If there was a ‘Having the Best Year’ award for 2019, BearDaBeast would have earned it already. After going undrafted in Season 1 and setting his sights on making the league in Season 2, Bear locked in to not only become a full-time starter on T-Wolves Gaming, but help his first-year team capture a championship. A Finals MVP nod and trip to China later, he’s developing a worldwide fanbase, all within the span of 12 month. The Cinderella story has written itself.
And where else can Bear and T-Wolves Gaming go but up? That’s his mentality this offseason as he continues to paint a picture of success that motivates him and his teammates to be the best versions of themselves. It worked last season, and Bear’s confident it can work again in Season 3.
Question: This year has been known as the “Year of the Bear.” You missed out on being drafted for Season 1. You get picked up in Season 2. Now you’re a worldwide superstar. What has this year been like from your perspective?
BearDaBeast: I don’t know if I’m a superstar, but I definitely want to get there. For me it’s been the ultimate rollercoaster. It’s a dream come true. From one season to the next, and really over just 12 months’ of time… I’m sitting there (after the first combine), waiting for the email to come through, I felt like I killed the Combine but I don’t make it. I feel like I got snubbed. I had to sit there and watch Season 1 go by. The next draft comes up, I feel like I get snubbed again because I drop to pick 11, and then we start out 1-3 (with T-Wolves Gaming), a rough start. It’s really like a rollercoaster. I’m on my way down. Still on the decline at 3-6. We trade for JMoneyRep817 and things start to go up. Then we make the Playoffs, get a championship… it’s the ultimate turnaround. Being at the lowest point in 2K as far as not making it into the league, to then getting to the pinnacle. It’s been a wild trip for me.
Q: Let’s talk about the crazy run you went on to make the Playoffs starting with the Blazer5 Gaming win. Was there a moment where the switch flipped for you guys? Or were you guys just focused on getting wins every single week by whatever means possible?
Bear: We took things on a week-by-week basis. Mavs Gaming was what, 6-0 when we played them? We lost a close game to them by four points. We scrimmaged at that point maybe more than any team in the league, so we knew in practice that we were beating these teams. We knew we could compete with them. Finally we got some stability when we traded for JMoney. It was like alright, this is our guy, we’re gonna run with it. It was week-by-week and JMoney gave us exactly what we needed. I was more of a facilitator, I could get guys some balls, but JMoney was the piece that fit perfectly. When we got JMoney, it turned the season around because it gave everybody some hope. The guy can’t be stopped. So we got the offense pumping and that put pressure on TURNUPDEFENSE and Feast to play well, and they accepted the challenge. They played tremendous defense throughout the whole season. They gave us that type of defense and JMoney gave us that type of offense, that just gave us confidence and we just took it week-by-week, game-by-game, figuring out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, how to attack ‘em. There wasn’t really one moment. I could say that when the Cavs moved up 18 points with 2:50 to go in the game and we lost an 18-point lead. We were up 25 that game and lost an 18-point lead in the 4th quarter, the biggest meltdown in 2K League history, and that was the team that beat us in scrimmages all the time. We couldn’t get over the hump- we probably beat those guys two times out of 15. They kicked our butts all year! Once we were on the stage and we lost that lead… if I had to pick one moment that was probably it.
Q: You’ve played basketball in college and you’ve probably gone through a lot of coaching and relationships with teammates, but in Season 2 within the span of a few weeks, you lose your first coach and then one of your top players. How did you rally your teammates to make sure these things didn’t ruin the season?
Bear: We actually had a talk about that. It’s tough, man. You can take lessons from anything and transfer it over to anything else in life. That’s how I look at life, period. I’ve played real basketball and played with a lot of teammates. You go to playing in elementary school all the way through college; I’ve had hundreds of teammates, dozens of good coaches, you kind of figure out (along the way) how to deal with people. How to understand different personalities, like how you figure out how to deal with co-workers, what buttons to push with certain people to get certain reactions. I understood what type of guys we had and we had a talk. We said look, we can fold and yeah it’s tough. We lost a coach. Hood got traded. We could quit right here and just have a fun season to say hey, we made it (into the league). Or, we could actually put the time and work in, don’t complain, don’t give excuses, don’t feel sorry for ourselves and try to make something shake. We did exactly that. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys.
