Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a countdown of the Top 5 Antagonists encountered in MyCAREER stories (obligatory spoiler warning).
It’s often said that a story is only as good as its villain. We love our heroes and all, but we need them to overcome obstacles, and ultimately, a worthy antagonist. After all, what would Batman be without The Joker? The most popular professional wrestlers have always had great heels to make them look heroic, even if they’re a bit of an anti-hero themselves. Name a popular franchise, and it’ll be sure to have a memorable antagonist that made the protagonist’s journey exciting and meaningful. Conversely, the absence of a strong villain tends to water down a tale.
Of course, that isn’t always the case. Indeed, it’s possible to tell a good, coherent story without an antagonist. The complication the protagonist faces instead comes from the challenge of accomplishing a task, or resolving conflict that wasn’t caused by any act of maliciousness or villainy. This is often the case with MyCAREER stories, in which the protagonist is a young basketball player with aspirations of making the NBA, and must face all of the hurdles that go hand-in-hand with achieving that dream. However, we’ve also encountered a few antagonists, and they’ve undoubtedly made the road to the NBA bumpier. Without further ado, here are the Top 5 MyCAREER antagonists!
5. Jackson Ellis (NBA 2K14)
As the very first antagonist in the very first MyCAREER story, Jackson Ellis has to make this list. He’s also a recurring antagonist, reappearing to oppose other player characters in subsequent games. He’s become an iconic figure in the MyCAREER Cinematic Universe, to the point where he arguably holds it all together. With that being said, I’m ranking him at fifth because as far as antagonists are concerned, he’s far from the baddest of the baddies. His only real vices are that he’s arrogant and competitive, which makes him somewhat of a jerk. He’s an obstacle to overcome, but he doesn’t actively sabotage the protagonist beyond simply trying to outperform them.
Well, there is one exception. After a knee injury brought his on-court career to an early end following the 2014 season, Ellis became a rep for whatever shoe brand the NBA 2K15 MyPLAYER – who I would almost describe as a Villain Protagonist in their own right – ends up choosing. He threatens to quash the deal if you don’t suck up to him, but he’s either bluffing or fails in his attempt as there aren’t any repercussions if you refuse to play his game. As such, Jackson Ellis is a fun rival and a memorable character, but since he doesn’t actually succeed in any villainous acts, I can’t place him atop a countdown of antagonists. He definitely belongs on the list, though.
4. Vic Van Lier (NBA 2K16)
“What a minute,” you may be moved to protest. “Vic Van Lier wasn’t an antagonist in Livin’ Da Dream. He was a side character, a Friend of Freq, and he met a genuinely tragic end!” That’s all true, but I maintain that he was an antagonist; just not in the same way as other characters on this list. Vic may not have been villainous in any of his motivations, but he was nevertheless the driving force (no pun intended) behind the off-court complications that Freq faced. Because Vic remained a part of Freq’s entourage, his legal problems became a stain on his successful friend’s reputation. Refusing to cut ties with him almost cost Freq his career while it was still very young.
Although I have my quibbles with Livin’ Da Dream from a gameplay standpoint, the story did a great job of portraying this aspect of fame and professional sports. It’s easy to look at the Team Owner as the antagonist, instructing Freq to make a cold-hearted decision while showing Vic no sympathy. The fact of the matter is that he’s got a valid point as he needs to look out for the welfare of the entire team, as well as the future star he’s invested in. The tragedy of Vic’s character doesn’t excuse him being a bad friend and jeopardising Freq’s career through his reckless actions. He’s a sympathetic antagonist, but an antagonist all the same. Rest in Power, but Vic really had to go.
3. Zack Coleman (NBA 2K19)
Portrayed by Haley Joel Osment, Zack Coleman is a seemingly affable young man working in a diner in Fort Wayne. A big fan of the Mad Ants, Zack enthusiastically offers his services to AI as a social media manager of sorts. He appears to know his stuff, and at first, the partnership seems to be beneficial for AI. As it turns out, he’s not someone to be trusted. He stabs AI in the back by using an out-of-context video to get him kicked off the team, revealing himself to be in cahoots with Marcus Young. It was a weaselly act, and while Zack cowers when later confronted by AI, he doesn’t show any genuine remorse, viewing it as simply being a savvy business decision.
I’m guessing that all of us who played through NBA 2K19’s MyCAREER story, “The Way Back”, figured that Zack Coleman would turn out to be a snake. It’s not a very surprising twist that a seemingly-friendly guy, who’s clearly looking to make a name for himself in the business side of professional basketball, betrayed the protagonist to further his career. And yet, it’s still an effective story beat. There’s something very satisfying in seeing him squirm when AI confronts him. It was a missed opportunity not to have a shout out to The Sixth Sense and have AI muse that he “sees a dead person” upon their reunion, but that probably wouldn’t have flown in an E10+ game.
2. Marcus Young (NBA 2K19)
While Zack Coleman’s betrayal was intended to be a twist, there was no mistaking that Marcus Young was an antagonist from the very beginning. He’s rude to AI from the moment the two meet, making it very clear that he’s only looking out for himself and his career prospects, and has no issue stepping over a teammate to get what he wants. That’d be bad enough if it only meant being selfish on the court, but when he instigates a heated argument with AI during a road trip, it’s clear that he’s willing to stoop to any level to remove in-house competition. As mentioned above, he conspires with Zack Coleman to smear AI, and ensure that he loses his spot on the team.
Young’s treachery lands him a gig with the San Antonio Spurs, which is ironic as one can’t imagine Gregg Popovich tolerating such a toxic personality on his roster. He’s as smug as ever in the final showdown, making it very satisfying to outplay him and pick up the victory. What sets Marcus Young apart from Jackson Ellis is how low he was willing to stoop – against a teammate, no less – and how successful he was in doing so. There’s a reason he didn’t take the top spot, which I’ll get to in a moment, but he’s easily one of the biggest jerks and slimiest antagonists in any of the MyCAREER stories to date. It also makes him one of the best straightforward villains in the series.
1. Alex Williams (NBA 2K21)
In my recap of playing The Long Game in The Long Shadow, I opined that not only do I believe that NBA 2K21’s tale is one of the best-written, but that influencer Alex Williams is one of the best antagonists we’ve seen in a MyCAREER story. After further consideration for this countdown, I’ve had to give her the top spot. From the moment she takes an interest in Junior, you just know she’s going to turn on him, and she does. After family friend and advisor Archie Baldwin oversteps his bounds, Alex has it in for Junior, even though he clearly tells Arch to back off. She downplays his big games, and does everything in her power to ruin his reputation and Draft stock.
As I said in my previous article, I have some strong feelings about talking heads that pollute the discourse, owing to egos that are shamefully massive yet also laughably fragile. To that point, I loved seeing that kind of personality satirised. She’s also an interesting antagonist because she can’t really be battled; you obviously can’t defeat her on the court, though her words do encourage you to prove her wrong. At the same time, her influence means that it’s not a bad idea to swallow your pride and grant her an interview. As far as MyCAREER antagonists are concerned, she’s one of the most realistic we’ve seen, and as such, is on-point satire of personalities that I loathe.
What’s your take on these antagonists from MyCAREER stories? Would you rate any of the other antagonists ahead of them? Have your say in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.