American Express partnered with NBA 2K23 to bring the video game phenomenon to life in New York City earlier this month with their Gaming Lab. The four-day experience, occurring from December 8th to December 11th, featured 2K lessons from coaches, gaming stations for attendees to compete with one another, a virtual reality court where they can recreate memorable in-game shots made by NBA players such as LeBron James and Luka Doncic, free giveaways, complementary haircuts, and complementary shoe cleanings.
The weekend also included appearances from Jack Harlow, Druski, plus some ball players found in the games: New York Knicks stars Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum and New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu among others. NBA 2K host Alexis Morgan hosted a Fireside Q&A on Thursday (Dec. 8) with Ionescu and YouTuber Kris London where they discussed their experiences with NBA 2K23.
Sabrina credited her brothers’ competitive influence as the reason why she games at all. When asked about her favorite part of NBA 2K23, the 25-year-old admitted that it was playing as herself. “A lot of my moves in the game are similar,” the record-setting hooper said, though she joked that she may need to tweak some of her moves in real life after seeing her in-game character.
VIBE caught up with the Boardroom member after the chat, where she shed a little bit more light on the unique experience. “I was getting a lot of texts about people playing [as] me in a video game and I get tagged in Instagram videos and stuff of people playing. I think it’s really cool to be able to just see that, it always puts a smile on my face. I think personally just being able to play [as myself]; not a lot of people can say that they play [as] themselves in a video game, so I never really took that for granted.”
Of course, she doesn’t get too much time to game as she is actively preparing for the upcoming WNBA season in what is the first offseason where she is not recovering from her nagging ankle injury. The New York Liberty finished 7th in the 2022 season with a 16-20 record, and Ionescu led the team in points and assists. After making her first All-Star game appearance and being honored as All-WNBA Second Team in 2022, the 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick has her sights set on bringing home a ring.
“We want to be able to compete for championships and so I think it’s started,” Ionescu said. “I think we’re all able to look inward and see what we need to improve on, what we need to work on as individuals, as a team, and make those moves accordingly this off-season to continue to get better.”
NBA 2K has made an intentional effort to feature the WNBA more prominently than ever before over the years. In 2021, Chicago Sky star Candace Parker made history as the first-ever WNBA player to grace the video game’s cover for NBA 2K22. The sports gaming powerhouse upped the ante in 2022 with legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi appearing as featured stars for the latest WNBA cover edition.
“Playing in the WNBA is more than just about yourself, it’s about what you represent and your team and the league as a whole,” the former Oregon Duck said when asked what it’s like being part of the movement to empower the elite women hoopers, both within the video game and as a whole. “I’ve been nothing short of amazed by what this league stands for and positioning us to be the individuals that we are and everyone being their unique selves, but also 2K and American Express and everyone just continuing to put women at the forefront.”
Unfortunately, many negative narratives about the WNBA run rampant. Naysayers have labeled the league uninteresting and or do not believe WNBA players are worthy of the same pay that NBA players receive. Sabrina Ionescu was firm in saying people need to actually believe in what WNBA players have to offer instead of disingenuously presenting themselves as supportive of women for their image.
“I think a lot of people watch a game or go to a game or talk about women’s sports as kind of just a box check instead of actually believing in the values of what we bring, particularly in sports,” Ionescu continues. “I think that’s something that I really want to just continue to use my platform and improve on; that it’s not just a box check, but we are people, we do compete the same as the men do, particularly in the NBA. I think that’s something that we all as a whole are trying to improve on and it’s nice having partners that believe in the same values as well.”