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The NBA's footprint was already expanding at an unreal rate, what with their massive television rights deal, games being played on international soil, Development League expansion, virtual reality offerings and the like.

And now, by way of the announcement on Thursday about their new NBA 2K eLeague partnership with Take-Two Interactive Software, that profile will include a wing for the video game community.

The joint venture, in which all 30 NBA organizations could eventually have an e-team of their own with five professional gamers paid salaries to play a version of the popular NBA 2K video game, will be the first official e-sports league that is operated by a U.S. professional sports league. It is scheduled to launch in 2018, with the gamers expected to play with user-generated avatars.

"These are a completely different set of professional athletes," Commissioner Adam Silver told USA TODAY Sports. "There's a global pool of gamers. They come in all ages, and sizes and ethnicities and sexes, and then we will at some point have a draft that will look somewhat similar to an NBA draft, in which the teams will select their players, and presumably on top of that they'll have the ability to spot some great talent on their own, players who aren't identified through sort of a league system. And that's how we'll form our teams."

In his four-plus years as commissioner, Silver has proved to be exceptional at staying ahead of the curve while growing the NBA's brand. So when he tracked the booming growth in the gaming community, then spoke with Take-Two CEO and longtime acquaintance Strauss Zelnick about the possibility of forming a pairing, he saw yet another chance to reach new legions of fans.

"I think it was sort of a great-minds-think-alike moment," Strauss told USA TODAY Sports. "Our colleagues on both sides of the table said, 'Well, wouldn't it be interesting to formalize this, and wouldn't it be interesting to launch the first true competitive gaming league, and wouldn't it be interesting if we co-owned that, threw our fortunes together, and made this an incredibly high priority for both of our organizations?' And that's where we find ourselves today."

According to Strauss, there are "something like 250 million people who avidly consume competitive gaming events, (and) the revenue associated with the business (of) competitive gaming is still relatively small -- it's about half a billion dollars."

As Silver and NBA officials were well aware, that figure is growing by the day.

"It's expected to grow rapidly," Strauss said. "We fully believe that it will be well over a billion dollars as a market in the near future. Of that 250 million-person audience worldwide, about half that audience -- about 125 million people -- are avid consumers of competitive gaming. They watch competitive gaming events, largely online. It's just beginning."

Added Silver: "Fans and players of these games, who aren't as expert as these professionals, want to come into an arena and watch the very best play. So you can imagine a scenario where, (say) the new arena in Milwaukee, where there's five-on-five competition, just like NBA basketball, (and) it's being projected on a huge, large high-definition screen, and fans are watching all the moves."

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February 9, 2017


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