NBA 2K22 is officially on current and next generation consoles across the globe. The growth of NBA 2K is something that couldn’t have predicted - almost like the entire growth of E-Sports in general over the last decade. From competitive Call of Duty tournaments where thousands of people watched to competitive Rocket League tournaments hosted across platforms like Twitch, Youtube, and Facebook Gaming, competitive gaming as a whole has grown across nearly every streaming platform. For the NBA 2K League, in their fourth season, their viewership has also made strides. For example, on Twitch alone, the 2K League Finals averaged 768,000 views.
Not bad for a four-year old gaming league.
In 2018, the NBA 2K League was announced. 17 teams were revealed for the Inaugural season back in 2018, and one of those teams being Grizz Gaming. This is where Grizz Gaming General Manager and Head Coach Lang Whitaker enters.
“All we had when I landed in Memphis was a logo,” Whitaker recalls his first few months. “We didn’t have a gaming facility, or any of that, so we’ve come a long way.” When Lang started in Memphis, his office was next door to - at the time - team counsel of the Memphis Grizzlies, Zach Kleiman. Whitaker in our conversation for this piece had nothing but great things to say about the Grizzlies support of the Grizz Gaming organization.
For some franchises, that is a real question regarding support of their 2K League team. The Grizzlies support Grizz Gaming as a whole.
Whitaker isn’t one to brag, or flaunt his success, but what he has done in his four seasons in Memphis has been special. Whitaker, who had no previous coaching experience or experience with E-Sports, has grown in every season leading the charge for Grizz Gaming.
Before accepting the position in Memphis, Whitaker reached out to Rick Fox, who at the time just invested in his own E-Sports team “Echo Fox.”
Fox told Whitaker “nobody knows how to fully do any of it yet, because all of it is still so fresh...You know the basketball side of it. You can do it.”
“I remember flying from Memphis to New York (LaGuardia Airport) for our first game, and as we are getting the guys together in baggage claim. Antonio Saldivar (@UniversalPhe2K) looked at me, and said, we really just flew to New York to play a video game,” Whitaker said as he recalled his first game as Head Coach of Grizz Gaming.
In the four seasons Grizz Gaming has been in Memphis, from a national media perspective, (along with a record perspective), Memphis has been a middle of the pack franchise in the 2K League. Struggling to find consistency in terms of performance, and overall roster. For Whitaker, he just had to learn the process that comes with being a General Manager and Head Coach.
Coming out of a very impressive season four, Lang seems to have found a groove. He has led Grizz Gaming to their first ever 2K League Playoff appearance, thanks in part to player development and drafting a good group of guys. While the league as a whole is going one way, Whitaker leans on his basketball experience to guide his decision making.
“I think what helped the most was being a dad,” Whitaker told me when discussing how to interact with his players. Handling how to help a player, or pick a player up after a bad game. Whitaker also payed close attention to Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins, and how he kept his team locked in throughout games. “I watched how he kept his guys going through adversity.”
Earning the respect of his young core of Zach Vandivier (Vandi), and Authentic African. Vandi, who is only 22 years of age in his third season, and earned an All-Star nod for the Eastern Conference this season. Authentic African who is arguably the most versatile player in the 2K League, is also an E-Sports Olympian with Team Canada.
Similar to the rise of E-Sports and the 2K League as a whole, Lang Whitaker’s recent success as whole was unprecedented in Memphis. As NBA 2K success continues to grow, so will the 2K League, and likely E-Sports as well. All the while, Whitaker continues to grow as a General Manager, Head Coach, Father, Husband, and personality for the Memphis Grizzlies and Grizz Gaming.