply “Ronnie 2K,” the public face of the entire franchise.
If there’s a statement to be made about the game, he makes it. If there’s an interview to be had, he’s the one on camera. The man has almost one million followers on Instagram, and can be seen at all the fanciest parties for brands, networks and players.
Which is what he was doing on ESPN yesterday, answering softball questions about stuff like skill ratings, and whether any NBA player had ever tried to bribe him to increase their stats (answer: yes, often). Here’s how the segment went according to Singh’s Instagram:
The best part came afterwards, though, when Thompson took to the comments to call Singh a “clown,” saying, “I thought NBA on ESPN meant coverage of some of the best athletes in the world? Not interviewing a promoter...do better ESPN.”
Please note that this spicy serve of sports beef didn’t magically appear overnight. Fittingly, seeing as Singh’s appearance touched on player ratings, Thompson had taken to social media last month to disagree with his own rating in NBA 2K23, putting a vomit emoji next to his three-point rating of 88—good for second in the entire league—and telling the 2K23 team to, “put some respect on my name you bums.”
As Singh explains in the ESPN segment yesterday, that’s a good rating, only skewed because Thompson’s own teammate Steph Curry has broken the three-point game so historically that 2K’s ratings had to move like this to accommodate. But players beefing with sports games over their stats is nothing new; I remember working at EB Games in 2003, and some players from my local National Rugby League club (the Canberra Raiders) came in and were furious at their own ratings, and that was 19 years ago. This particular point of contention has only worsened in the decades since now players can complain directly to developers via social media.
So yes, Thompson—a serial complainer who also felt slighted that he didn’t make the NBA’s list of its best 75 players ever—is mostly just airing a petty grievance on Instagram. But I also think with his latest comments, about ESPN interviewing “a promoter,” he’s onto something.
This game isn’t even about video games anymore. It’s operating outside of those narrow confines. This is modern sports, this is broadcast money, this is brands, this is content, this is raw, naked greed. For 2K23 the basketball is just the vessel, the excuse. There is no more refined example of the dysfunctional excess of modern life and its broken markets than this tired old video game. There are few other AAA series so defined by their starring role in financial earnings calls.
This is what I’m talking about. The video game, the broadcasters, and the league itself, are so entwined that it’s hard seeing the points at which they separate. For the NBA that’s great news, for ESPN it’s a commercial necessity, and for the NBA 2K series it’s one of the biggest reasons it’s such a grind to be around. It’s a bummer that Thompson’s comments come off as sour grapes, then, because he has a point: it sucks!