As so many of his generation, Timberwolves guard C.J. Williams grew up on video games and he remembers that every time he sees a photo his mother snapped when he was a year old.
In it, he is holding a basketball between his legs and a Nintendo controller in his hands and now calls the two objects “pretty much what I know.”
At age 28, he has shuttled between the NBA and its developmental G League, in which he has played for four different teams.
The NBA noticeably raised G League salaries this year, to $35,000 for most players for a five-month season. That’s the same as the base salary for video-game players in the NBA’s 2K League, which begins its second season this spring.
“That’s a little tough for me,” said Williams, who played four seasons at North Carolina State and professionally in Cyprus, Italy, France and is now signed to one of two two-way contracts each NBA team is allowed. “I know what a grind it is. I’m sure those [2K] guys grind as much, but there’s a toll on our bodies. That’s OK. That’s part of the business. As an adult, you understand you may not get compensated the way you want.”
Successful 2K League gamers can win big-money tournaments, too, and boost their salaries. Some will approach or pass the WNBA average salary of about $72,000.
One of those 2K League players is new T-Wolves Gaming expansion-draft pick Mihad Feratovic, a 19-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., college student whose 2K name is IFEAST. He was asked if it’s right that he’ll probably make more than many G Leaguers.
“I can’t say, man,” IFEAST said. “I’m just accepting the paycheck, and I’m moving on. It’s ridiculous. It’s truly a blessing, making the same money as a guy who played basketball all day, every day, always traveling, always working on his body. To get paid the same as him, it’s crazy.
“But then again, you have to look at the world of gaming. It’s honestly exploding. People want to watch people game. That’s the world we live in now.”