Q: About mid-season, you turned into one of the best offensive players in the league. That was always your potential and that’s how you were playing before the league, but did you catch onto something during Season 2 that made you take a more aggressive turn? Or was it attributed to JMoney giving you that spacing on the floor?
Bear: I’m a painter. It’s no secret. So when I have guys on the court that are comfortable in their abilities, that makes me comfortable. How can I trust you if you don’t trust yourself? If a guy trusts himself, that makes me trust myself even more and now we’re playing with confidence on the floor. At one point I was playing like a rookie. It’s my rookie season, I’m coming in and I don’t wanna step on toes and I don’t wanna do this or that, and we’re losing. I could point the finger in a lot of places. If we lose, I don’t care about the backlash. If we lose, it’s because of me. I’m gonna try really hard, I’ll try to make every play, I’ll try to make the right play. That aggression turned out really well for us. I could really shoot, so I’m getting downhill, making my shots. If we were gonna lose, we were gonna go out swinging, it was gonna be on me. I tried to take that responsibility as a point guard and leader. It ended up working out well for us.
Q: TURNUPDEFENSE recently mentioned to us about you being a more vocal leader on the stage earlier in the season, but he said that you got to a point where you saw that it wasn’t motivating the team in the right way, so you kept quieter and locked in. Was that a part of “putting it all on me” too?
Bear: It’s about adjustments. I came into the season and I’m up every play. I’m talking trash, but at home you know, I don’t do that. I’m 100% locked in. I went back and watched the Hawks game, my biggest game of the year (30 PTS, 9 AST 4-4 on 3 PM), and I wasn’t up talking trash the whole time. It’s entertainment, you know? But if you’re losing, it’s like, come on dude, buckle down, lock in, stay focused, do what you’re supposed to do. You’re here to play, not to trash talk. Trash talk is just an addition. I was painting a picture of putting a target on our backs for no reason, giving teams motivation to beat us for no reason. So that was one of my adjustments. I would shut my mouth and just play. That was a key thing for us. The beautiful thing about it was, other guys started stepping up and talking trash! I went quiet and JoJo stepped up.
Q: Where do you and T-Wolves Gaming go from here? Do you think there’s a next level for you guys to hit?
Bear: I think we have the deepest playbook in the league. We knew our plays at the end of the season, and now we add another 20-30 plays and that opens up our playbook even more. We also have chemistry, kinda similar to how 76ers GC had chemistry last year. They brought four of their guys back, we’re bringing four of our guys back. We know each other, and one of the big things is chemistry. We understand how big chemistry is. If you love your job playing 2K and love the guys that you’re around, if it’s a brotherhood– we hang out from 11am to 2 o’clock in the morning when we walk home. We have absolutely no problems with each other. We actually love to be around each other. It’s not just 2K, we do everything with each other. And think about it, we won the last seven regular season games in a row, then won in the Playoffs, and then the Finals. We’re like, 15-2 in the last half of the season. We were hot, and we’re coming off hot to start Season 3. The guys are having great offseasons, everyone’s playing, and for us it’s only up from here. We discovered our potential late in the season, and we think we can go back-to-back. We honestly believe it, it’s not just something we’re throwing out there. We want a couple banners this year as well, we wanna run the table! How possible is it? I don’t know, but how possible was it last season for us to win the Championship?
Q: Put the T-Wolves’ postseason run into words from your point of view, Bear. What was it all like?
Bear: For me that run was the ultimate sign of who we were. We were a bunch of guys who didn’t quit. We hit adversity. We were a bunch who no other team wanted, if you think about it. Magic didn’t want Nacho. 76ers didn’t want Feast, Heat didn’t want JMoney, nobody even knew who JoJo was, I slipped to 11, TURNUP got let go by Cavs Legion GC. But we came together, bonded, and it was a testament to who we actually were. A lot of people give me praise cuz I won Finals MVP, but having the teammates that I have… I mean TURNUP is now a franchise player for Gen.G. Everybody plays pop cuz of JoJo. Everybody wants JMoney on their team to run the 1 now, Feast is the best pick-and-roll defender in the game. Everyone’s getting the love now. Me playing with those guys, it’s amazing. Everyone give me credit, but it’s a team game. That whole stretch, everybody had to play their part. We accepted things as: You have a job, and if you do it at the highest level, with all five guys doing that, you’re gonna win. We won and we proved it, our theory was right. The biggest thing for me was that it was a great team moment. Nothing would be possible about those guys.
