He’s A Warrior!
Less than a year ago, 19-year-old Sam Salyers was a typical Fort Myers Beach teenager, living with his Mom, working at The Beach Theater, and hanging out with his close group of friends on the West Coast of Florida. Today he is the #2 draft pick of the Golden State Warriors of the new NBA2K League, living away from home on his own for the first time, with a new group of teammates on the West Coast of the United States!
“The NBA2K is an eSports gaming basketball league cofounded by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Take-Two Interactive,” Sam said. “NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came up with the idea and is a strong supporter of the 2K, as many people call it. This is the second 2K season, with 21 of the 30 NBA teams sponsoring a 2K team. We play a game roughly every other week, with all contests in New York City before a live crowd, with each game on a live stream for fans to watch, though the league playoffs and finals in August will be on the NBA Channel. 2K teams have 6-person rosters, though you only play the same 5 players in any one game, meaning there are no substitutions once you tip off. Quarters are 6 minutes, so it takes roughly 35 minutes to play a game. We start April 4, with playoffs beginning August 3, for a 4-month season.”
Sam always loved sports, “particularly basketball, so I began playing the NBA2K game, including competing in it when I was a high school junior, and quickly discovered this is what I want to do, as I saw opportunities to make a living at the game I love. When the 2K formed, I stepped up my game but did not qualify the first season, but I stuck with it and made it this year!”
He did much more than just make it – Sam was the #2 pick in the entire NBA2K draft, by the Golden State Warriors! “Last year, there were just 102 2K players, out of over 72,000 people who tried to qualify. This year, the 2K expanded by four teams, meaning I am one of just 126 players. I don’t know how many attempted to qualify for 2019, but I imagine it was more than the 72,000 from last year, as it is taking off in popularity.”
Just like the NBA, the worse your team did the previous season, the higher your draft pick: “Golden State only won 4 games in 2018, so that is why they had the #2 pick,” Sam offered. “I knew from the interview process they had a strong interest in me, and I felt if they did not select me at #2, they still would, as they also held the #10 pick. I had a good indication I would go early in the draft, as the NBA2K invited me to attend the March 5 Draft in person at The Barclay Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets, and when we arrived, they had front row seats for us. Even knowing all that, once the Warriors picked me #2, it was still a shock but super exciting and a great feeling! My Mom, Debbie, who lives on Fort Myers Beach, came with me, and as she is my #1 Fan, that made it even more special! Mom calls every day and is so supportive!”
While the Warriors drafted Sam #2, it was no coincidence they selected Charlie Bostwick of Queens, New York, with their #10 pick. “In the qualifying leagues about four months or so before the draft, Charlie and I linked up and our games just meshed,” marveled Sam! “We tore through tournaments we entered and that was unbelievable. Soon we were talking on-line, but never actually met face-to-face until Draft Day. It is terrific to have him for a teammate as we already know each other’s games so well.”
He is also a part of a trailblazing organization, as the Warriors this season have the first-ever 2K female player in Chiquita Evans! “Chiquita was a 4th round pick and is just great,” Sam said. “She is awesome to hang out with and really cool, and while she is the only woman in the league now, many others will soon follow. She works hard, and while I know she has undergone experiences in her past where some guys try to shut her out or not pass her the ball, I am genuinely happy she is my teammate and friend. All my teammates are terrific and I learn something from each of them every day, as we sit side-by-side almost all day long every day of the week and that forms great comradery. We scrimmage against other 2K members, except for teams representing the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers, as those are the others in our grouping and you don’t expose any tendencies to them.”
Local Boy Makes Good
Sam graduated from the Beach Elementary School, then went to Lexington Middle School and Fort Myers High School. “I worked at The Beach Theater from my junior year until I left to join the Warriors, and I have so many close friends on the island. When I went #2 in the draft, my cell and Internet blew up, with everyone telling me how happy they were for me! I can’t tell everyone back home how much all their emotional support means to me.”
Today Sam lives in Emeryville, just north of where The Bay Bridge connects Oakland to San Francisco. “This is my first time on my own, away from home. My only experience with The Bay Area is we visited once when I was around 9-years-old, but I don’t remember anything specific about that. While I miss Fort Myers Beach, I absolutely love it here, though between practicing 6 days-a-week up to 8 hours-a-day to prepare for the season, I have not had a lot of time to explore except for the immediate neighborhood. That is what I miss most about Fort Myers Beach – that it is so small and such a close-knit community! I have great friends there just 2 and 4 and 6 minutes away and you know everyone, while here in The Bay Area it is 180-degrees completely different.”
Not “Sam I Am!”
To the 2K community, he is not “Sam” but “Gradient!” “We all have nicknames,” “Gradient” explained with a laugh! “Mine does not have a great deal of meaning, other then I wanted a name with just one word and people started to call me by it and it clicked so I rolled with it!”
Sam hopes that 2K becomes his lifelong occupation: “I personally think you can play until around your mid-30s, when you reflexes slow down. But this league, like any other one, needs coaches and general managers and draft experts and duties like that, so if I retain my passion, this could be a 40-year career for me.”
With the season right around the corner, Sam is nervous, anxious and excited. “We fly to New York on April 3, with our first game in Manhattan on April 4. We compete on a specifically-designed stage, with stands full of screaming fans on either side, so people definitely cheer or jeer you! I am more excited than anything, as I think we have an excellent team that can make a deep tournament run.”
That is important, for while the 2K so far is fun, it is also Sam’s livelihood: “As a First Round Draft selection, I earn $35,000 for the 4-month season, with insurance and health benefits. The Warriors pay for our furnished apartments and moving expenses, but we take care of our food and personal items, though they usually provide lunch during our long practices. The real money comes from our success in tournaments and playoffs, with a combined pool of $1.2 million. If you win ‘The Tip Off,’ each player receives $7,000; the second tournament is ‘The Turn’ and winners get $10,000 each. ‘The Ticket’ is next, with each winning player earning $12,000 apiece, then 8 teams compete for the 2K Championship, with each winning player receiving $40,000. This means that once you make an NBA2K League team, you can’t just chill out but must keep playing well and win, because that is where the money is.”
To watch 2K League games, go online to Twitch.tv/nba2kleague; for the 2K schedule, see 2kleague.nba.com or Twitter @nba2kleague.
So how good is Sam? “I am personally very humble, but if I have to be honest, I am very good! I, however, don’t care about statistics like scoring at all, but only if my team wins. I think what made me such a high draft pick is I play equally well at all five spots on the floor at a high level, making my teammates better, and that is my key. If my team wins, I happily make individual sacrifices.”