More and more NBA players who have children are ending their nights a bit differently these days. Cartoons and board games have been put on hold for the video game, "Skylanders: Giants," the sequel in the popular "Skylanders" franchise.
Since "Giants" released last October, around 20 NBA ballers (and growing) are now playing on a regular basis with their kids. Some notables include Steve Nash (Los Angeles Lakers), Amar'e Stoudemire (New York Knicks), Jason Terry (Boston Celtics) and Luis Scola (Phoenix Suns).
"It's one of the most enjoyable things around my household," Terry told Playbook.
So what's gotten them and their kids hooked? Plastic toys that can be placed on the game's Portal of Power accessory, which is connected to the gaming system and then will appear on the television screen as playable characters who users can lead on different adventures to battle enemies and solve puzzles. One of the journeys even has a sports theme. It's a football-inspired mode where participants can face off against each other.
"I first saw the game on TV and I was like, 'We gotta get it, we gotta get it!'" Terry said. "I didn't know much about the game, but once it came in the mail and I saw it and I actually played it, I was pretty much a fan. It's an easy play, definitely for the kids. I have kids of all ages. We actually just got done playing now. They range from ages five to 16."
Terry, along with other athletes, said his family was especially drawn to the toys, which can be played with in real life or through the game. Terry's favorite character is Jet-Vac because it includes his nickname "Jet," and they're both fast.
"That part was interesting to me," said Terry, who's sometimes played up to three hours with his kids, Jasionna, Jalayah, Jaida and Jasa. "I've never seen that on any gaming device, where the characters have to be powered up on the actual portal. They love that aspect of it because it gives them an extra doll to play with around the house."
Terry is also starting to play online with his kids, and his next step is to get some of his teammates into the game. He's gotten so immersed in it himself that he already has an idea for an NBA version.
"I would put professional athletes into the game and then you can use their characters," he said. "Like LeBron could be 'King James,' I'm the 'Jet,' cool nicknames like that, and have them come in character in their game uniform and then load them into the game. That might be something new."
How about that for an event during All-Star Weekend? Top players and their kids going head-to-head with other families.
One thing's for sure, though: "Skylanders" has established a special platform for fathers in pro sports to enjoy a fun and unique activity with their children. With them being on the road constantly, and the fatherhood movement needing more attention across the country, that extra connection they have at home with their little ones has been invaluable.
Playbook also caught up with Scola and Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker, who's currently playing in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg, to get their take on Skylanders:
1. Who do you play with?
Scola: I have four kids: Tiago, Tomy, Matias and Lucas. But I only play Skylanders with Tiago and Tomy, the two oldest. The other two are too young to play, but they love to watch.
Parker: My daughter’s name is Lailaa Williams and she is 3 1/2 years old. She turns 4 in May.
2. Why do you find this game more enjoyable than others you've played with them?
Scola: I like it because it’s a good way to spend time with my kids, since video games are something we all enjoy. We play it as a team and it brings the family together, and everyone is happy and excited while we are playing, which I think is pretty cool.
Parker: Because we can play together, and when she is not playing the game, she can play with the toys around the house.
3. What are you and your kids' favorite characters?
Scola: Each of my sons have their own character they play with, but unfortunately everybody wants to play with Tree Rex, and Tomy, his owner, doesn’t always want to share him with his brothers.
Parker: Lailaa’s favorite character is Bouncer, and I would say mine is Spyro. He’s purple like the Sparks!
4. What's the longest amount of time you've played together during one session?
Scola: I try to keep the sessions short and limit them to one hour at a time, so the kids can do other activities as well.
Parker: When we first got the game, we were both hooked and played for three hours straight.
5. When you're on the road traveling, do you ever play online with them?
Scola: Not yet, but that would be cool. When I leave for a road trip, I get to take the PS3 with me so the kids can’t wait until I come back home so they can play [laughs].
Parker: Lailaa has been traveling with me while I’ve been playing overseas this fall/winter, so we get to play together regularly.
6. Have you found it's a great way to connect with them, which is sometimes challenging to do during the season?
Scola: Yes. As a busy guy, one of the things I like to do to unwind is play video games. With "Skylanders Giants," it creates an easy bond for me to do that with my kids, as we all get time together and we get to play video games, too.
Parker: Lailaa is around me a lot, so it’s great for us to have something that we can both enjoy and play together. It’s been great having her in Europe with me this winter. She made sure we brought the "Skylanders Giants" game with us before we left the states, so she plays a lot out here, too.
7. Have you gotten any of your teammates and their kids hooked on the game?
Scola: None yet, but maybe I should. Maybe I can get the rookies to wear a "Skylanders" backpack, though [laughs].
Parker: None yet, but I’m sure once they see it, their kids will be hooked, too. Once I saw the characters come to life on the Portal of Power, I was hooked as was Lailaa. It’s really amazing to see how far technology has advanced with video games. It’s way better than the Pac-Man and Frogger games I grew up on.
8. Have you ever thrown a party at your house and "Skylanders" took over the festivities?
Scola: No, but when the season is over and the kids are not in school, you never know.
Parker: No Skylanders parties yet, but we’ll see in 2013. The year is just getting started.