Ivan Curtiss has always had two great loves: basketball and gaming. “When I was younger, I played any game, from Pac Man, to Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Super Mario… If it was in front of me, I played it.”
Yet, even in his youth, his great loves collided when they could, especially in the arcades. “Arch Rivals was one of the first that was starting to become full court, realistic basketball game play,” Curtiss told us, to name just one of the games he very casually dropped expert knowledge on during our conversation.
These days, Curtiss is best known as OG KING CURT, the Coach and General Manager of the Brooklyn Nets Gaming Crew of the NBA 2K League. But he became known as the “Godfather of 2K” even before then, and before then, his path held just as many surprises. A man of many talents, we were lucky enough to sit down with Curt to discuss his history, his passion for the game, and so much more.
Ask anyone into 2K, and they’ll tell you the MyPlayer Basketball Association (MPBA) is the foremost competitive 2K league in the country, or at least it was until the NBA got involved. They’ll also tell you Curt co-founded it.
Yet OG KING CURT’s road from a game-loving daydreaming basketball player to the Godfather of 2K was full of surprises. OG KING CURT played basketball all four years of high school and was hoping to get recruited to a university.
“At the end of my junior year, I was kind of getting antsy, because I really didn’t have any offers, or anything like that,” OG KING CURT recounted. “I didn’t know where my future lay with basketball. So I got a call from a Naval recruiter… In my mind, I still wanted to go to college and play basketball. But I stayed in touch with him the whole time.”
At the end of his senior year of high school, OG KING CURT’s coach took him to a recruit event, where colleges were looking for players. He excelled, and a university wanted to sign him. But there was one major hitch: “[the Naval recruiter] kind of misled me and made me think that I was kind of already in the military.”
OG KING CURT went to the University, played two summer league games, and was supposed to sign onto the team. “But instead,” he said, “after I played my second summer league game, I ended up going with the Naval recruiter and signing in and basically, you know, swearing into the United States Navy.”
To make matters more dramatic, all of this occurred without the knowledge of his mother – who, OG KING CURT clarified, was technically his grandmother, but since his mother passed away when he was just two years old, “I call her my mom. That’s all I’ve ever known her as.”
When you report into the Navy and get initiated, every single article of your clothing gets put into a box and sent to your parents. Even though the Navy allows recruits to include a letter with this box, which OG KING CURT used to explain what had happened, he was fully aware of the initial optics of the situation: “When she first received the box with all my stuff, she thought I was dead. Imagine getting the box with your kids’ stuff. Before you read the letter.”
OG KING CURT’s mother immediately went into action, even going to their local Congressman to try to get Curt out of service. But he stopped her. “I said I made my decision and I’m gonna just stick with it… So I stayed, and I had a great time.”
OG KING CURT was a machinist on the USS Ponce, which transported Marines and was always in action, traveling from country to country. “I grew up fast,” he said. As a machinist working at the bottom of the ship,OG KING CURT never personally saw combat, “but we was part of it.” He recalled one mission, in Kosovo, where he went out at night and could clearly see bombs flying back and forth on land, even though the Ponce was way out to sea.
The experience taught OG KING CURT valuable lessons on teamwork: “it really prepared me on how to navigate in the world that I’m in now and dealing with a lot of different people, and relying on not only myself, but other people.”
It also kickstarted his present life in a very unexpected way. Many of OG KING CURT’s shipmates were heavy gamers, and he found a group of friends who loved basketball games as much as he did. Every afternoon and every evening, while on break, they would gather and play the first NBA 2K on the Dreamcast. They would even play at night, too, if they got lucky in their shifts (the worst shift was six hours on, six hours off, OG KING CURT told me, because “you literally had to make a decision whether you was going to eat or shower and go to sleep.”)
The stakes of these Dreamcast 2K sessions got higher as OG KING CURT and his friends got more competitive and skilled at the game. They would even attract crowds and have tournaments. When the ship was in port, the group would meet up at one of their houses to play, “from sunup to sundown.”
OG KING CURT got out of the military in 2001, which is the same year his dad – who had been in a nursing home since OG KING CURT was 15 – passed away. The experience inspired OG KING CURT to begin working in long-term healthcare. But he continued playing the new iterations of 2K on the XBox, then the XBox 360.
Ten years later, OG KING CURT discovered a coworker who shared a love for 2K. He had just been playing one-on-one with his son, but this coworker introduced him to the MyPlayer mode – which allows you to play online – and taught OG KING CURT the ropes. However, by a twist of cruel fate, 2K took the mode away right after that.
But when online play was reintroduced in 2014, OG KING CURT started to get serious. He began playing in individual leagues with friends – most notably, Toijuin Farley and Lawrence West. Their passions quickly evolved, and they started their own league: the MyPlayer Basketball Association.
The league made use of the Jordan Rec mode, where players can create their own avatars and – critically – dress in the same apparel to create obvious teams. With these teams signed up, the league’s structure copied the NBA’s, with divisions, conferences, and awards. Within just two years, the MPBA had gotten so well-known, it had an overseas division.
