Dreams in Digital

Courtesy 2K Sports

Click here for an enlarged version of the above photo; you’re gonna need it.

Though they actually began on August 3rd with several group stage soccer matches, the Olympics spring to life in the hearts of most with today’s opening ceremony. Working with a budget of roughly £3 million[1], a tenth of what the 2012 opening ceremony in London cost, a nation ill-equipped to host an Olympics is going to go full-throttle into it anyway, featuring such Brazilian luminaries as Gisele Bundchen and Dame Judi Dench in the Maracana, where the Olympic cauldron will receive the Flame. Much has already been made of the ethical and economic implications of these Olympics, and more awaits. Either way, they’re here now, so we may as well do our best to embrace them.

The U.S. figures to play a prominent role in most competitions, with swimming, gymnastics and track and field being among the most noteworthy. Basketball, also, is notable, though most have written off the tournament as one in which every country aside from the United States is battling for second. That seems reasonable; this country would be loath to repeat a disaster like what happened in Athens in 2004. To mark the Games, 2K Sports has released an Olympic team available for play, not unlike when they did so in 2012 with the Dream and Redeem Teams. So, sure, the real-life versions of these NBA stars are extremely likely to bring home the gold. The NBA2K equivalents pictured above, however, seem bound for much dimmer pastures.

When examining a team photo of any kind, it’s always fun to note the expressions on players’ faces. Sometimes, a uniform mean-mug gets the job done, while at others, a mistimed smile can lead to hilarity for all. What makes the NBA2K photo unique, of course, is the fact that the developers artificially constructed it based on their own character renderings and expected player reactions to such a situation.

The intricate details of the photograph are truly stunning, and a double-take is almost required just to make sure it isn’t an actual photograph; such are the standards of video game graphics in 2016. Upon making that realization, however, the differences become clear, like a ruined optical illusion or the punchlines on “Things you can’t unsee” lists.

In honor of the Olympics commencing, and of the somewhat ragtag band of All-Stars and borderline max contract candidates representing our nation as “The Quarantine Team” in this edition of Olympic basketball, let us make a concerted effort to determine what could possibly be going through the heads of each of Team USA’s digital proxies at the time of their team photograph.

BACK ROW, starting from left

Mike Krzyzewski, Head Coach: Coach K is all-business casual, sporting a slightly Duke-esque blue polo and khakis with a utilitarian brown belt while his hands are dutifully wrapped behind his back, the only one in the picture to do so. His gaze rests slightly right of center, as if he got distracted by the photographer counting off on his fingers. He’s thinking about how much more time he’s going to have to recruit once he hands the reigns off to Gregg Popovich following this tournament, but he retains a tinge of sadness knowing “current USA basketball head coach” appeals more to mindless high schoolers than “former USA basketball head coach.” He dutifully pulled up Yelp reviews of the finest eateries in Rio on behalf of his staff, searching by Wifi accessibility and wine selection.

Harrison Barnes, 8, Forward: Barnes has worn the same blandly surprised expression on his face since July 4, when Olympic teammate Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Golden State Warriors, effectively ending Barnes’ tenure as Golden State’s equivalent of Mario Chalmers. Do something right, it’s incidental; do something wrong, and it’s emblematic of your ability as a player, as a person, as a sentient desk lamp. Barnes doesn’t feel so much as he experiences the sense of feeling before shrugging it off and launching an ill-advised 22-footer. Harrison Barnes practices pump-fakes in the shower.

Kyle Lowry, 7, Guard: Harrison Barnes just told Kyle Lowry about the Zika virus and then playfully placed his hand on Lowry’s shoulder, a gesture of comedic value just as much as of comfort. Lowry wonders if Zika is going to make him fat again. Fat Kyle Lowry was an obsolescence in human form, a functional yet inefficient tool for mediocrity, like a Civil War cannon cleaned up and polished. Skinny Kyle Lowry is a new, beautiful, ripe banana. Peel slowly and see.

Kyrie Irving, 10, Guard: The lone Duke product on Team USA, Kyrie Irving has to look collected and confident in this picture, the proxy of a coach’s son. Later on, digital Coach K will lambast digital Irving for approaching the official photograph with such a laissez-faire attitude, but for now, Irving is laid back. At the medal ceremony, he will glitch to skew the Nike logo on his uniform in what he sees as a tribute to Michael Jordan’s spurning of Reebok in 1992; the game will freeze, and you’ll have to start over from the beginning. Irving is an NBA champion, after all, and none of his teammates can ever take away from him what he worked so diligently for. Speaking of which, did LeBron re-sign yet?

