Legion of Cavaliers: 2K squad integral part of organization

Austin Peterson, left, serves as the Canton Charge’s video coordinator and Cavs Legion head coach.

The NBA playoffs are in full swing, but that’s not the only basketball heating up this month.

After all, the NBA 2k League is just 10 games away from a much-anticipated tournament of its own. While it’s just the second season of the league, the 21 NBA teams that own 2K squads consider them to be multi-million dollar assets.

For the Cleveland Cavaliers’ team known as Cavs Legion, it gets even more interesting.

Austin Peterson, the video coordinator of the Canton Charge (the Cavaliers’ G-League affiliate), is also the head coach of Cavs Legion. The 23-year-old is growing in the virtual and real world of basketball. His background is on the real basketball operations side of things, but because the G-League season last only about half the year, Peterson looked for more to do involving the game.

Lucky for him, his own organization needed a head coach for its 2k League team.

“Both of these jobs kind of build off each other,” Peterson told Amico Hoops. “The things I learn in Canton and the things they do in Canton — breaking down opponents’ film, putting together scouting reports on opposing teams, being responsible for offense and defense, defensive coverages and offensive plays, really diving into the strategy of basketball — now I have all the knowledge, and I can apply it to our guys here.”

Working both the digital court and the hardwood side has given Peterson a chance to not only grow in his on-court basketball goals, but now he can show the organization what he looks like as a leader. As the head coach of Cavs Legion there is immense pressure — and just like in the real NBA, coaches of 2K teams can be fired if a team doesn’t meet expectations.

However, on the positive side of things, this isopportunity that a lot of 23-year-olds would dream about. Peterson is getting a first-hand chance to show an NBA organization his coaching skills.

“You see it around the G-League or you see it around the NBA,” he said. “You’re like, ‘I’m just a video coordinator. If we’re 1-3 or 10-40 it’s not gonna fall on me.’ Now it’s like, ‘Look, dude, this is on you now.’ It’s a different level of stress.”

The NBA 2k League is also a way for legacy sports teams to connect with younger fans. Peterson’s success with Cavs Legion has real benefits for the Cavaliers too. It’s a priority for the organization.

As of now, the Cavs Legion sits in 10th place with a record of 3-3. They have a realistic shot to make the eight-team playoffs.

“The old saying goes, if you win, the kids you win,”said Jonathan Sumers, the Cavs’ senior director of esports. “We’re trying to get in front of as many kids as possible.”

Outside of the pressures to perform, the 2k League is a lot like the real NBA. There is a draft, a combine before the draft, and even trades. The players then move to the city of the team to which they’ve been drafted.

They don’t have multi-million dollar contracts, but they do get free living expenses and other perks to go with their salaries — which are in the $30,000 range for about six months of work. There are also several tournaments during the year, totaling about $1.2 million in prize money that’s split between the players and organization.

Sumers and the Cavs know that the Cavs Legion team won’t break the bank, but that doesn’t mean it won’t reap benefits from owning the team. As a whole, esports is projected to only get bigger and more popular, and a lot of that is from kids.

Just like Peterson feels the stress and excitement as head coach, so does Sumers. He is essentially operating an NBA franchise.

“We have partnerships, we do marketing, we have content, we have videography, we do graphic design, we have photography, we have servicing of our partnerships, we have to handle housing for the players, league relations, budgets, retail and apparel, social media, I mean you name it,” he said. “It’s a franchise.”

And it’s about as exhausting as it sounds.

Summers added that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is extremely supportive of the Cavs Legion team. The esports brass event traveled to Detroit to meet with Gilbert, and also holds the occasional meetings with Cavs general manager, Koby Altman.

“Dan is fully supportive,” Sumers said. “He’s obviously leading the charge in esports among the main stream sports ownership groups.”

Jamie Morales, one of the rookies for Cavs Legion, is evidence of how well the operation is running. He has absolutely loved his experience with the team and the organization as a whole.

“They’re more involved than most people think,” he said. “I got to meet the CEO of the Cavs and I also got to meet Dan Gilbert. They come around every now and then, but they are involved. It’s pretty cool to see that they’re truly interested to see how we do and how we are.”

The rookie point guard has also enjoyed his gaming teammates, who he said hang out all the time. In addition, he had high praise for his coach, Peterson.

“He’s fantastic,” he said. “I don’t think anyone truly knows what he does for us behind the scenes. He will literally go and get clip by clip from games of teams we play the next week, and show us their exact tendencies, and what to expect and what we can do on offense to succeed even more against them.

“It’s honestly crazy and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves, but I’m sure people will see that in due time.”meetins