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From the video screen to the hard court

Video games allow NBA players to work on improving their own real-life skills. The avatars never get tired -- and their moves often leave quite an impression.

November 02, 2009|Melissa Rohlin

The NBA player was only 2 inches tall, but he left quite an impression on Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley.

Conley was playing the popular video game NBA2K9 when a virtual Rajon Rondo appeared to go in for a layup. Instead, he pushed back off his left foot, deftly landed on his right and then made a short jumper from the paint.

So Conley added the move, dubbed the Euro Step, to his personal repertoire of shots last season. "I hadn't really thought about it until it happened in the video game," Conley said. "Now I can make it happen on the court."

Popular video games such as Electronic Arts' NBA Live and Visual Concept's NBA2K9 are getting closer to reproducing the actual speed of the sport, with more realistic moves and updated rosters of the 30 NBA teams. The games, with their newest versions in release, are updated online so that if a player is injured in real life, he will be benched on the video roster within hours.

Not surprisingly, some Generation Y NBA players use the video games as a tool to enhance their real-life basketball skills.

Conley, 22, said that when he started watching himself in NBA video games, he noticed that his virtual player had a lot more stamina.

"My person never gets tired," Conley said. "It made me want to be in better shape. I started working even more on my conditioning. I'd stay after practice and run an extra couple of suicides [sprint drills] or laps. It helped me be in better shape."

New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson said he invented and practiced his dunk moves on NBA2K9 three weeks before winning the slam-dunk contest at the All-Star game last February. Robinson watched his avatar do alley-oop dunks from the baseline and windmill dunks, and catch balls off the glass and turn them into dunks. He imagined the possibilities in real life.

"With the video games, you can try different dunks that people have never seen before," Robinson said.

Although the video games help, Robinson said they have their limitations.

He likes to defend Kobe Bryant in video play. But Robinson laughed when asked if defending Bryant's virtual doppelganger helps him guard the real-life 11-time All-Star.

"There's no way to strategize how to play against Kobe," Robinson said. "Ain't no video game gonna help you do that. If there's a video game that'll help you do that, I need that game."

A constant challenge for the video makers is to try to replicate players' moves and team tendencies.

So the video firms bring to their studios dozens of NBA players -- including Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan -- to capture their moves on a database. The players don suits with motion-transmitting devices; as they shoot, rebound, run and make defensive moves in the studio, infrared cameras transmit their movements into a computer.

Not all stars will show up to act out their moves. For LeBron James, the video makers compiled a montage of his moves, then hired former college or semipro players to try to act them out, including using a trampoline in the studio to capture his dunks.

Conley estimated that four or five players on every NBA team are regular video game users.

DeAndre Jordan said he is the Clippers' most avid gamer, and the second-year center prefers NBA Live. He said he likes how the game accurately reflects the opposition's pace of play.

He also pays attention to the moves of particular players he may guard in real games. On the virtual court, Garnett, the Celtics' All-Star forward, usually shoots a fadeaway jumper if he catches a pass at a certain spot outside the paint.

"When I'm playing [Garnett in real life], I'm thinking, 'OK, this is what he's going to do,' and he ends up doing it," Jordan said.

Jordan's avatar in the video game has even taught him a thing or two. "My player tries to block everything all the time," he said. "I don't try to block every shot."

Robinson and Jordan enjoy seeing their mini-selves scamper around the video court, but they do have a few complaints.

Robinson wants his video character to be cuter. And Jordan complains, "When I play [in a real game], I'm right under the basket and I usually dunk it. My player [in the video game] shoots a jumper or finger-rolls it. That's the only thing I don't like about him."

Recently, Jordan challenged his friend John Waterman to an NBA2K9 duel at Jordan's Playa del Rey home. Jordan prepared for the virtual contest as if he were about to play a real game, rolling his neck and pumping his arms for intimidation.

The two men sat in front of the TV for a half hour, intermittently screaming, cheering and jumping as the Clippers played the Utah Jazz.

Waterman and his Jazz won. A virtual Kyle Korver barraged Jordan and the Clippers with fadeaway three-pointers, and Jazz forward Carlos Boozer was unstoppable in the paint.

"Oh, wow, I need to do like that," Jordan said.

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melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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