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League of gamers

Jon Robinson

What does Kobe Bryant keep locked inside his briefcase?

His collection of championship rings? Endorsement contracts worth millions? Proof of Sam Cassell's alien bloodline?

Try Xbox 360, TV, controllers and a copy of "NBA 2K10."

"I'm like the James Bond of gaming," Bryant said with a smirk. "I bring this on the plane with me and let the guys play."

And Bryant's not alone, as 2K Sports delivered these secret agent-like gaming devices to top stars throughout the league, including Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Chris Paul and Tyreke Evans.

"It's sick," Rose told me of the case. "Mine has the Bulls logo on it, my number. We '2K' it out on the road all the time.

"But I don't even play as myself in the game. My jump shot is wack in that game. I need to talk to someone about that. Love the case to play '2K' on, just hate the way I shoot. The Nuggets are my 'NBA 2K10' team. They have a lot of shot-blockers, and J.R. Smith is unstoppable in the game. He hits everything."

Shannon Brown, who takes advantage of Kobe's generosity on the road with the Lakers "NBA 2K10" gaming rig, has the opposite opinion of his virtual self.

"I think they made me too good in the game," Brown said with a laugh. "I'm better in the video game than I am in real life."

But 2K Sports' customized road systems aren't the only cool thing going down in the NBA's gaming scene. In fact, at NBA All-Star Weekend, I had the chance to catch up with many players to talk about their gaming habits, as well as witness some of their skills inside Sony PlayStation's Player's Lounge, where ballers were able to relax and enjoy the catering (not to mention the presence of model hostesses) while getting the first chance to play unreleased games like "God of War III" and "MLB 10: The Show."

"Me and my boy were walking through and we're like, 'Man, we should just stay here,'" Brandon Roy told me as he looked around the room. "This is like gamer heaven."

Not only did Sony offer up some of its biggest titles to the many players in town for the game, but the company also made customized PSP Go systems for each star, including laser-etched initials, nicknames, logos or whatever else the player could think to put on his portable system.

Nate Robinson opted for "KryptoNate" green, Chris Paul had his new CP3 logo ready to go, and Paul Pierce went with a 'P' in cool font that made it look like some ancient symbol from "The Da Vinci Code."

Brandon Roy was granted the most elaborate design, though, actually having Sony laser a picture of the Seattle skyline across the wood box used to house his custom machine.

To top things off, Sony partnered with Nike to present special gifts to LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Amare Stoudemire. Each player not only got a customized PSP Go, but also received a pair of rare Nikes that would make anyone who collects kicks drool with delight. The shoes actually changed colors as you rotated them, and the grade carried right through to the soles. Only 24 pairs of these kicks even exist, and when Amare first saw them, his eyes grew almost as wide as the smile on his face.

As for the other stories circulating around this league of gamers, we might as well start off with probably the best pro athlete/gamer in any league: Nate Robinson.

Nate "The Great (One)" and other favorites' favorites

Bar none, the biggest gamer in the NBA is Nate Robinson. His "Call of Duty" free throw salute has already been well-chronicled, and while he and his online crew are still one of the top squads in the search-and-destroy mode of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2"-- his entire crew is level 10 prestige -- they've also found a new game (and sport) to conquer.

"I've really been getting into 'NHL 10,'" Robinson said as he watched a scene from "God of War III" unfold inside Sony's suite. "It's pretty awesome because in the hockey game, you create your guy and then you play online as that guy. We have one guy on our team who always gets into fights. He leads the league in penalties, but he knows how to fight really good. He was telling me, don't block, just always punch. So I got into my first fight and pressed the wrong button and my player went into turtle position. I was like, 'What the hell is that!' I was so mad ... I didn't even get to throw no punches. But the game itself is hot. You meet a lot of different people online and you're able to bond and make friendships."

Robinson also plays his fair share of "Madden NFL 10." "I'm in a league playing as the Vikings. I traded Adrian Peterson for Michael Vick and Brian Westbrook. I think I got the better of the trade. Westbrook got 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving and I needed a mobile quarterback to avoid the rush. I did pretty good.

"As you can tell, I loving gaming," Robinson continued. "I think it's a great way to keep kids off the street and off drugs. Video games are almost like a drug themselves. I play them all the time."

Other players who stopped by the PlayStation lounge included the "NCAA Football 10"-addicted Al Horford, "NBA 2K10" madman J.R. Smith, and even legends Dikembe Mutombo and Patrick Ewing.

