In more ways than one, across two careers, Rick Fox has always been a defender. As an NBA player, he became known for his unrelenting physicality and sound defensive play. He found the role his team needed him to adopt, (Commentary) and he took a back seat to two of the biggest stars the league has ever seen. But he carved out his own niche in esports, as well. He discovered it through a desire to improve the relationship with the son that his NBA career had impacted. And when he eventually came out in support of esports, he again found himself forced onto the defensive, and he embraced that role with enthusiasm. “I’m not here to debate the level at which they fit and slot in between basketball. They are digital athletes they’re professional digital athletes.” From a Bahamian high school to multiple NBA Finals and now playing an integral role in esports’ future, this is Rick Fox’s story. Ulrich Alexander Fox was born on July 24, 1969 in Toronto, Ontario Canada but moved to his father’s native Bahamas when he was young. In high school, it became clear that basketball would play a role in his future even though he didn’t play in an organized environment until he was 14. In Nassau, at Kingsway Academy, Fox played for the Saints, but he also played basketball in Warsaw, Indiana. And it was there that UNC Tar Heels coach Dean Smith first discovered Fox by accident in 1986, as he attended a Warsaw game in Fox’s junior year with the intention of scouting one of his opponents. “Do you remember when coach recruited you?” “Yeah I do. It was back.” “Warsaw, Indiana.” Shortly after, Fox committed to the University of North Carolina starting in 1987, where he studied Radio, Television and Motion Pictures. “Few players in Carolina history have combined the scoring, savvy, and defense that Fox displayed during his star studded career.” But after helping his team reach the Final Four in 1991, Fox was drafted 24th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1991 NBA draft. While Fox did start on opening night, he played mostly from the bench during a transitional year for the Celtics. Fox played with the Celtics during a rebuilding period that included their worst regular season yet: a 15-67 record in 1996-97. “I was the captain of the Titanic, the year we won 15 games.” While Fox had become the team’s starting small forward and his steal numbers continued to be among the NBA’s best, the team went a different direction. “It ended up being really fortunate because I bled green and didn’t think I’d play anywhere else.” He landed with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he found himself playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant. (Commentary) Fox started every game during the 1997-98 season, averaging 33 minutes per game. And it was in LA that he developed a reputation as a stable veteran presence, a role player helping to moderate competing young players. “Phil commissioned me to do as the third captain. I was the go-between these guys. I was the go-between coaching staff and the team.” The offense could run through Kobe and Shaq, while Fox focused on a strong defensive presence. (Commentary) But there were moments when his team needed him: and Fox had a habit of coming through in the clutch, whether from the 3-point line, or at the rim. (Commentary) He also became known for protecting his teammates and physical play: usually on, but sometimes off, the court. (Comentary) Fox won three Championships with LA under legendary coach Phil Jackson, but a foot injury saw him miss 40 games in 2003-2004, and he was traded to the Celtics at the end of that season, where he decided to retire. During his NBA career, Fox had numerous acting credits to his name While some of those roles were related to basketball, his most recognizable one during his NBA career was on HBO’s acclaimed prison drama Oz. “Look pal, I don’t do windows okay? I don’t do windows.” After retiring from the NBA, Fox continued to act, making appearances in a number of TV shows and films, and even cameoing with CollegeHumor’s comedic duo Jake and Amir. And in a lot of ways this seemed like a natural future for Fox, who had already told the media that an acting career would be his goal post-NBA. And had he done only that, this video would not exist. But while Fox had been unrelenting as an athlete and actor up to this point, there was one other role he was trying to balance: that of a father. Fox’s son Kyle, born in 1993, had lived on the East Coast while Fox had been with the Lakers. But during Summers and on spring break, the younger Fox could visit Los Angeles. “He would say this to me, that basketball took Dad away.” “Sometimes it’s frustrating, having a king for a dad. Cause he’s always off doing stuff on a very large scale.” Rick Fox said he was no stranger to video games, having received an Atari 2600 when he was younger, and said he always planned to introduce games to his son. But it was when they discovered World of Warcraft that they found a game that they both loved, and that bond helped them to connect even from across the continent. “But we started at, you were twelve years old. We got it at century city GameStop. I remember walking in and looking and they had World of Warcraft, and I got it, we went home, we loaded on the computer. And instantly we were just in, we were in.” Their relationship helped Fox step into a new arena — esports. Kyle introduced him to a MOBA called League of Legends, and, indulging his son’s interests, Fox eventually arranged for both of them to visit Riot Games. The two were invited to attend the 2015 NA LCS Finals at Madison Square Gardens. “I expected to be there in support of my son’s passion, I expected to enjoy my time with him, I didn’t expect to have a switch turned