Dayton native enjoys successful second season in NBA 2K League

Ivan Curtiss is general manager of Nets GC

The second season in the NBA 2K League was nothing like the first for Ivan Curtiss, the 1997 Dunbar High School graduate who’s general manager for Nets GC (Gaming Crew). Then again, nothing about 2020 has been like any other year.

The coronavirus pandemic shut down the NBA on March 11 and the rest of the sports world the next day and also delayed the season for the NBA’s esports league. When play did start in May, Curtiss and his team played together at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It was tough because we didn’t know what was going on initially," Curtiss said, “and then you start to see the magnitude of what was happening and we happen to be in the epicenter. It was just a different mindset for me. I kind of went into parental mode for the players. I have players from all over, and and they hadn’t really been away from home."

Curtiss, 41, served as a lifeline between his young gamers and their parents, who were reassured by the lengths the Nets organization went to keep the players safe during the pandemic. The league not only provided the basics — gloves and hand sanitizer — but also private transportation for the players, allowing them to move safely between their apartments to the Barclays Center.

“I couldn’t thank the organization enough for that,” Curtiss said. “We didn’t have to worry about traveling on the train or Uber anything like that. We were kind of living a lavish life so to speak during that time. They took took very good care of us.”

Making the playoffs

Curtiss entered the online gaming world in 2011 and co-founded the My Player Basketball Association (MPBA) around NBA 2K in 2015. The NBA 2K League started play in 2018. Curtiss joined the league in 2019 for its second season, coaching and managing a group of six players in Brooklyn.

Nets GC finished 8-8 in 2020 and made the playoffs for the first time. Curtiss spent the spring and most of the summer in New York City with his team.

Although the pandemic didn’t stop the season, it did alter it. In previous seasons, teams would travel to play against each other in the same arena, and fans would watch them in person. This season, teams competed remotely, and fans watched live streams.

Players are used to competing remotely because that’s what they did when they were amateurs, Curtiss said. On the other hand, not being able to compete in front of a live audience or engage in trash talking with other teams in the same room took away some of the enjoyment.

“That’s our secret sauce: the trash talking," Curtiss said. "It gives it that authentic feel like you’re actually on the court.”

Nets GC lost 2-0 to the Hornets Venom GT in a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs, falling 74-69 and 73-71.

Using their platform

The NBA 2K League season also took place during a period that saw protests sweep the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisc.

NBA players used their platform all summer to speak out against systemic racism, even walking out on the playoffs for several days in August. The NBA 2K League also used its voices to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Prior to the start of the NBA 2K League’s finals series, Curtiss participated in a online conversation about social justice with two other general managers in the league.

“It’s tough times,” Curtiss said. “I’m glad we’re getting to the point where we having conversations. Everybody’s hoping for change. I’m a pretty optimistic person. I see a lot of negative things. Fortunately, for me, I haven’t encountered a lot, but I’ve heard things from family members. I think now we’re getting to the point where everyone’s using their platform effectively. To start the conversations, I think that’s the only true way we can start to get the change that we want to see.”

The owners of the Brooklyn Nets, Clara Wu Tsai and Joe Tsai, who also own the WNBA’s New York Liberty and the Barclays Center, responded to the movement by pledging $50 million over 10 years. The money will support “social justice and economic mobility initiatives that will benefit Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), with a priority focus on Brooklyn.”

The NBA had “Black Lives Matters” painted on the court it’s using for the playoff bubble in Orlando. The NBA 2K League had the same message on its digital court inside the video game. Curtiss said everyone in the league received Black Lives Matter T-shirts and used their platforms on social media to speak from the heart.

“I think our league handled it very well, as well as the Brooklyn Nets organization," Curtiss said. "Anytime I get a chance to brag on my organization, I will — because it’s one of the most diverse organizations. I never feel like I’m at work. Everybody is always willing to help each other. It’s just a family atmosphere. It’s a dream job, and it’s a dream place to be while doing your dream job.”

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