Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five suggests five side characters in MyCAREER stories that arguably should’ve been the player character instead.
So, I’ve looked at the best antagonists and protagonists in MyCAREER stories, but those tales have also featured a number of interesting side characters (and B-Fresh). It may be an overused idea at times, but whenever you have a cast of good supporting characters that have interesting stories of their own, you can’t help but wonder about spinoff ideas. Alternatively, you may feel that they should’ve been the main character all along. There are certainly some examples in the various MyCAREER stories, and so I’ll be exploring those possibilities today.
Of course, it should be noted that oftentimes side characters are in those roles for a reason, and promoting them to the lead or one of the main characters exposes why they weren’t in the spotlight in the first place. The same traits that made them such enjoyable side characters can make them unsuitable protagonists. It may be that they work better in small doses, or aspects that made them funny as a side character are grating when they’re the lead. Conversely, a lack of flaws may make them too boring in the role of protagonist. With that being said, I do believe there’s merit in these side characters being cast in the role of MyPLAYER avatar, albeit with a few changes.
1. Hendrix Cobb (NBA 2K21)
You know how basically every MyCAREER story portrays the MyPLAYER as the Next Big Thing, a superstar in the making even when they’re rated 60 Overall (or even less in earlier games)? Hendrix Cobb is everything that our MyPLAYERs are supposed to be. He’s considered the top player in high school, unquestionably a five star recruit from the beginning. Cobb remains the top prospect throughout his college career, relegating Junior to second best. Even at the end of the story, he comes out on top. He can do it all: dunk over everybody, step outside and hit three-pointers, and play lockdown defense in the paint and on the perimeter. Hendrix Cobb is The Man.
Indeed, he’s such a bright star on the court that you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe he should be the star of “The Long Shadow”. Of course, you might have to call it something else as Cobb himself tends to a cast a rather long shadow over most of his opponents, though he could still feasibly be in the even larger shadow of his father…or perhaps even Junior, whose back story may lead to him getting all the press while the more talented Cobb doesn’t receive his due. In any event, Hendrix Cobb’s play is more in line with the usual portrayal of a MyPLAYER as a budding superstar, arguably making him far too talented to be relegated to the cast of side characters.
2. Shammy Wells (NBA 2K18)
When I wrote about Shammy Wells and NBA 2K18’s MyCAREER story shortly after the game came out, I noted that in some ways, he seemed like a parody of the average MyCAREER gamer. His dialogue resembled someone choosing the most brash and audacious speech options during interactive cutscenes. During gameplay, he fired up shots without a second thought, as a MyCAREER gamer often does in order to break records and grind for VC and Badges. His personality is much larger than DJ’s, who despite being one of the nicest protagonists with an unusual back story, is also rather reserved. Wells is also a five year pro, and NBA 2K18 featured the series’ fifth story.
The last point in particular would’ve made Shammy Wells an interesting protagonist to play with. While individual back stories vary, we’re always in the role of a rookie trying to make it to (and then thrive in) the NBA. If we’d been able to step into Shammy’s shoes though, the story could’ve been about a journeyman trying to find his place in the league, and perhaps having to reign in their personality quirks and ego in order to gel with their new team. It certainly would’ve been different, not to mention more plausible than a top prospect quitting basketball to become a DJ, only to decide to pick it up again and making it to the NBA after playing in a streetball tournament.
3. Sheldon “ATM” Middleton (NBA 2K18)
Speaking of ballers who took part in that streetball tournament, Sheldon “ATM” Middleton is another of NBA 2K18’s side characters that could’ve made for an interesting protagonist. It’s implied that he’s a talented player and prominent in the local scene. After all, he’s handed a business card by agent Bryan Lee, whereas he has to advocate for DJ to get one as well (or DJ has to ask for one himself, depending on how friendly he is towards ATM earlier on). The story of someone who’s been balling out in Neighborhood tournaments finally getting a chance at the big time is far more plausible than a wannabe DJ strolling into the NBA (still sounds weird, doesn’t it?).
Now, there are a couple of potential drawbacks here. ATM is egotistical, and while his brashness isn’t a problem for side characters, as a protagonist he’d potentially be very unsympathetic. Mind you, that could be part of the story: a brash streetballer with a lot of talent gets a rude shock when it stands in the way of his opportunity to make it in the NBA, and he needs to learn humility. We’d also potentially miss out on his teaming up with Jackson Ellis to form Smoke & Mirrors in NBA 2K19’s story, but then again, it’d be interesting to have a canonical protagonist show up as an antagonist in the next game. Either way, having ATM as a MyPLAYER could’ve been money.
4. Axel Walden (NBA 2K20)
There are a couple of reasons Alex Walden might’ve made a better MyPLAYER than Che. The first is that the story presents him as being the more sought-after prospect. While that loses the angle of being an underdog that’s overlooked due to taking a morally admirable but nevertheless risky stand, Alex Walden was one of those side characters that leave you wondering “Why aren’t they the hero?” There was more buzz around him, and agent Zachary Beighley prioritises him as he’s less optimistic about Che’s chances. The story proves him wrong – as it basically must with the point it’s trying to make with Che as the protagonist – but Walden is an interesting idea.
Not just because he’s the prospect with more buzz, but because he’s French. A player character whose back story is that he’s an international prospect would’ve been very different to anything we’d experienced before. It might’ve been a tough sell, but there is another solution to consider here: dual protagonists, either in an expansion of the Orange Juice concept used in NBA 2K17, or a choice between two different stories that ultimately intersect. Incidentally, Walden is an English surname, not a French one, but then there’s a protagonist that can say “Je m’appelle Frequency Vibrations”, so what’s in a name? As for Walden, he’s just one of the side characters. C’est la vie.
5. Corey Harris (NBA 2K19)
Even though I picked AI as one of the best MyCAREER protagonists, there are moments in the story that make you wish that Corey Harris was the lead character instead. “The Way Back” was a well-told story of how AI had to learn humility and grow as a person as well as a player in order to achieve his dream of making it to the NBA, and he is generally sympathetic despite his flaws. To that end however, by that point, the trope of “sometimes you can be your own worst enemy” had been used in a couple of the previous stories, and reusing it in “The Way Back” did railroad us into some story beats that would’ve been nice to avoid, given an actual chance to do so.
That’s where I feel that playing as Corey Harris’ character would’ve been a welcome change of pace. Harris is wise beyond his years, a talented player who can keep his ego in check and dispense good advice to a more impatient and sometimes impulsive character such as AI. There’s merit in the tale of “you need to grow up, on and off the court”, but MyCAREER stories have recycled that plot a few times. One could argue that Harris is too wise and mature to be a protagonist, and such a personality is best left to side characters as the lead needs to be flawed to be interesting. That’s a valid point, but I still think a character like Harris would’ve been a refreshing change.
Are there any other side characters in MyCAREER stories that would’ve made a better protagonist, or at least been an interesting one in their own right? Should B-Fresh be the star of The W in NBA 2K22? Have your say in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.