Jazz Gaming shouldn’t be here.

Throughout the NBA 2K League season, the Jazz Gaming team’s results were a mixed bag. The team went 18-10. It lost a few series, won others. But for a team with the best point guard in the league and the best center, you’d think Jazz Gaming might have a better record than it did.

But the team has found a brotherhood with each other. Like so many great teams of the past, Jazz Gaming has united around a central cause. One of the team’s stars, Compete, recently lost his brother. The team has bounced back from the loss, working hard to find victories in any way it can.

The Utah team churned through the playoffs, knocking off opponent after opponent. And now all of that will culminate this weekend when the Jazz Gaming team faces off against the 2020 defending champion Wizards District Gaming in the NBA 2K League Finals on Saturday. The 2021 NBA 2K League champions will receive $450,000 from a $1.5 million prize pool. And, like any other sporting championship, the team will earn the NBA 2K League championship trophy.

This brings an end to a back-and-forth league for the Jazz, who went 18-19 in the regular season, finishing third in the Western Conference. And the team will have to face Wizards District Gaming, who won the title last year.

“They’re such great teams,” said Brendan Donohue, the president of the NBA 2K League, in an exclusive interview, adding that both the Wizards and Jazz have unique cultures that make them top-tier squads.

“I’m proud to see that style of play and that culture and that focus on creating the right culture,” he said.

For Jazz Gaming, the culture has been a hot-button issue as of late because of the tragic situation with Compete’s family. The team’s emotions were on full display when it downed the Warriors Gaming team in the Western Conference Finals. 

But can Jazz Gaming win a title before the Utah Jazz?

Splash’s almost-perfect year leads Jazz Gaming to a title

Much of the year, Jazz Gaming was led by Splash Edition (real name Kimanni Ingram), the star player for the Utah Jazz Gaming squad. And for Splashy, this brings about an end to an exciting year. The star player was a finalist in the NBA 2K21 MyTeam Unlimited tournament, which he lost to previous champion TyDeBo. Splashy, who spent months streaming his NBA 2K21 MyTeam games, took a break when he returned to the 2K League. And he had one hope for the entire season — win the title.

In fact, Splash told me back in February that his goal was to complete the ultimate run as an NBA 2K star.

“Hopefully I can capitalize, win this tournament, and then go into league and make a splash there and that’s the best year you can have,” he said at the time. “I have just been working on grinding,” he told me. “I’m still trying to make the perfect story. So I came back this year with more of a chip on my shoulder with more knowledge as well.”

It looks like the knowledge from the MyTeam journey worked out, as he now heads into the finals for a final chance to win the trophy.

But it won’t be the perfect sweep of awards this year. Splash lost in the MyTeam finals. Still, it was a good year for the star, one that he will always remember when he looks back.

These NBA 2K athletes grew up together. Now they’re teaming up with the Jazz

“I will say that this was the perfect year for me to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish,” he said. “I had the chance and I showed everybody I’ve competed at the highest level, no matter the stage, no matter the game mode.

“Now I got to aim higher,” he added. “I’m already on the Mount Rushmore for today but then I’m really on the Mount Rushmore of 2K.”

“You don’t deny winners. Winners will never be forgotten. Winners can rewrite history.”

Can Jazz Gaming bring Utah a title?

Jazz Gaming finds itself in a unique perspective, too. The team has a chance to win a championship trophy before the Utah Jazz do. The Utah Jazz have never won a title. They came close, of course, in the mid-’90s during the Stockton and Malone area. But they’ve never secured the championship.

The NBA and the NBA 2K League are vastly different sports with different schedules, mentalities, needs and wants. So comparing a title run for both sports is hard.

But it’s an interesting perspective. For a state hungry for an NBA title, Jazz Gaming might be the right place to bring hope for a championship to Utah. It’s still an NBA title — just in a different manner.

“Well, it means, at least we don’t fall for the money,” Splash joked at a press conference. “Basically it would mean just the Jazz got to pick their stuff up. We’re big fans of the Jazz. In a playoff game, they fell short and like just some weird situations. But maybe everybody in Utah is gonna become fans of us now if we were to win a title before the real Jazz. I just see a bunch of positive perks if we can complete the cycle before the NBA team does.”

How to watch the NBA 2K League Final

The game tips off Sept. 4 at 3 p.m. MT in Dallas at Mavs Gaming Hub. You can watch on Twitch and YouTube.