When Chris Paul maneuvered his way through the suite on crutches, the first thing he did was find a Sony rep and ask whether "Buzz" was on the PSP. "My family and I play that game all night," Paul said of the trivia game in which a wrong answer could mean a virtual pie to the face. "Oh yeah, I've been hit by the pie," he said with a laugh.

Pie in the eye is also a favorite of LeBron James. "I play 'Buzz' and 'Madden' on my PlayStation 3," he told me, "and I play a lot of 'Army of Two: The 40th Day' and 'NBA 2K10' on my 360."

Other favorite games of NBA stars: Tim Duncan and Stephen Curry play "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," Jarrett Jack tears it up in "Madden NFL 10" using the Redskins, and Taj Gibson calls "Final Fantasy" and "God of War" his two favorite series. "I have systems in every room of the house," Gibson explained, "so that when people come over, we can all jump on wirelessly and go head-to-head. I'm just a game-head at heart."

Superman's early days

When it comes to "Welcome to the NBA" moments, nothing quite beats seeing yourself immortalized in polygons. Dwight Howard still remembers popping in a copy of "NBA Live 2005" on his PlayStation 2 and passing the ball to virtual Dwight for the first

"I played as myself and shot all the shots until I reached 100 points," Howard said. "I was playing one of my homeboys and he kept begging me to switch teams, but this was my first video game and I was playing as me all day. I couldn't believe that I was really in a video game. They were saying my name, what school I went to, how old I was and all of that stuff. They even had my real smile like it was the real me.

"Growing up, I'd always create myself in 'Live' to be this superhuman video game guru with all 99s. I made myself as a 6-10 point guard who had mad hops, the best handles and I could shoot 3s. Then all of a sudden I was in the game for real, but I was only OK [69 overall, compared to a 93 in 'Live 10']. I had hops, but I wasn't that talented yet. But to me, it didn't matter because I was in the game and I didn't even need to create myself. Now I look at a game like 'NBA Live 10' and it's crazy how creative they've gotten. They even have pregame rituals now where my character does the Superman dance."

Everything old is new again

Kobe Bryant was flanked by security as he walked through a sea of flashing cameras, autograph seekers, and gamers in order to make it to 2K Sports' NBA 2K10 Challenge tournament, a take-no-prisoners competition in which the winner pockets $10,000.

And while Kobe knows his best gaming days are behind him (the thumbs start to slow at 30), he thinks there's one game he could still win with that much money on the line.

"I was a beast at 'Double Dribble,'" Bryant boasted. "I had that right top corner down pat."

Unfortunately for old-school gamers like Bryant, an updated 'Double Dribble' just isn't in the works ... but thanks to EA Sports, fans are going to be playing a new version of the classic 2-on-2 game "NBA Jam" by the time next season tips off.

Only thing is, the roster for each "NBA Jam" team is actually open to fan vote, so I found some players who admitted to actually logging onto the EA Sports site to increase the likelihood of seeing themselves go "boom-shacka-lacka" in the game.

"I went online and kept refreshing my computer and voting myself into 'Jam,' I'm not going to lie," said Kevin Love. "'NBA Jam' was my favorite game growing up, so I was on there all day voting for myself. I used to play as Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton or Karl Malone and John Stockton. I never even imagined that I could be in 'Jam.' I just want to get that team fire, get that blue ball ... It's going to be cool."

"I was actually just playing 'NBA Jam' at Dave & Busters the other day," added Carmelo Anthony. "I used to always roll with the Knicks team of Starks and Ewing. I can't wait to see myself in the game. I'm not a high flyer, but they'll have the ball on fire when I shoot."

To Warriors rookie Stephen Curry, just the mention of "NBA Jam" brings back special memories of playing as his sharpshooting dad, Dell, in the game. "I remember in 'NBA Jam' and 'NBA Live 95,' those were the two games where my dad just couldn't miss."

And while Dell was never a big gamer, he's looking forward to see what his son will bring to the next iteration of the classic franchise. "Both my boys used to play as Dad and told me I was money from the 3," he explained. "Now times have changed and it's unbelievable that just a few years ago he was playing as me and now we're all going to play as him. Amazing how things work out."

As for LeBron, when I broke down the new "Jam" for him, all he could do was grin. "I'll be able to dunk from the 3-point line, huh?" he said, nodding his head. "Now that would be fun."