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NBA 2K League

Chiquita Evans is a trailblazer as the first black woman drafted in the NBA 2K League

On Tuesday night, she was selected 56th by the Warriors Gaming Squad

In February 2017, NBA 2K gamers worldwide reveled in the news that the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, developers of the popular video game, planned an esports league to commence in 2018. “When it was announced,” Chiquita Evans, a former college basketball player at historically black Kentucky State University, says, “I told myself I wanted to be involved because I wanted to give it a try.”

Evans, living in Chicago, told her mother, Maryanne Aldridge, who resides in Louisville, Kentucky, about her ambition: “Mom, I’m trying out for the 2K League and I want you to be supportive of what I’m trying to do.”

Her mom said OK but wondered deep down, “Really, the games?”

To prepare, Evans grinded. On days off from her regular 9-to-5 job at Foot Locker, she reached for her PS4 controller when she woke up and practiced until after midnight, only pausing to eat (“I can’t skip a meal. I love food entirely too much.”). On workdays, she would practice on the virtual court until her gig required her to leave. After work, she returned to her craft.

Evans, who discovered her love for 2K while playing for a semipro team in Louisville, employs coaching she’s gotten throughout life to guide her when on the sticks. Compared with others, “I feel like I see the game a lot differently. … The way my [AAU] coach taught me the game is how I play 2K.”

With the second pick in the final round, the 56th pick overall, Warriors Gaming Squad selected Chiquita Evans. Sporting an extremely saucy floral-printed red-and-black blazer, Evans walked and picked up her Warriors Gaming hat as Beyoncé’s “Run the World” blared and the audience erupted.

“I don’t like to force anything,” she said. “I take what the defense gives me.” And, she strives “to be a problem on defense.” Evans, who plays under the gamertag Chiquitae126, just wants “to win, so if there’s a game where I score seven points and we win, I’m completely fine with it, because that’s a dub.”

For the first season of the 2K League, she cleared the initial qualifying-round hurdle that featured 72,000 applicants. If she balled during the combine in February 2018, she’d be in the inaugural draft in March. There, along with 101 other draft-eligible players, she hoped a team would call her name.

After starting in the combine, however, a torrent of misogyny swallowed her.

“My first seven games, my gender was an issue,” Evans said. She prefers to communicate with teammates to dominate the opposition. “As soon as I would get on the mic, everybody would be like, ‘It’s a girl.’ And I would continuously say, ‘I’m open! I’m open!’ and I would never receive the ball.

“It was like I was nonexistent,” she vented. “I quit and I gave up on it.” Evans, who tore her MCL in college but rehabbed her way back onto the court, said, “I can honestly say that’s the first time I gave up on anything.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver — who considers the 2K League the fourth league, along with the NBA, WNBA and G League — voiced displeasure last April about the 2K League having no female players. “What I’m concerned about,” Silver said, “and this is a much larger issue in the gaming community … is that something is going on in the gaming community that either is not attracting women or is repelling women from wanting to be part of it.”

After 2018 incident, she had to regroup

In July 2018, the league hosted an NBA 2K League Showcase, billed as a “tournament featuring professional NBA 2K League players and influencers from the worlds of sports and entertainment in a quick-hitting, single-elimination format.” Evans received an invitation, along with three other women 2K players, including her friend Alexandria Jennings, known in the game as Mz LJ. Former NBA players Robert Horry and Brian Scalabrine and rapper A$AP Twelvyy joined the festivities. Participants, divided into four teams, vied for bragging rights.

“I was very nervous about it,” Evans revealed, referring to her emotional moments before taking center stage in the Queens NBA 2K League Studios, where the league hosts its games. She took her spot at a circular table emblazoned with the league’s emblem. Ten stations surrounded it, replete with a personal gaming monitor and stylish black seat for each person. Months beforehand, she’d spent every waking moment hustling toward this destination before sexism torpedoed her dream.

A crowd full of 2K fans and tens of thousands streaming on Twitch watched women play in an NBA 2K showcase for the first time. Back in Louisville, her mom, grandmother, aunt and her mom’s friend each watched with excitement on their phones while huddled in her mother’s home.

When Evans made a bucket, she became the first woman to score points in an NBA 2K showcase event. Despite leading the tournament in scoring, her squad lost in the finals against Mz LJ’s. Participating in the showcase, nonetheless, brought Evans clarity and determination: “That’s when I knew and decided this was for me. For season two, I was going to keep pushing through. No matter what adversity I faced, I was going to keep going.” Afterward, Mz LJ detected in her friend “a fire, just that’s been brewing under the surface.”

Evans viewed the hate through a different prism, Mz LJ believes:

“It helped her realize she did this for a purpose, so another [woman] doesn’t have to go through this. That she’s willing to take all this criticism and hate to break the barrier so another woman doesn’t have to go through [it].”