Paul George, 13, Forward: Unsurprisingly, Paul George has had just about enough of this. Some older, white gentleman behind the camera just wished him good health for the seven thousandth time. Sure, he’s happy to be healthy again, but he’s sick of hearing about that. Later on, Draymond Green will tell him to “break a leg” before entering the first game, and digital George will draw a technical for jawing at a generic fan in the front row doing the wave at the wrong time.

Klay Thompson, 11, Guard: Klay Thompson is the only person truly at ease, happy even, with being at the Olympics. He stares directly into the camera, likely envisioning it as another swished jumper falling through the cylinder. Sure, the Finals were horrible, but that wasn’t really his fault, and his work in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals contributed directly to bringing Kevin Durant to Oakland. He’s not at all worried about sharing the ball or being the man; being perhaps the best pure catch-and-shoot gunner in the league comes with a territory, and on his hottest nights, he can burn even more brightly than his golden brethren. Plus, the likelihood of adult men approaching him in Rio and advising him on his jumpshot is close to nil.

DeMarcus Cousins, 12, Center: Does he need a new prescription of contact lens? Did Frank Ocean lie again? The front office brought in Arron Afflalo and Matt Barnes ostensibly to help foster a winning environment? So much confusion and rage lies central to Boogie Cousins’ character that it even extends to his video game form. Digital DeMarcus has told America to go away, he just wants to be alone for a while, some vague things have happened in his past – player development schedules gone awry, poorly-planned University of Kentucky reunions, objectively atrocious defensive propositions – that even the promise of Dave Joerger, king of transcending mediocrity, calls to mind only an inevitable feud, complete with Vlade Divac standing in front of his coach, taking haymakers to a chest already ravaged by years of cigarette smoking. There is no joy in Mudville. There is no pain in Sacramento. There is only the dreaded present, which is no present at all.

Draymond Green, 14, Forward: Digital Draymond Green can see a staffer scrolling through a page of groin-punching and Snapchat jokes. The page is endless; it loads automatically and without reservation, leaving Digital Draymond to soak in the humiliation he has unwittingly unleashed upon the world. He stands tall, diligently draping an arm over the ball but with such ferocity and power that no member of this team dare try to snatch it away. They know the potential consequences. Digital Draymond knows actual Draymond blew the Finals. Digital Draymond will not forgive actual Draymond.

FRONT ROW, starting from left

DeMar DeRozan, Seated, Guard: Basketball between his hands, contract in his heart, Digital DeMar[2] is prepared to ride out a few more years as an athletic, inefficient beast, sent from the past, a player out of time and out of step with the current rhythms of the NBA but who is nevertheless a scoring machine. Digital DeMar is capable of hitting threes that actual DeMar would bypass, instead stepping slightly forward, just enough inside the arc, to give up a potential point. Digital DeMar will be seen laughing when the team is down 5-0 in the first quarter, and Digital Coach K will make him run laps around the console long after you’ve passed out in front of your television. Digital DeMar will be the happiest to claim his gold medal.

Jimmy Butler, Crouching with Hand On Basketball, Guard: Maybe it’s the group of former All-Star guards now surrounding him. Maybe it’s the generous group of former Knicks. Maybe it’s the fact that Team USA is staying on a cruise ship, and he hates water, even the digital representation of it. Maybe it’s the changing of the seasons, and of the world climate at large. For one reason or another, Digital Jimmy Butler is sad, but he doesn’t know why. We tried to find him a digital Chicago Bulls sock puppet to cheer him up, but to no avail.

Kevin Durant, 5, Forward: What’s perhaps most incredible about any video game rendering of KD is how they all get his unbelievably lopsided eyebrow situation spot on. Even here, in a miniature and pixelated form, you can see how much higher his left brow is than his right. They’ve placed him on a stool, not nearly the throne he was used to in Oklahoma City, but more in line with what he’ll come to expect from Golden State. He hasn’t won a championship yet, however, and in a minute, he’s going to slap digital Kyrie Irving’s hand away as if it just told him a lewd joke about Mama Durant.

Carmelo Anthony, 15, Forward: He isn’t what he once was – the 2012 Digital Carmelo, like the actual Melo, was much better and more equipped for international competition than for hurling snowballs in hell, which is what he does with the Knicks – but Digital Carmelo is still a confident and prescient offensive talent, the kind that takes and makes a double-covered shot when you meant to hit the pass button. Digital Carmelo isn’t animated to execute a display of social justice, but if he were, it would be to bite through the gold medal, revealing it to be a chocolate coin, right in line with Brazil’s budget.

DeAndre Jordan, 6, Center: “DeAndre, Mark Cuban is on the phone, he says he’d like to wish you good luck.”

*     *     *

[1] Or just under $4 million USD, as of this writing

[2] The “Digital D____” alliteration on this team is staggering and wonderful.

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