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The NBA 2K League now has a female player. Where does it go from here?

Chiquita Evans becomes the first woman to make an NBA 2K League roster

Warriors Gaming Squad selects Chiquita “Chiquitae126” Evans in the 2019 NBA 2K League Draft.

In its second season, the NBA 2K League will finally have its first female player: Chiquita “Chiquitae126” Evans.

Warriors Gaming Squad, the NBA 2K League affiliate of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, selected Evans with the second pick of the fourth and final round of this year’s draft. The audience at the draft, which was held Tuesday evening at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, erupted in cheers and chants when league managing director Brendan Donohue called Evans’ name. By all accounts, it was the loudest moment of the night.

“It feels surreal,” Evans said to the media after being drafted. “It’s an amazing experience. I’m very glad to be here, excited to be here. It’s a very humbling experience.”

Evans, 30, was one of two women in the 198-person draft pool. Of the total, 144 people were new entrants for the 2019 draft who arrived through this season’s tryout process. The journey began with global qualifiers in November; approximately 7,000 NBA 2K players made it to the league’s combine in December. Last night, the NBA 2K League’s 21 teams filled out their rosters with 75 draft picks, including Evans at No. 56 overall by the Warriors, who described the moment on Twitter as “history in the making!”

“Women actually got me through this — a lot of my friends who play 2K with me,” said Evans. “They’ve been pushing me to get through everything, especially when I found out that I made the draft pool. I’ve had amazing support both male and female, and I’m just very, very excited to be in the position that I’m in.”

It’s an important milestone for the NBA 2K League, whose officials have been saying since the inaugural draft in April 2018 — whose draft class consisted of 102 men — that they’re working to increase diversity of gender and national origin on the rosters. In a conference call with the media on Monday, Donohue acknowledged the progress represented by having two women in this year’s draft pool. But he added, “I wouldn’t say we’re satisfied.”

Donohue has repeatedly expressed support for diversity in the NBA 2K League as a factor that officials believe will help improve the quality of competition. “We think it’s going to end up making more young women excited about being a part of the league,” he said Monday of the presence of two female players in this year’s draft pool. “I think it’s going to end up increasing the overall level of talent that we’re going to see.”

In the meantime, though, with Evans as the only woman in a group of 126 esports athletes, the focus will shift to what life in the NBA 2K League will be like for her. In a predraft profile video published by the league, Evans described a dispiriting experience during the combine for the first season. Once she spoke on voice chat, and her teammates realized she was a woman, she would “get iced out the whole game” — nobody would pass her the ball. As a result, she withdrew from the combine.

Hopefully, that won’t be a concern in a league of professional esports athletes. But the organization has implemented some new policies and procedures to enforce its existing code of conduct and educate its players.

The NBA 2K League had a rookie transition program for its first season, which was modeled after the NBA’s own initiative to train players on elements like nutritional health and financial literacy. This year, Donohue said the league is “proactively addressing” the “unique challenges” that women and international players face, by supplementing the leaguewide program with sessions designed specifically for those groups. “The challenges are different for everyone, but nonetheless, I think we’re equipped to try to help them,” he said.

Donohue also said that league officials will not hesitate to discipline players if necessary. In November, the league dismissed and disqualified Austin “Boo Painter” Painter of Wizards District Gaming — who had been the league’s top scorer during the regular season — for an undisclosed violation of the code of conduct. On Tuesday, draft day, the organization suspended Kings Guard Gaming’s Eric “Timelycook” Donald for the upcoming season, listing his offense as the “sharing of inappropriate and offensive videos over social media.” And Donohue noted Monday that league administrators removed some toxic players from December’s combine. Perhaps future competitors won’t have to deal with the demoralizing ordeal that Evans experienced.

“We’re focused on making sure all 126 players are set up to succeed,” said Donohue.

For her part, Evans — who described herself as “a hardworking two-way player, a really good knock-down shooter” — is understandably coming into the NBA 2K League with a chip on her shoulder.

“I know how hard I worked and what I put in to get into this draft and everything I’ve done, the sacrifices I’ve made, just like anyone else,” said Evans. “I’m just going to go out there and do my part and prove everybody wrong.”

The NBA 2K League’s 2019 regular season tips off April 2, and runs through Aug. 3.

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