Misogyny persists, but IT doesn’t deter her

When season two qualifying started, Evans had moved to Louisville to tend to her mother, who had suffered an ankle injury. Her mom constantly found her playing video games early in the morning. “Go to sleep,” she would say, but she abandoned those efforts after her daughter ignored her.

To compete for a roster spot in the league, hopefuls have to pick a position. Evans, a former small forward, plays as one in 2K. She plays much like she did on the court, before her injury stunted her athletic future. An efficient shooter. A good rebounder. Engaged defender. Selfless teammate.

Evans reached the 2019 combine and again encountered misogyny, although she clarified, “It wasn’t as bad as it was last year.” She does recall an annoying man who harassed her during one combine game: “There was one particular guy on my team — we were winning and … I’m on a fast break and the defender that was on my hip cut me off, so I pass it out to an open shooter.”

The nuisance on her team blurted out, “ ‘What are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘That would have been a contested layup. I’m not a slasher. I’m not going to hit that.’ And then he noticed that I’m streaming [on Twitch]. He comes into my stream and says, ‘This girl sucks. She’s not going to make the 2K League, but I am.’ ” She says something similar happened to her four or five times.

Rather than quit, she “kept pushing through it all. I didn’t let it get to me. I wasn’t concerned about him at all, so I didn’t even remember his gamertag to know if he did [make it]. After I was done with that game, I forgot about him. It was on to the next game. For me, that was the mindset I had at the combine the whole time: ‘Next game.’ ”

On Twitter, chauvinists derisively tell Evans to “stay in the kitchen. Go make a sandwich” and tell her that “you don’t deserve to be where you’re at.” She now ignores the jeers. “If you’re taking the time out of your day to harass me or be negative toward me, that lets me know I’m doing something right because you’re threatened by me. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be commenting,” she said.

The support of other women in the 2k community who have fostered a supportive environment for each other helped her focus. “It’s bad enough that we have some men that feel like we don’t deserve it, so we shouldn’t be like that toward each other,” Evans said.

On Jan. 26, she received that glorious email informing her she would be one of the final 150 draft-eligible players. Brianna Novin joined her as the only other woman. “I know the first year was hard for her, that it affected her,” Mz LJ said. “That’s why she came back so much harder this year.”

Days before the draft, her mom could barely contain her enthusiasm. “I’ll be really excited for her and happy for her, probably even cry,” if her daughter gets drafted, she said.

When asked whether she has a special draft day outfit, Evans responded, “I definitely got something up my sleeve. I’m definitely going to be saucy.”

Hearing her name called, she said, will be “the best day of her life.”

Drafted by the Warriors Gaming Squad

On Tuesday, 2K League hopefuls entered the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, for the second NBA 2K draft. The pool contained 198 draft-eligible players to fill 74 available draft slots among the league’s 21 teams, each with a six-player roster. In other words, more than 120 people’s nights would end in disappointment.

To kick off Round 1, Brendan Donohue, managing director of the NBA 2K League, announced that Jazz Gaming, representing the Utah Jazz, selected Ria, a center, with the first pick of the draft.

Chiquita Evans (right) poses for photographs with Brendan Donohue (left) after being selected as the 56th pick overall by the Warriors Gaming Squad at the NBA 2K League draft March 5 in Brooklyn, New York. Evans is the first woman selected in the esports league.

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

The first round went by, and Evans didn’t hear her name called. Then the second round went by. Ronnie Singh, better known as Ronnie2k, the game’s digital marketing director and public face, listed Evans in his top 40 available players before the draft. But by the end of Round 3, teams had selected 54 players and her name went uncalled with just one more round left. Might she have to wait at least one more year?

With the second pick in the final round, the 56th pick overall, Warriors Gaming Squad selected Evans. Sporting an extremely saucy floral-printed red-and-black blazer, Evans walked and picked up her Warriors Gaming hat as Beyoncé’s “Run the World” blared and the audience erupted. With the lyrics “Girls, we run this motha, yeah” playing, Evans hugged Donohue and fulfilled her dream. She will earn $33,000 to $37,000 per season as one of the league’s 126 pro players.

For her post-selection interview, she was asked how she felt. “Man, I feel blessed,” she responded. “I got to say all praises to the most high for the opportunity.” Then she teared up, overwhelmed with emotions.

Being a woman in the male-dominated league will surely expose her to more nerve-racking sexism, but her mom predicted, “She will deal with the pressure fine. I’ve taught her how to deal with things.”

In the gaming world, where misogyny bombards women just trying to enjoy themselves, Evans appears poised to become the trailblazer the industry needs.

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.