Two countries, three flights and over 24 hours later, Jack Stevenson arrived in Detroit from New Zealand tired, but no worse for the wear. Then he couldn’t locate his passport.
Somewhere along the final leg of his travel, Stevenson, aka Jaacko, put the passport in the backseat pocket on his flight before forgetting to retrieve it upon exiting the aircraft.
“I was absolutely exhausted, drained and I wasn’t a human at that point,” he said. “I was just way too tired.”
Outside of the annoyance of having to deal with an elongated TSA process as a result of the misplaced passport, the mishap was nothing more than a minor inconvenience in his journey to the NBA 2K League.
A self-described “NBA geek” as youth, he spent time playing basketball, watching games and tracking stats from abroad in his native city of Auckland. It’s the place he’s called home his entire life, residing as he says, “five minutes down the road from hospital I was born.”
He’s now living half a world away as the first player from the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region in league history as a member of Pistons GT.
It’s been a whirlwind few months for the 21 year old, starting with a qualifying tournament, hearing his name called on draft night, followed by an extend period in limbo as his visa was pending approval.
“I was sitting at home for a month just waiting to come over, so it’s been a nice, refreshing feeling to be busy,” Jaacko said.
How he came to the United States as a professional esports athlete can be traced to the league’s initiative of adding a diverse, worldwide talent base to this year’s draft pool.
Enter the NBA 2K League APAC Invitational, the league’s first-ever international qualifying event held in Hong Kong in February. The two-day tournament would serve as a showcase for competitive 2K players from Australia, China, New Zealand and the Philippines.
“Nine international players competed in our inaugural season and our hope is that number will grow every year,” NBA 2K League Managing Director Brendan Donohue said at the time. “Hosting our first international qualifying event is an exciting moment for the NBA 2K League and an important step in further diversifying our player pool.”
Jaacko was among the 20 hand-selected players to participate in front of a live global audience on Twitch.
“I figured that would kinda be our best shot to make any noise around the world,” he said in reference to APAC players.
It was a specific encounter at the event that landed Jaacko in Detroit.
The league arranged for a handful of team representatives to make the trip to assist in scouting participants and identifying the top talent. Cody Parrent of Pacers Gaming and Adam Rubin of Pistons GT were selected from among a group of team general managers to serve in that capacity in Hong Kong.
“The largest issue with the draft process is we don’t get enough time to see the players’ personalities,” Rubin said. “We get a chance to see their skill set, how they work within the game, but don’t really get an up-close view of their personalities.”
That issue would be minimalized at the tournament, with league personnel spending two days interacting with players during games and during down time, such as meals, with all event activities taking place at one central location. It was those interactions that helped Jaacko grab Rubin’s attention.
“It really gave me an insight into Jack’s personality and play style, outside of just seeing what he can do within the game,” Rubin said. “One hundred percent, if I hadn’t been there it would have been difficult to pick Jack not knowing his personality and pulling him halfway across the planet.”
Jaacko exited the APAC event confident of his chances to be included in draft pool following a strong showing, saying “my team won and I felt I was the best player on that team.” Still, there was no guarantee of hearing his name called on draft night.
Fast forward to March 5, and with the 14th pick of the third round, Pistons GT selected Jaacko. It marked validation in his process of earning a spot in the league, but also for an entire region of players who previously might have felt overlooked.
“It’s definitely cool to get that recognition back from the homeland and all that, with everyone looking up to you at this point,” he said of the historical significance of his selection. “At the same time, I don’t really think about that a whole bunch. Yeah, it’s cool, but I’m focused on the team and playing my own game and getting used to it myself. At the end of the season, if I played well, hopefully we’ll get other APAC players into the league.”
Jaacko’s delayed debut came during Week 2 of the regular season after he missed THE TIPOFF and regular-season opener while awaiting visa clearance. He started at small forward for both games of Pistons GT’s doubleheader and wasted little time making his presence known.
“I felt I definitely brought a new kind of vibe to the team, a new sort of energy, if you will,” he said.
Pistons GT looked like a rejuvenated bunch, earning their first victory of the season in an upset of Bucks Gaming. Jaacko scored a game-high 21 points to earn Intel Player of the Game honors, even if he modestly said his teammate, May, was a more deserving recipient for his efforts.
“Our guys have been in town for about a month, they were feeling the preseason grind and were a little drained,” Rubin said. “Jack coming in infused a lot of energy because he was coming in fresh, excited, ready to go. It really pumped everyone back up, got their mental state essentially reset back to Day 1.”
Some natural pregame jitters aside, Jaacko was eager to compete on stage in his first action in the live studio environment. He followed up his first outing with 12 points in a close loss to Pacers Gaming, playing his part as a secondary ball handler.
It’s been only a brief taste of action, but Jaacko enters Pistons GT’s Week 3 doubleheader against Knicks Gaming and Cavs Legion GC with a far better grasp of the league’s competition.
“All the North American players have been a lot more disciplined,” he said “There is not a whole lot of mistakes or errors to capitalize on, so when the opposition makes a mistake, you’ve got to be sure to capitalize on that.”
For Jaacko, he’s making sure to capitalize on the opportunity that’s been presented to him. He’s living some 8,420 miles from home, representing a region of future league hopefuls, playing a video game as a member of the Pistons organization.
Not that there’s been much opportunity for him to reflect on his adventure. There will be plenty of time for that later on.
“I’ll be in the shower sometimes thinking ‘what am I actually doing,’” he said. “But reflecting on it and stuff like that, not really, because it’s been head-down for the first week. I do definitely think about how cool it is and how privileged and blessed it is to be in this position.”