Pride, money and 2K title on the line for Knicks Gaming

Knicks Gaming celebrates after winning The Ticket, a midseason tournament. Alex Nahorniak-Svenski/NBAE via Getty Images

Usually in pro sports, teams will meet to clear the air once or twice over the course of a year.

Knicks Gaming held those meetings a little more often at the beginning of the NBA 2K season.

"Every Sunday night, we were at my apartment," coach Kyle Rudy says. "Players airing out their own beefs with each other, the problems they had, the feelings they had. It wasn't healthy. It was a toxic thing to have as a team."

Toxic is probably the best way to describe the vibes around Knicks Gaming at the time.

They were near the bottom of the NBA 2K standings, losing to teams they felt they were better than and pointing fingers at one another along the way.

"Chemistry-wise, it just wasn't there," Rudy says.

And that's what makes the events of the last weekend all the more stunning.

After earning a playoff berth by winning a midseason tournament, Knicks Gaming shocked the league by reaching the Finals as a No. 8 seed, advancing to Saturday's 2K championship against Heat Check Gaming.

How did New York reach the Finals after struggling for much of the season? It's pretty simple -- the players learned to like one another.

"They were all individuals earlier in the season," general manager Kristin Bernert says. "Now they don't want to let each other down; they're a team."

That chemistry is what Bernert and head scout Jerry Ferrara hoped to find when they started preparing for the NBA 2K draft in the winter.

The two executives spent weeks scouting players and analyzing data available from the NBA2K combine.

An analytics expert helped mine through the numbers, and Ferrara and others conducted phone interviews with all of the 102 draft-eligible players.

"All these guys are really good at the game. I really wanted to focus on the chemistry and character of the players," Ferrara said of the interview process.

The character of Knicks Gaming began to reveal itself in the middle of the season.

After a 3-6 start, the club won "The Ticket" -- a midseason tournament -- as a No. 15 seed, giving them an automatic playoff berth. (They finished the regular season at No. 14 in the league and wouldn't have qualified without the tournament win.)

In the postseason, Knicks Gaming upset the top-seeded Blazer5 in the first round and won a best-of-three semifinal with Cavs Legion after dropping Game 1. They were led by first-round pick Goofy757, who had double-doubles in their two wins over Cleveland, and point guard Adam Kudeimati, who is averaging 30.3 points and 11.3 assists in the playoffs.

"We embody that New York spirit, that never-give-up spirit," Kudeimati says.

They also have some strong parallels to the last NBA team from New York to reach the Finals: the 1998-99 Knicks. That club was the first eighth seed in NBA history to advance to the Finals, eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs.

"The minute we clinched the eighth seed, that was the first thing I started thinking about," says Ferrara, an avid Knicks fan who is just as passionate about the club's 2K team.

The question now is: Can Knicks Gaming take things a step further than that '99 Knicks team? We'll find out on Saturday, when the teams face off in a best-of-three series.

The winner takes home $300,000, which means players can more than double their salary with a victory.

All of the money on the line has affected some players in the postseason. At one point last weekend, one of the gamers grew visibly frustrated during a playoff game. "You're messing with my money!" he yelled at his teammate.

A few weeks ago, that kind of discord might have come from the Knicks Gaming club. But not now.

"The money for us isn't a factor for us. We're just playing together," Goofy757 says. "The goal is to win a championship in New York. That's the only thing on our mind."