Sept. 4, 2018
Seneca grad takes on the NBA, virtually
Yusuf Abdulla lone Canadian with Raptors Uprising
As far as basketball goes, Yusuf Abdulla is a heavyweight. His avatar, Yusuf_Scarbz, is a seven-foot-one, 260-pound centre. To put that into perspective, LeBron James is six-foot-eight and 250 pounds.
Size does matter, even if the game is played online.
“I’ve got my own look and everything,” said the Seneca grad who is a professional video gamer and the only Canadian on the Raptors Uprising Gaming Club team this year.
As part of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) family, Raptors Uprising is one of 17 teams created for the inaugural season of NBA 2K League, the first official esports league operated by a professional sports league in the States.
“When I tell people that I’m playing for the Raptors, some of them think I’m playing like DeMar DeRozan,” Abdulla said with a chuckle.
During regular season in the summer, Abdulla and his teammates spent most of their time in gaming chairs, complete with branded slide sandals and socks. Training sessions lasted from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. on most days. But that’s not all that was required of the players.
The team travelled to New York City every weekend for an in-studio match that took place in front of a live audience and broadcast on Twitch, the Amazon-owned platform for streaming video games live.
On Monday mornings, back home to the team’s six-bedroom club house paid for by MLSE in the Scarborough Bluffs, the players would watch their game on film and learn from their mistakes. Twice a week, they worked out at a downtown gym frequented by celebrities and professional athletes.
According to Shane Talbot, Esports Manager at MLSE, video games can be mentally exhausting, requiring clear thinking and focus from the players at all times.
“We want to promote healthy body, healthy mind,” Talbot said. “To be mentally fit, you have to be physically fit.”
Prior to joining Raptors Uprising, Abdulla split his time playing NBA 2K with virtual friends and playing real basketball with fellow students at Seneca, where he graduated in 2016 from the Advanced Investigations & Enforcement program. As a member of the King/York Extramural Men’s Basketball team, Abdulla was coached by former Sting star, Felix Adjei, a graduate of the Recreation & Leisure Services program.
“Playing junior varsity was the best experience I had at Seneca,” Abdulla said. “Having Felix as a coach was awesome. I learned so much from him about rotation, strategy and defence, and all that translated to 2K as well.”
Adjei, who went on to play professional basketball in Sweden from 2016 to 2017, remembers Abdulla as “a good player and a better guy” who was a main part of the team.
“He was one of our main shooters,” said Adjei, now working as a behaviour specialist for adults living with developmental disabilities. “He was always motivated and was the first to make sure his teammates remained motivated. He worked hard, too, and was a sponge when it came to learning new things.”
When the NBA announced the 2K league in 2017, Abdulla began practising 10 hours a day while attending university during the day and working part time. He slept, on average, two to three hours a day until he became a third-round draft pick of the Raptors Uprising, a gig that paid him US$32,000 for four months of gaming (first-round draft picks were paid US$35,000).
“It started as a summer job, but once I got more details about the league, I wanted to expand on 2K as a full-time career opportunity,” Abdulla said.
That being said, Abdulla still has his goal set on becoming a police officer, a profession he believes will make a difference in the Kingston-Galloway neighbourhood he grew up in, coincidentally, five minutes away from the tony Raptors Uprising club house in the Bluffs.
“It’s a rough neighbourhood that has seen lots of guns and violence and drugs, and in a way, playing real-life basketball and 2K helped keep me away from troubles,” Abdulla said. “I want to be a police officer because I just want the bad stuff to stop. I want to help the community as much as I can.”
While the Raptors Uprising lost its quarter-final match recently to Cavs Legion of the same Cleveland franchise that swept the Raptors out of playoffs, Abdulla said his dream in the big league has already come true.
“It’s a chance of a lifetime,” he said. “I can’t say enough about playing for the Raptors.”