Q: Sadly you’re losing one with TURNUP going to Gen.G. You and him at the 1 and the 2 was a good combo. You were the energetic scorer, and he was the cold defender. What are you going to miss the most about him? Are you looking for something specific out of your next lock?
Bear: Obviously no one can just step in and replace TURNUP easily, that’ll be hard to do. Whoever we get, we want them to play their game, and my biggest thing is adjustment. We showed that we can adjust and play anybody. No matter who the player is, I’m gonna find out where he wants the ball, what his weaknesses are, we’re gonna attack and work on it to make it a strength. Personality-wise, there’s only one TURNUP. He held Radiant to five points in Game 5 with a minute to go, and he didn’t crack a smile all game. You’re not gonna find that guy anywhere else, and we’re not asking anybody else to be TURNUP. Whomever we draft, we’re drafting a smart guy lock that can shoot and lock up on the defense. There aren’t a lot of guys that can play at TURNUP’s level but when you’re playing with guys like the ones on our team, it’ll give him the confidence to play at that level. I’m not worried about that at all.
Q: You’re a quote machine and one of our favorites was “You pulled it out of the mud” this year. What was your life like before the 2K League and what’s it like to reflect on all that now after all the success you’ve had?
Bear: I was always the underdog. I would play high school ball but I was never the guy that they would pick first, never the guy they wanted. I’d play Pro-Am in 2K and play outside in the streets and they thought I was the best out there, but no one would pick me in high school ball. The whole “get out of the mud” thing was something I’ve battled with my whole life. Nobody gave me a chance, I’ve always had to work for it. I’ve had to take it. I grew up with my dad, and it’s different growing up with your dad and growing up with both parents. There was a lot of tough love with my pop. It was either do it or don’t. You fail or succeed, and if you failed, you just get up and try again. That was my thing after Season 1- get up and keep fighting. To keep it outside of 2K, I grew up in poverty, experiencing parents who were living check by check. I grew up in a house that was $30k to own. I made more than that in a year last year, and that’s not even on top of winning the bonuses. To me it’s a completely different world. We stayed in downtown Minneapolis, living the NBA lifestyle. It’s amazing. Flying every week, staying in Times Square… growing up I didn’t leave my state until high school and college basketball. I didn’t know what it was like outside of my hometown. My world was just flipped upside down. I understand the opportunity that was being presented and I understand what it’s like not to have it. “Get out of the mud” is not something I say just to be cool. To get to this moment, I won’t take it for granted.
Q: Transitioning to your trip to China, you undoubtedly met a ton of 2K gamers during your time there. What was that like?
Bear: From getting on the plane… and thinking about this, sometimes I’d come home as a kid and the water wouldn’t be running, or the light might be out. Now, I’m taking a trip because you’re considered the best player in the world at what you do, and you’re flying to Beijing in business class, 24-26 hours of travel time… I’m in awe right from there. It was a crazy experience just from the jump! And then I get to China, and I’m like, man, I’ve never seen anything so different and yet so alike at the same time. The buildings were nice, the streets were paved. The cultures of America and China, really different, but it’s not so different to the point you can’t relate. When I’m walking to the venue, they had me on a poster everywhere. My name was everywhere. I’m like, this is ridiculous! It’s almost like an NBA superstar walked through a building. People were cheering, and you know what? That boosts your ego. That feels good. Bonzi Wells said “I needed this trip” for ego purposes. It felt good. It made you feel like you were somebody. That to me was amazing, people coming up and saying I remember watching your game, you’re a really good player… it was crazy to me. The love that China showed was amazing. It’ll be an experience I’ll never forget.
Q: Do you think it’s an inevitability that we’ll see Chinese players drafted into the 2K League one day soon?
Bear: Yes I think so. There are players over there who can actually PLAY. They play a little differently with their keyboards, but they can actually play. For me, I believe that they can compete with us. And in terms of their market, it’s ridiculous for esports (in a good way). I think it could blow up in my eyes. They have the competition to compete, what they need to do now is get involved. For me, it’s a no-brainer.
Q: Now that you’ve won a Championship, would you rather set a record for points-per-game and win the season MVP, or win another 2K League ‘ship?
