NBA 2K is undoubtedly basketball’s most popular video game. Ronnie Singh, aka Ronnie 2K is the face behind the icon that has millions of people around the world glued to their consoles.

Truth be told though, before Singh was hanging with the same NBA stars that still criticize him about their yearly 2K rating, he graduated from UC San Diego with a management science degree and a minor in law. He went to a law firm for his first job but kept up his passion for sports in general by working with a minor women’s basketball team down the road from where he went to college.

The day job at the law firm was not working out for Singh despite the solid pay he was receiving. So he decided to follow his desire ahead of money and went full-time with the basketball team until he landed a job with the San Diego Surf Dawgs, a minor league baseball team, which is where he found his true marketing breakthrough between 2006 and 2007.

“I was working for this baseball team and they’re like, ‘Oh, we would love to have a couple more stars in this league.’ I was like, ‘Well, I used to know Jose [Canseco],” Singh explained to Sports Illustrated. “We could bring him on.’ This was at the height of this whole steroid thing and he had just written his book so I thought it might be a good marketing thing for him.

“So, I called him up, got him signed and he played for us for a few days. But he had a daughter in Long Beach, and asked if we could trade him to that team so he could spend more time with her. So we traded him.

“A week later, he was coming back here for a home game and I was like, ‘I really got to mess with him.’ So we went to a grocery store and bought all these grape juice boxes and printed out stickers of his face. Then we stuck them to the juice bozes and delivered it as a game day giveaway the next day. It got picked up by SportsCenter and was everywhere. That was my first grassroots, kind of campaign.”

The original NBA 2K video game cover, which was released in 1999 on the Sega Dreamcast.

Singh admits that he played the original NBA 2K game in 1999 with Allen Iverson as the cover athlete, but he did not start picking up the game properly until 2K5 when he confessed to having a lot of free time on his hands. He also was a frequent visitor to their message board, which is where the job with the gaming developers came up.

“I’ve played 2K since the original but I really started picking up 2K5 because I’d have a lot of free time when the team was on the road,” Singh explains. “I also went on the message boards and wrote about the game. The people at 2K noticed a little bit and asked me to come in for an interview.

“The job was to run their forum and I was unsure because I knew forums weren’t going to be a thing forever, but figured I should give it a shot. Over time, social media developed and I got my first big break. It was 2K11 and we had Michael Jordan on the cover. This was a major cultural move for us. We had a launch party and actually had legitimate celebs there. My bosses knew we needed content and were like, ‘Hey Ronnie, go interview these celebs. Here’s a microphone, go see what you can get.’ I guess I was the most logical person to cover it.

“So I went, got a bunch of cool athlete and celebrity interviews from there it grew. There became more opportunities to do marketing, get content and develop these relationships with players and celebs, which is now a big part of what we do here at 2K.”

Ten years later and Singh is now one of the most familiar faces of the 2K brand, hosting parties that feature NBA stars with Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and James Harden among the people publically enjoying the video game with Singh.

Despite his strong relationship with several of the NBA players, there are those who still disapprove of Singh’s NBA 2K ratings, with several players taking to social media to voice their disapproval, and Singh does take it to heart.

“I definitely care,” he says. “I think that this is our 19th version of 2k and it’s been an amazing ride for this company. There’s so many brilliant people that work here and work really hard on it. But 19 years – a lot of the rookies are that old and have literally been playing their whole lives.

“It’s as big of a badge of honor to get their rating and it be good as it is. If you read some of the rookies who got their first rating, it means a lot to them because it’s a dream for them to be in this game. It’s not only about making the league. It’s also about being in a video game, which is very cool for these guys who grew up on gaming. I mean, gaming has blown up over the past couple decades so they don’t really know anything other than that.”

To view the full interview, click the link on Sports llustrated for more.