Kids often grow up with an idea of what their dream job is.
Some want to be police officers, firefighters, teachers and doctors, among numerous other possibilities.
But for Reid Hill, 20, of Bullard, his dream job didn’t even exist a few years ago.
Hill was a student at The Brook Hill School and a member of the basketball and baseball teams. He was a first-team All-District selection in basketball during his senior year of 2017-18.
During his junior year, Hill said he had talked to some Division III college basketball coaches about possibly playing at the next level.
But as a senior, Hill discovered a new opportunity and his “dream job.”
The NBA introduced the NBA 2K League — a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive — which is a professional esports league featuring the best NBA 2K players in the world and is the first esports league operated by a United States professional sports league.
Esports are multiplayer video games that are played competitively. In this case, the gamers are playing NBA 2K, which is a series of basketball video games.
Just like NBA basketball, there are five teammates on the court together competing against five players from the opposing team. But in the NBA 2K League, Hill and his colleagues control the action with joysticks.
Where it all began
Playing video games is a love Hill developed at a young age.
“I was in the first or second grade, and my buddy and I would come home from school and play the Nintendo GameCube," he said.
Hill said the first game he owned was MVP Baseball 2005.
His first NBA 2K to purchase was NBA 2K9 with Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers on the cover.
Hill played basketball his senior year but didn’t play baseball. He graduated from Brook Hill in 2018 and was unable to tryout for the inaugural NBA 2K League season that year because players have to finish high school before they can try out.
In the fall, Hill took classes at Tyler Junior College while he prepared to try out for season two of the NBA 2K League.
Hill competed in an online qualifier for a $250,000 tournament in 2017 and ended up qualifying as a 1-seed. With that performance, he saw the opportunity for more.
“I realized then that I was better than I originally thought,” Hill said. “Not long after that, they announced the 2K league, so I thought if I could compete in a tournament for that kind of money, maybe I could make a profession out of it. I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
The NBA 2K League features 21 teams — Dallas, Orlando, Sacramento, Golden State, Los Angeles, Portland, Utah, Minnesota, Memphis, Milwaukee, Indiana, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston and New York.
According to the league’s website, the tryout process started with the NBA 2K League Qualifier. In November 2018, players had to complete an online application and win 100 games in NBA 2K19’s Pro-Am mode or at the Jordan Rec Center, while winning at least 50 percent of their games.
Next was the NBA 2K League Combine. In December 2018, players who completed the Qualifier were required to complete a minimum of 25 games at one position, all during preset time windows.
There was also the NBA 2K League APAC Invitational, the league’s first-ever international qualifying event, which identified several elite players from the Asia-Pacific region who became eligible for the 2019 NBA 2K League.
Hill completed the first steps, then had to go through an interview process with the NBA after which they cut 50 people. That whittled the draft pool down to 200 entrants.
“It was a nerve-wracking process,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I made it through.”
Hill was then invited to the draft on March 6 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
A year ago, Hill and his father, Jim, had watched the inaugural draft and they thought this year's was going to be a similar setup.
Instead, Jim said they rolled out the red carpet for the players and had multiple media outlets covering the event.
“It felt like the NFL Draft,” Jim said. “It was bigger than anything I expected.”
Hill said during his interviews with teams, he got the indication that he would be a late first-round pick.
Just before the Orlando Magic were on the clock for their first-round pick (ninth overall), Hill got a call from the team’s coach to inform him that they were going to pick him.
“In my interview with the Magic, I didn’t get any indication that they were going to pick me like I did from other teams,” Hill said. “I was super excited when they called me, but also surprised. They needed a point guard really bad, and one of the better point guards in the draft fell further than expected. I thought they would pick him. But they trusted that they could move me from shooting guard to point guard.”
With the ninth overall pick, the Magic made it official, selecting Hill, also known as “Reizey.”
“Hearing my name called on that stage, I got a sense of what guys in the NBA feel like when they are drafted,” Hill said. “You work so long to achieve your dreams. I knew I was not big enough to play in the NBA, so I made this my goal.”
Playing in the league
NBA 2K League writer Jonathan Raber graded each team’s draft, and he gave the Magic an “A.” His analysis of the Magic was, “They got things going by grabbing the player they targeted in Reizey, who is the on-court leader new coach Jonah Edwards will count on to keep things on track.”
Hill, who is 6 feet tall, 150 pounds, used a 6-foot-5 player in tryouts.
“It was a sharpshooter,” Hill said. “It was basically what I was known for in real life, so I tried to play the same way on 2K. I just tried to get open and shoot threes. I shot lights out, so that’s what got me here.”
But now transitioning to point guard, Hill said all point guards are given players who are 6-4 and 180 pounds, and they are able to customize them to look however they want.
Hill said all players are rated 90 overall, so everyone is on an even playing field. Ratings are determined by the quality of a player's skills such as shooting, dribbling and defense.
The number for Hill’s player is the same number he wore when he played growing up and through high school — No. 4.
His inspiration for that number is one that will resonate with the people of Bullard and East Texas sports fans.
“As a kid, my favorite player was Brodie Greene,” Hill said. “I remember watching him play when I was in kindergarten. He was the man on the baseball field and basketball court.”
Greene, who graduated from Bullard High School, played baseball at Texas A&M University and in the minor leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Hill is now starting his own professional career. He recently moved to Orlando, Florida, to begin his new gig.
Hill said a normal day involves getting to the practice facility around 10 a.m., practicing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., eating lunch, then practicing again from 3 to 6 p.m. Before tournaments and games, the team will add another practice from 7 to 10 p.m.
“Even when I’m working, it’s still fun, but it also makes you realize that it’s a full-time job,” Hill said. “I give it everything I have. When I play 2K at home, I sometimes mess around. But when I’m scrimmaging or practicing with my team, I know I have to work hard.”
Hill said recently while he was walking to the practice facility, he was able to reflect on everything.
“I was thinking that I’m actually walking to work to play a video game,” he said. “It blows my mind. It’s a crazy feeling to do what I love but also get paid to do it.”
Hill said he’s bonded with his teammates really well, which is an important aspect in the NBA 2K League.
Another player with East Texas ties in the league is Ryan Conger, who plays under the name DayFri. Conger, a former baseball player at LeTourneau University in Longview, is on the Washington Wizards.
The 18-week season, which began Tuesday, will conclude on Aug. 3 with the NBA 2K League Finals. All NBA 2K League games and tournaments will be streamed on Twitch, a livestreaming video platform.
In Tuesday’s opening games and the start of Hill’s professional career, the Magic began with a 50-42 win over the Nets. Hill was 3 for 11 from the field, making three 3-pointers to finish with nine points and five assists.
The Magic also took a 72-70 double-overtime win over the Knicks on Tuesday, and Hill finished with five points, five assists and two steals.
Ten years after playing his first NBA 2K game, Hill is making a living doing the exact same thing. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.