Up Next

Esports

Chiquita Evans is a critical role player in Warriors’ NBA 2K success

As the ‘sixth man,’ her style and real-world playing experience are a huge advantage

As the NBA 2K season enters the playoffs, Chiquita Evans, the first woman drafted into the league, keeps her focus on winning and not the expectations of others.

During an in-studio interview with The Breakfast Club, Evans was asked by Charlamagne tha God, “Do you feel any added pressure as the first [woman] drafted into the [NBA 2K] league?”

“No, not really,” she responded. “Because I know my expectations of myself, and that’s just basically to do what I’m capable of doing and being the best teammate I’m capable of being. Whatever role that I’m needed in is what I’m gonna do.”

Evans, who competes for Warriors Gaming Squad, the Golden State Warriors’ NBA 2K team, is succeeding at exactly that. The Warriors Gaming Squad secured a spot in the playoffs by winning the in-season The Ticket tournament. The Warriors beat the top-seeded Blazer5 Gaming twice in the first round.

After being drafted in May, which Evans says was “the highest I’ve ever felt,” she met with her five teammates. “We clicked soon as we met each other,” she remembered. “We all hang out together. We do things together. Everybody on our team is really, really chill and laid-back. We all have the same type of vibe, so it was really easy for all of us to get along with each other.

“It’s like a family.”

Real-world baller experience is a big advantage

Before the season started, the league’s 21 teams scrimmaged against other teams, which helps each squad, all newly constructed, build rapport. Evans is particularly dedicated to building team camaraderie, saying, “You can put together a group of people who coexist well together, which makes them play the game together. But if you have a group of five, six people who all play the game relatively well but can’t coexist together, it’s really pointless. You can have the best players in the league, but if you can’t play together, it means nothing.”

She learned these lessons from having played AAU, high school, college and semipro basketball. Warriors head coach Tommy Abdenour thought “she showed her versatility day one.”

“We threw her in multiple positions ’cause, especially earlier on, we wanted to get everybody comfortable with different builds and different positions, and you could see right away we could play her at [multiple spots]. We knew she was very versatile, and she was also a great teammate. You can see when she’s playing, she’s a great communicator on the floor. She knows exactly where she’s supposed to be at all times.”

But on a very talented roster, Evans fell into the slot of the team’s sixth player. Each team only has six players. In the digital world, players don’t need breathers, so most sixth players see little to no action.

“She’s played in four games,” Abdenour said. “The way we look at it, we want our sixth player … to play in games, meaningful games, and contribute. We don’t believe in just having our sixth player just sit out for the entire year just because we think our other five are better. Some teams do that; we don’t believe in that. We want all six players to play and contribute because we believe in the team concept.”

But for a gamer who just wants time on the sticks, sitting on the sidelines can be tough. Some in her situation might pout, but not Evans. She’s accepted the position and credits the lessons received years ago from her former AAU basketball coach, who, in her words, “put into our heads what it meant to be a great teammate and being patient. I feel like that helped me in my role.”

“She’s doing excellent,” Abdenour said. “She’s the best sixth person in the league,” adding that “she’s been great at accepting it.”

“A lot of people can’t comfortably say they are OK with being a sixth man,” Evans said. “I can honestly sit here and comfortably say that I’m OK with it. It doesn’t make me any less of a player, doesn’t make me feel any less as a person.”

‘She brings a different skill set’

Warriors Gaming Squad finished the 2019 NBA 2K League season 16-10 (7-9 regular season, 9-1 tournaments) and became the first team in NBA 2K League history to win two of the three tournaments in a single season to earn two of the three banners that make up The Banner Chain. In their single regular-season matchup, Blazer5 Gaming defeated Warriors Gaming 64-53.

Earlier in the season, one of the starters suffered a physical injury, placing Evans in the starting lineup, and she filled in well.

When the injury occurred, Abdenour said, the team “felt very confident knowing we got Chiquita ready to go. She played pretty well. We actually went 1 and 1. We lost to the best team in the league. It was a very close game. And we came back and won the other game. So, with her, we didn’t really feel that we were going to lose that much. And with her specifically, she brings a different skill set, and that’s something we look for with our sixth players.”

She helps the team both when she’s playing and when she’s not. On the court, her versatility provides the team a different look offensively. “We typically played her at the 4 or 5, knowing she can shoot and score. So that was something that when she played, we played a different style,” Abdenour said. “We’re going to spread the floor a little more offensively. We lose a little bit with the defense and rebounding but understanding we’re going to gain more offensively for knocking down a couple of 3s.”

When she’s not playing, her coach relies on her basketball mind, which understands both real-life and 2K basketball. “I’m always picking her brain,” Abdenour said, “and come up with something and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? Do you think this could work?’ And she’ll give me her honest feedback, which I appreciate, and if there’s something that she likes, then we’ll present it to the other players on the team.”

“We typically played her at the 4 or 5, knowing she can shoot and score so that was something that when she played, we played a different style.” — Tommy Abdenour

The low point for the season for her has been missing her family, particularly her mom, who hasn’t been able to travel to see her play in the NBA 2K League Studio in Long Island City, New York, where the league hosts all of its games. Recently, her mom traveled to Los Angeles for The ESPYS, where Evans was nominated for best esports moment of the year. “Even though I didn’t win, it was an honor to be nominated in general,” she said.

When the season ends, a spot in the league next season won’t be guaranteed for Evans. “I know that I’m going to have to work harder in the offseason to get retained,” she said.

Her coach said, “I expect her to be on a team. I’ll be surprised if she’s not. She’s too good of a player. If she’s not back in the league at worst as a sixth player again, [I’ll be surprised]. But I think she’s better than that. If she were on a different team, she would have been playing more consistently.”

But what if she’s a sixth player again next year?

“I’m perfectly fine with that. Like I said, to me it means more to me to win than anything. I’m not a stat chaser. I don’t care about my stats. I don’t care about any of that. At the end of the day, nothing matters if you’re not winning.”

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at The Undefeated and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.