on.” “I didn’t expect to fall in love.” They were able to interact closely with Kyle’s favorite team, Counter Logic Gaming, and Fox even gave them a pep talk. “Doesn’t matter the sport, I came from a basketball world. And Kyle he’s not basketball player. But he’s a gamer, I try to tell him all the time it’s no different.” Fox was not the only man with NBA ties that had taken notice. “I went upstairs to thank the owners of Riot Games for inviting us, and it was there that I ran into Adam Silver, who I have a relationship with from my NBA days” In late 2015, these two men were a step ahead of the flood of esports interest that had yet to come from celebrities and sports organizations in 2016 and 2017. Fox and his son watched CLG took home the NA LCS championship and even followed the team to Paris for Worlds. “Paris was a beginning. Being behind the curtain more with CLG, then I started to understand the business and through and just a month later really through invitation to maybe be an advisor for CLG” But Fox’s interest in esports had run beyond an advisory role. He had been an investor for some time, even trading stock trading tips in the locker room with Shaq, and was open about his interest in startups. He had also already partnered with Twin Galaxies, which billed itself as the keeper of gaming’s official world records. “I felt that if I was going to pour really a huge part of my time and energy into something, I knew I was going to need to jump in.” Fox purchased Gravity Gaming’s NA LCS spot in December 2015 and announced that the team had been rebranded as Echo Fox. “Actually getting that slot built and moving into ownership title, I remember the day. I remember the actual shift in my body. Because it instantly generated inside of me a an anxiety that I didn’t think existed before.” But as they were ready to take the stage for their first ever game, visa issues meant that Echo Fox couldn’t field their full roster in Week 1 of the 2016 NA LCS Spring Split. Those issues persisted and a number of roster changes over the course of the split made things difficult. “Meanwhile Echo Fox are losing four straight for themselves they gotta turn this one around and fast. They haven’t a game since opening day.” (Casting) “Last week Fox dropped to 9th place and continue to struggle with a lineup filled out with subs. from what we’ve seen which leaves fans wondering. Is there a Froggen at the end of the tunnel.” “I didn’t expect to put out as many fires as we put out. And went through the first four weeks of their season. Some cases not even together. They still practice. They weren’t even allowed to compete. There was so much that went on there. That to have survived to have make it to seventh? Like I stand up and applaud.” Despite fewer roster issues that summer, their results were even worse: “Echo Fox has probably been the biggest surprise for me this split and not for a good reason.” (Casting) “Definitely looks bad for Echo Fox, they are struggling still. It’s been kind of the story for them for this split though really rough split for them.” Tenth place after a dismal 1-17 record, and a trip to the promotion tournament where they beat NRG to retain their spot. (Casting) He was one of the first people from the traditional sports world to dive into a major esports venture, and among those who did in late 2015, he was the most immediately recognizable. “But in that time since that split we have a CS:GO team. We have a Call of Duty team. We have H1Z1 expression that we’re flushing out and scouting for our four pros that’ll represent us there. We have a Street Fighter, Julio. We have Mew2King in Smash. We keep evolving and building our organization of players.” But in many cases, the world was unaware of esports, and the mainstream media often found the concept laughable. “So this is basically going to be a League watching people play video games.” “And I’m laughing because I can’t think of anything less interesting.” That meant Fox became esports’ de-facto defender in the world of traditional sports and entertainment. “When do you think this can really become bigger than an actual professional sport like football, baseball, MLB.” “It’s in that conversation now, it’s just fifth. And so now, it’s just fifth.” “Your fifth place?” “we’re in fifth place and it’s coming.” “How many years, give me a real estimate?” “Two years it’ll be on par with the NHL.” And he wasn’t just defending his investment as something likely to pay off. Fox argued that the players shouldn’t be ashamed, and that they counted as athletes, at a time when many found the idea controversial. “I’m not here to debate the level at which they fit and slot in between basketball … they are digital athletes, they are professional digital athletes.” “A lot of people know I stand with the athletes as professional athletes, and I’ll debate that with anybody I’ll have that conversation with anybody.” “I think the trigger point is professional…” “And before you shun or impose your idea of what you think someone else should be doing … check yourself.” But while Fox and his organization were ahead of the curve, others had joined the party in 2016. This included Fox’s old teammate Shaq, “I asked him do you know much about esports, he said, “Nah what is all this.” And I said, “We should talk.” and go “I own a franchise” and I said, “I think it’s something that would be worth your time, your effort, your energy, your focus.” I was so thrown in the day to day of getting Echo Fox off the ground I think I slipped in following up with him And Andy Miller from the NRG got in there through the ownership of the Sacramento Kings which Shaq is a member in. And pulled him to that side. We’d gone from obviously great teammates to great rivals in esports.” “How