Sam Hinkie, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, began gaming the league’s draft. Hinkie traded veterans for draft picks, ditched high salaries and let his young Sixers lose badly and often in order to secure more high picks in the draft.
“People hated what Hinkie did,” says O’connor. “Dude! I was doing that shit when I was 14 years old, in [Madden NFL]. I was doing that in 2K and NBA Live when I was a teenager. It’s nothing new to tank and get high draft picks and increase your assets and be able to open [salary] cap space. What is new is seeing it happen in real life.” There is one crucial difference here. In video games, a losing season passes in a few minutes of simulation, and you have many chances to fix things; there are no real consequences. By waiting and maneuvering, you can stack a team with young talent. In other words, it makes a ton of sense to tank in 2K. But Hinkie acted like a gamer; he didn’t throw the season away after hope was lost; he did it early, as a strategy, without worrying about job security. Or his abused fans. Ultimately, he got fired for pursuing the Extreme Tank, and the Sixers haven’t won anything— although their roster is now stacked with promising young players like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz.
You could argue that with 2K, the NBA created a generation of amateur coaches and strategists who do the work for them. Still, there are limits to what a video game can do, no matter how good the graphics or gameplay. It can imitate the thing but can never
be the thing. That became clear in the gamer-filled, Manhattan room when Mccollum described frustration over not being able to do his real-life moves in a video game—the exact opposite complaint of all the young men around him that day.