Perhaps the MPBA’s skyrocketing growth influenced the huge announcement which came in February 2017: the NBA would partner with Take-Two Interactive to create the NBA 2K League. In other words, 2K was now, officially, an esport.
People within the community started getting hired, and the Milwaukee Bucks eventually reached out to the MPBA Founders. OG KING CURT and his partners made it very clear to the Bucks they were a team. So the Bucks flew the three to Milwaukee, allowing the three to meet for the first time ever face-to-face.
OG KING CURT, Farley, and West just ended up as draft analysts, helping the Bucks put together their first team. While they were initially disappointed to not be more heavily involved, all three are now coaches / general managers in the League: Farley for MavsGG, West for Hornets Venom GT, and Curt for NetsGC.
Before getting the full-time dream gig, OG KING CURT was in Ohio, working in health care, coaching high school basketball, and running the MPBA. Then he got an email from Brooklyn, which turned into a call, which turned into an interview (“I didn’t even know I was really being interviewed at the time!,” he recalled,) which turned into one contract, then another, and then, finally, a position as general manager and coach.
OG KING CURT looks for more than just talent to build up his team. He additionally considers what kind of person someone is, how well you can market them, how open they are to living in New York, and whether they’re a team player. He wants players to know “what’s best not only for yourself, but what’s good for the team and organization at the end of the day.”
OG KING CURT also took part in the first NBA 2K League Development Camp to focus specifically on women in gaming. He’s glad to see the League trying actively to discover female talent, because, he realized, the MBPA didn’t have any female players. “We’re trying to discover a lot of female talent that may have been there, but we just weren’t aware.” He added, “At the time, even when we started our league, a lot of people didn’t know that it was basically an amateur scene. Nobody knew.”
“I think it’s more important, since we’re just now bringing awareness to women gamers, that they have to be in front of the lens a lot, because it’s been an unknown.” He continued, “This is something that’s coming to life, and I think it’s something that needs to be embraced.”
OG KING CURT pointed out that there’s more than just one advantage to including more female players: “I think women are needed and definitely could help franchises in multiple ways… not only from playing, but from a marketing standpoint, and sponsorships, and everything.”
2K itself has some room for improvement. 2K20 marked the first time that WNBA teams have been represented in the game, but OG KING CURT shares the community’s annoyance that one key aspect of representation was still missing: you still can’t make a female avatar for yourself in the game. (Seriously, 2K?)
But as for 2K’s place in esports, OG KING CURT sees its popularity growing “slowly, yet surely.” Ultimately, OG KING CURT hopes that the League can find the sweet spot between a competitive gamer fan base and a casual gamer fan base, and he believes it’s now starting to grow in the latter. From there, word of mouth is incredibly important, because it allows new people from outside a strictly gamer fan base to come in. “A lot of people used to laugh and joke when I used to play the game all the time,” OG KING CURT reflected. “And now to see where I’m at, and they’re like man, you came a long way.”
Individual players help a lot, from roping in their families and friends to even getting local TV stations or bars to broadcast some of their games. Obviously, COVID-19 has changed things quite a bit. Not only did OG KING CURT have to adjust a lot of the plans he was excited to engage players with, but the players themselves struggled.
OG KING CURT was already ahead of the curve and was used to working remotely, since he’s only in New York six months out of the year. But that made him even more empathetic to his players’ plight. “[They] are coming from a whole nother city and state,” he pointed out, “And you felt trapped in New York. So it was a trying time.”
Still, the pandemic has changed the landscape largely in the 2K League’s favor. After all, this past season marked the first time games were aired on ESPN and ESPN2. “For us, it’s already been a norm for people to actually be able to watch us and not be at the game,” OG KING CURT pointed out. “So I think we definitely have a chance to make a bigger impact than what we did.”
But still, OG KING CURT said, “a lot of players’ dream since the League got started was to play on the stage. And not being able to play on the stage, it was a bummer. Even for me, I got accustomed to playing in front of a live studio audience.” To add further salt to the wound, the NetsGC had just moved to the venue, but have yet to actually experience it.
“We got through it,” OG KING CURT said, showing his characteristic perseverance. “But I definitely want to have a moment where we can get back to doing things as we normally do.” What COVID practices the next 2K League has in store is still unknown, but OG KING CURT remains hopeful.
“I think one thing that the pandemic has taught me a lot is just to live day-by-day,” he summed up. “And stay prepared for the future.”
With that kind of attitude, wherever OG KING CURT ends up next, we know he’ll crush it.
You can keep up with NetsGC on their official website. Additionally, OG KING CURT hosts two awesome podcasts: the esportsXTRA show, and his own lifestyle and gaming podcast, the #OGTWOCENTS podcast. You can follow the podcast on @og2centspodcast on Twitter and @theog2centspodcast on Instagram.