Bear: (Laughs) Y’all gotta give me something better than that. Give me a championship. You don’t have to give me MVP. Give me that championship and check again. Give me the title. I want all of that. I need that every year. I don’t care for stats. It’s cool to win the MVP award, and I can give it to my teammates next year. You can give it to the losing team. Give me the championship. Give me the check, and the pride to be able to say I’m the best player in the world. I’d take that any day.
We asked Radiant that exact same question and he had the same response– give me the check, not the hardware.
Bear: Yeeeah, some guys will tell you they want to get their stats, because that means they’ll get retained next season. I didn’t really care about my stats. I only care to win the game. It’s easy to win your teammates over that way, and it’s an easy way to play. You don’t have to force anything. To me I’m all about winning. If you win, people can say you’re the best. I want to be known as the best and the only way to do that is to win.
Q: After winning a Championship, it’s easy to get complacent. A testament to being a true champion is adding things to your game every single year. What are you looking to add to your style in Season 3?
Bear: When it’s done, I want to be known as the greatest 2K player. Jordan got multiple rings. Magic, LeBron, Kobe, everybody got multiple rings, so you have to win multiple rings. That’s an easy thing for me. And I don’t want to go back to the place I was at. It’s easy for me to be motivated. Complacency isn’t even an option. And adding something to my game? I never think I’m good enough. We lost a series the other day and I scored 42 and missed four shots all game, and I told my teammates it was my fault we lost by four points. I should have scored 47. I should have made a couple more passes. For me, there’s a lot I need to add to my game. Some say I’m at the top, what can you do? For me, the biggest thing is dribbling. I’ve been in the lab, trying to figure out dribbling. When you dribble, you look at your player a lot, so I don’t want to lose the sense of my vision. To be successful, you have to understand your own weaknesses. The only way I can get better is to attack my own weaknesses. One of the things that helped us get over the hump was me working on the pick and roll. I was always the iso player. I was the five-wide, get out of my way I can beat my man and no one in the world could stop me. If you could make a shot, you’d win. That was always my motto. Pick and roll was a thing in the 2K League, so I had to adjust to it.
Q: What kind of advice would you give a first-time Combine player who asked you for help?
Bear: The number one thing is win. How do you win? You play the right way. Everyone wants to get stats, but people don’t realize that it only takes one mistake to ruin the ballgame. It only takes one point to lose. So everything, every mistake counts. Don’t make mistakes, play the right way. Also, if you’re hot after playing a couple games, continue to go. If you start to get cold, take a break. Get yourself something to eat cuz next time when you’re on a fast break they’re gonna throw you the ball. If you just go out there and play selfishly, you’re not gonna win over your teammates. Go in and be positive, encourage your teammates, and they’ll wanna play for you.
Q: Are you ready to have a target on your back next season as a defending champion?
Bear: I will always have motivation to beat the ten teams that didn’t draft me. I’ll always feel like an underdog in that situation because they didn’t pick me for a reason. Hopefully I’ll be with the T-Wolves forever. Those other teams didn’t pick me and that’s forever. They just put a poll out and I’m Number 4 in the world. I got something to prove, and everyone paints that target on my back. Everyone wants to beat me. That’s gonna give me motivation to play better. If I ask somebody, ‘am I the best 2K player ever?’ and they say ‘no’, I feel like I’m the underdog and I have something to prove. I’m always gonna have that mentality no matter what. That won’t change over the years just because we won a championship. That mentality will be with me for life.
Q: Isn’t it amazing that you get to play 2K for a living, living out your dreams?
Bear: I get so serious about certain topics, and then I take a break, look back, and I say ‘dude, I get to play video games for a living.’ It’s absolutely amazing. We’re on social media all the time, and somebody said recently that, ‘oh they’re not really playing basketball, they’re not really doing anything.’ First of all, to be top anything in the world is one of the biggest accomplishments you can achieve. If I showed them the money that I made within six months, I guarantee you everyone would act the same way I’m acting now. The money that you make, the lifestyle that you live, being in that environment, treated well by the NBA, having a community with everybody, it’s a blessing. I’ve only been in the league a year and it’s been amazing. I can’t even fathom what else can happen if we win again. I don’t even know where the train will go if we win again, but I’m trying to figure it out.