(Reuters) - The first woman drafted into the NBA 2K League almost never had her crowning moment as sexism from fellow players convinced the trail-blazing gamer to flee an event where prospects were being evaluated.
Chiquita Evans wanted to be a part of the NBA’s esports arm for its inaugural season in 2018 but did not anticipate the resistance she met while at the Combine, the second stage of qualifying for the draft.
“The first time I got on the mic to communicate with my team mates they made remarks like, ‘Oh, that’s a girl?’ and they would just ice me out. It was very discouraging,” Evans told Reuters in a telephone interview from Oakland.
“I quit after maybe seven or eight games and I was done.”
Evans, along with some other female gamers, was eventually invited by the league to participate in a showcase event last July where she performed well and left knowing she could compete against the game’s best players.
And so Evans, who describes herself as a two-way player and knock-down shooter, returned to the Combine ahead of the 2019 season, which tips off on Tuesday, only this time she was ready for whatever would be thrown at her.
“It was still rough this time. I had guys saying that I wasn’t going to make it and telling me to stay in the kitchen and go make sandwiches and stuff like that,” said Evans.
“But I just kept fighting and kept going and I didn’t let it stop me this time like it did last year.”
Her bravery paid off as Evans was selected 56th overall in early March by the Warriors Gaming Squad, the NBA 2K League affiliate of the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Prior to focusing on the virtual hardcourt, Evans had her sights on competing in either the Women’s National Basketball Association or a league overseas after playing in college and for a semi-pro team.
But she said she lost the passion for the game after an injury derailed her dreams and eventually started playing the popular NBA 2K video game.
When the NBA became the first U.S. professional sports league to run an esports arm, it seemed an obvious path for her to pursue.
There are no female avatars in NBA 2K, so Evans has controlled a male one since day one and will continue to do so this season.
The 30-year-old Chicago native is not bothered by it, but said she would switch to a female if the option were introduced.
“If it happens, will I make a female character? Of course,” said Evans. “But if it doesn’t, I am not going to be upset about it and feel any type of weird.”
Evans has been surprised at the attention thrown her way since being drafted but said she was ready to take on whatever responsibilities that might come as a pioneer gamer.
For now, she wants to let her on-court skills turn any remaining doubters into believers and bring an end to the sexist comments that almost kept her from the league.
“Some people have said I got drafted because it was a publicity stunt and stuff like that,” said Evans.
“So I feel like I have to go into the season with a chip on my shoulder to show people that I actually earned this.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ian Ransom