NEW YORK — Dimez slipped on his draft hat, shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and began life as the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The video game draft.
Dimez is Artreyo Boyd's gamer tag and no he doesn't run or jump like LeBron James or shoot like Stephen Curry. But he is a star at NBA 2K, and on Wednesday he was the first player chosen in the draft for the NBA 2K League, the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league.
The NBA is serious about its latest venture, having seen how esports has grown from a hobby among youth to an activity that sells out arenas, one that financial analysts say could grow into a billion dollar industry in the next few years.
So the NBA 2K League joined the WNBA and NBA G League as the fourth league in the NBA family.
"We view this in the same way as those other leagues as something that we're going to develop over a very long time, and we're building this as a league that's going to be around forever," Silver said.
The league will pay gamers $35,000 for six months, with housing and benefits paid. That's comparable salary to a new player in the WNBA or G League.
Dimez, a 23-year-old from Cleveland, emerged from a field of 72,000 players to get the call from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that he was the choice of Mavs Gaming, one of 17 teams in the league .
The inaugural season opens in May, and Silver hopes all 30 NBA teams could have entries in three years. He even talked of having overseas teams, figuring the popularity of NBA 2K, the highest-selling and top-rated game in North America, with nearly 10 million copies of NBA 2K18 already sold this year, combined with the NBA's ability to make stars of its players — athletes, as Silver stressed — should ensure the league is successful.
Dimez sits in a chair playing video games almost all day long, the kind of activity that gets kids yelled at by their parents.
He plays the game well — his gamer tag comes from his point guard's flair in dishing out assists, known in basketball as dimes — and the Dallas Mavericks organization took him with the first choice in the draft at Madison Square Garden.
"Everybody always asks me how much I play," Dimez said. "I don't really have a specific time but I play every day, all day. Almost literally 24 hours, maybe 16 hours. I play every day as much as possible, and that's not going to stop now."
To be eligible for the league, players had to win 50 games in January. The NBA expected that would yield around 10,000 candidates and instead there were 72,000. The gamers then went through a combine-style format of competition and interviews to eventually reduce the pool to 102 players for Wednesday's draft, which consisted of six rounds.
Teams had to draft each of the five positions — point guard, shooting guard, center, power forward and small forward — and one player of their choice for what will be 5-on-5 games.
It was set up like the actual NBA draft, starting with a lottery last month, a full evaluation process by teams, and a media circuit the players had to walk through after exiting the stage. The Philadelphia 76ers, who know something about the draft process after owning the last two No. 1 picks, had a war room set up in their Camden, New Jersey headquarters, where they had been watching tape of players and applying the use of analytics to weigh them.
There are partnerships with Dell and Intel to make them the official equipment of the league — though like a player choosing his own sneakers, gamers are allowed to use the controller of their preference.
Games will be played at a couple of central locations in the first season, though the NBA hopes of eventually having esports teams compete in NBA arenas in front of their home fans.
Dr. Matthew H. Zimmerman, an assistant professor of Sports Studies at Mississippi State University, believes that kind of growth is possible, with the number of gamers and esports fans who are already paying to watch games in person and online.
"Staples Center has hosted sold-out esports events, for instance," he said. "The NBA has seen people pay money to watch video games in one of their venues. And they want to be involved in esports as it looks like it will continue to gain in popularity. Think it's easy to conclude that other professional sports leagues are interested in what happens next."