soon and how quick it shifts.” “Hey Rick Fox, you know me. NRG beat your team’s ass the other day. And this, is the legend they call Sniffy.” “You suck. See this Ricky? This is what two legends look like. Rick, you and your team suck.” 2016 had been an entry for Rick Fox, but none of his teams or players had found consistent competitive success. And in League of Legends, Fox’s investment faced a turning point. An interview featuring Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh about the risk that relegation posed to investment was the spark that lit a wildfire discussion about the profitability of League of Legends: partially because sweeping game changes can instantly affect a team’s chances. “But from an owner perspective and a player perspective, it’s honestly really discouraging.” “In order to make an easy example I would probably say it’s like – You look at like the NBA right, where they go into like the NBA playoffs, it would be essentially changing the basketball- basketball’s weight, and changing it into like shooting a bowling ball instead of a basketball. If the meta can change that quickly, then an owner’s ability to hold onto their NA LCS spot can change just as rapidly. After a somewhat tone-deaf response from Riot co-founder Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill on Reddit so-called “LCS Forever” movement began. A letter to Riot from almost all of the EU and NA teams was published by Slingshot Esports in November 2016, and it detailed the teams’ demands for financial stability including an end to relegation. Every team with a spot in both the NA and EU LCS had a spot where they could sign the letter. Every team except Echo Fox. Another story claimed that the organization had attempted to poach a Phoenix1 player still under contract, and that the other NA LCS teams would refuse to scrim Echo Fox as a result. Riot later claimed that because the player’s contract hadn’t been updated in the internal roster tracker, that no harm had been committed. Heading into Spring 2017, Echo Fox did indeed have trouble finding scrims in the NA LCS. And they would finish eighth in both the Spring and Summer splits after playing around with the idea of a 10-player roster. “We don’t really scrim LCS teams because they don’t want to scrim us It’s definitely holding us back, I mean if we can’t scrim the best competition it’s harder for us to improve.” But in April 2017, when theScore esports broke the news that franchising would come to the LCS in 2018, Fox made it clear that his organization was gunning for a spot. “Yeah I would say it’s safe to say we’re beyond interested. We’ve been a part of the LCS now for two years and four splits, we’ve now figured out our footing when it comes to the competitive side, But as for our commitment to wanting to be part of this partnership moving forward between Riot and selections they make in coming months here. We are definitely submitting an application and and we look forward to seeing and hearing the results.” And in the end, Echo Fox were one of the teams selected for a permanent spot in the league, Simultaneously, Echo Fox did the nearly unthinkable: they signed seven FGC players in January 2017: Justin Wong, Tokido, Momochi, SonicFox, MKLeo, Scar and Chocoblanka. Easily the biggest single roster move in FGC history, even if a former teammate was jokingly less than impressed.” “I’m here to talk about this Echo Fox stuff on Twitter. I don’t know what these guys think they doing.” “I don’t know who they think they are, but uhh… You know they’re owned by Rick Fox. so I know who he thinks they are. I know who he thinks.” But in July, Tokido went on to win EVO 2017, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, with his iconic Akuma. (Casting) “You guys know from my face, I am so happy now.” “You know you came all the way from Japan. Is there anybody at home or is there anybody that you wanna give a shoutout to?” “Yes. Just one thing.” “I wanna say.” “Fighting game is something so great.” And a wave of new esports investors, some of whom had been wary of the potential of fighting games, saw it as well. 2018 has so far seen Echo Fox have their most competitive split ever in the NALCS. (Casting) “This is why this is a playoff team.” Earning their first playoff berth in the Spring and finishing third. (Casting) For an organization that hadn’t finished above seventh in their entire LCS tenure, third was a promising improvement, and one that validated some of the struggles of the previous two years. “It’s been an amazing three years growing as an organization. But being welcomed into this community by all of you, and watching our brand grow. The beauty of it is that as exciting it is right now here it’s the Spring Split. This thing builds and builds builds, summer’s right around the corner And I can’t wait, we’re still trying to make it to Worlds, and we still wanna win a World Championship. So we’re not going anywhere.” “If you don’t set the goal of becoming a champion, then you’ll never move towards that.” “If your goal is to just not be relegated. You’ll move towards just not being relegated. If you’re goal is to just make playoffs , you’ll move to just making the playoffs. If your goal is to become a champion, and you head down that path as an individual, And as a team? You will move towards becoming a champion. Now I can’t promise you when that will reveal itself, when it will show up. I can’t promise if it’ll happen with us. But what I know I want for each of our players is I want them to be champion. Why? I know what it feels like to be champion. I know what that feels like, it is incredible. It is something that no one can ever take away from you.” Thanks for watching. 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