On Christmas Day, the Washington Wizards will get a chance to avenge their elimination from the NBA playoffs when they meet the Boston Celtics for the first time this season. But that seemed an awfully long time to wait for such a highly anticipated rematch, so I recently stopped by Wizards star Bradley Beal’s McLean mansion and asked for a preview. Beal spends a lot of downtime playing video games, it turns out, and in addition to his favorite, Madden NFL, he’s a serious NBA 2K competitor. He agreed to host a friendly contest.
When I showed up at the 11,000-square-foot, $3.2-million house, Beal steered me toward his surprisingly cozy living room, dominated by a gray L-shaped sectional and, in big letters painted across one wall, part of a Bible verse from the Book of Joshua: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Beal settled into the couch, picked up an Xbox controller, and selected the Wizards as his team. (He always picks the Wizards.) I hadn’t actually informed him of my plan to play as the dreaded Celtics, and as I made my own team selection, I worried he’d consider it a dig. But Beal stayed cool. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” he said with a confidence that suggested I was about to get trounced.
Once the game began, things got meta. Beal usually opts to control his virtual self, which meant I was sitting next to the same guy I was playing against onscreen. This was disorienting—and more than a little intimidating.
“When you get nervous, that’s when you start to make mistakes,” Beal told me, unhelpfully. But after the first quarter, I was actually doing okay, down by just four points. Beal wasn’t impressed: “The first quarter should always be close.”
With the latest 2 Chainz album pumping on a set of Bluetooth speakers, Beal started to find his groove, and soon real-Beal and virtual-Beal were in serious sync, raining lay-ups in traffic and nailing three-pointers just like he does at Capital One Arena. “Thank you, big fella! Roll to the basket!” he yelled at a teammate. “Somebody gotta get a rebound! That’s gotta be us!”
Beal soon went up by ten points, but eventually I rallied, and with 30 seconds left in the game, I was losing by just a single basket. Could I pull this off? Was I about to out-shoot a guy with a $128-million NBA contract? The clock ticked down. Fingers clicked against plastic. I made my big move toward the basket. Then, somehow, my opponent swiped the ball, thwarting my comeback before I could even launch a shot. A few clutch Beal free throws later and it was over: I had lost by five.
Beal grinned and threw some celebratory play punches, then shook my hand. I asked if this small victory might help soothe the agony of the Wizards’ tough playoff defeat last May.
“Yeah,” he said. “I feel good about it.”
This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Washingtonian.