Growing up, most NBA stars dream of running out of the tunnel and into a massive arena filled with thousands of fans roaring.
Perhaps the only thrill that could rival realizing your dream of making it to the pros would be to buy the latest version of NBA2K to see yourself in the video game that you played growing up. Although it may seem insignificant, there's a sense of coming full circle.
Countless NBA players have experienced this feeling. But not a single WNBA player had until recently.
When NBA 2K20 was released in 2019, it was the first time the annual game – that premiered in 1999 – featured WNBA players. Her predecessors didn't get the chance to play as themselves, but Washington Mystics wing Aerial Powers couldn't help but make a comparison when she first played as herself.
"This is probably how the guys feel when they get into the league and they get a chance to play themselves on 2K," she said. "It's just surreal and is pretty fun."
Washington Mystics forward Aerial Powers dribbles as Connecticut Sun guard Bria Holmes defends during game two of the 2019 WNBA Finals at The Entertainment and Sports Arena on Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
One year later, with the release of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, 2K revealed the newest feature to the franchise: "The W."
"The W" — a new mode that is exclusively available in 2K21 while playing the next-gen gaming consoles — brings multiple new modes to NBA2K21 featuring the WNBA including a "MyPLAYER" experience that allows players to create their own WNBA player for the first time. Other additions include "The W Online" for "3v3 MyPLAYER" games and "MyWNBA" — a mode that allows users to play the role of GM and commissioner in the WNBA.
It took 22 iterations of the game for these modes to be added, and the common reaction among WNBA players has been disbelief.
"I would have never thought they would implement girls into the game," Powers told USA TODAY Sports. "Even though I feel like we should be in there."
Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray has been playing 2K since Shaquille O'Neal graced the cover in 2005, and she still has trouble believing that she's a part of it.
United States guard Allisha Gray advances the ball against Japan during an international exhibition basketball game at the Charles E. Smith Center at George Washington University on Sept. 10, 2018. (Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
"I never would have imagined seeing myself in a video game," Gray said.
Alexis Jones, who was waived by the Atlanta Dream in August, has always enjoyed making her own player on 2K and tends to mold his game after her own. This will be the first year she won't have to make herself in the image of a man.
"That was my dream come true, I don't know about everybody else," Jones said. "I know that's one thing I always dreamed of as a little girl — to be in a 2K game. This opportunity to create yourself and build yourself and be a woman is dope."
The significance of building your own WNBA player can't be overstated, especially for young women who aspire to play basketball or are just fans of the game.
"I think it's amazing that little girls can grow up and actually play the game and understand that they can still have the same goals and accomplishments as men," Jones said.
Powers echoed the sentiment and how important representation is for young women. She also wants to see more progression with women in the video game industry in general.
Powers streams and plays video games on Twitch and has become especially active in gaming since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She even hosted an all-female 2K tournament in October that included a 30-minute opening musical set by Grammy Award Winning artist DJ Jazzy Jeff. The stream garnered over 26,000 viewers.
The 2019 WNBA champion says when she plays video games online she is sometimes met with misogynistic messages from other users, and she hopes that new modes such as "The W" will make it easier for girls playing video games.
"It kind of gives the younger girls a good look and says, 'Hey, it's alright to be a female, like basketball and want to play,' because I know some of their male friends might have a different opinion," Powers said. "But when you see the girls in the game, it's like, 'Hey, this is all right.' "
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