After getting off of my lazy butt and running some ethernet cables from my office to my living room, I was finally able to connect both my PS2 and Xbox to my juicy broadband connection (ok, well not both at the same time... note to self, buy 10/100 switch and more cables). With the last Xbox Live kit from Circuit City (muhahaha!), I was all set. Setup was amazingly easy. I didn't have to enter any network settings, etc. If only all things in life could be true plug and play! I probably spent the most time during setup trying to think of a gamertag. I was really disappointed that the dash ("-") was not selectable as "Me-So-Horny" just isn't the same without them. Consequently, I resorted to my Gangsta Name (courtesy of http://www.jasonschock.com/gangsta/index.php)-- MastaRedSnappa (spaces removed to protect the innocent and to fit within the character limit). Once setup was completed, I booted up my trusty copy of NBA2K3. I proceeded to download the roster update. Note to Sega: seriously, were no pictures of Yao Ming available? Props to Sega for at least listing his name correctly as M. Yao. But I digress. With great anticipation, I clicked on Play Live and navigated my way to an Optimatch search of ranked games. Before I realized it, I accidentally hit the A button too many times and challenged whomever was first on the list. Perhaps smelling noob blood (I guess my 0-0-0 record said it all), the challenge was immediately accepted. "Boy," I said to myself, "I hope this guy sucks." Thankfully, my microphone was off at the time. The epic battle was on. A true clash of the titans (of last place)-- Clippers (me) vs. Raptors (him). Being a lifelong Laker fan, it was truly hard to select the Clippers but after my opponent selected the Raptors, I felt it wouldn't be fair to unleash the thunder and lightning that is Shaq and Kobe onto the unsuspecting online masses. I got into the proper Clipper frame of mind by repeating "Donald Sterling is the Anti-Christ" over and over. After many hours spent playing the single player game, I thought I was a fairly adept at NBA2K3. To say that my online defense was awful is offensive to the word awful. All the little set offensive patterns that the computer AI uses in the single player game (and that I had dutifully memorized) disappeared as Vince Carter of the Raptors proceeded to drop 50+ on my not-so-beloved Clippers. I'm sure my opponent thought he was playing Moses as the Red Sea (READ: lane) opened wide and often. My strategy of allowing Vince Carter to dunk continuously in the hopes that he might hurt his hand failed miserably and I started my NBA2K3 online career with a blowout loss. Luckily, my opponent was not a trash talker. All I heard was a few well-placed grunts throughout the game. Thankfully, Xbox Live does not yet include a webcam feature so I can continue to tell myself that I did not just get my ass handed to me by Koko the gorilla. Quickly wanting to avenge my one and only loss, I tried to challenge anyone online. After several no-response messages, I hooked up with another player and started another ranked game. This time it was Clippers vs. Nets. Surely Andre Miller couldn't miss 10 layups two consecutive games in a row, could he? Think again. [Note to Sega: while Andre Miller has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Clippers, I know for a fact that he would not miss more than 9 of 10 layups. Please fix. While you're at it, don't forget the Yao picture thing. Thanks.] As you can guess, I was blown out once again as Jason Kidd continued to prove that he is the MVP this year. In between stealing the ball from my team every other time down the court, Jason Kidd thrilled the crowd by transforming the bricks that Michael Olowokandi was chucking into bread. Sullen and demoralized after back-to-back stompings, I decided to give it one more college try before going to bed and crying myself to sleep. I started a ranked game and was soon challenged by a tag-team opponent. I looked at their won-loss record-- finally someone with a losing record! At that point, anyone that won less than 95% of their games would have sufficed. Having had enough of the Clippers, I chose my three-time world champion Lakers to take on the high-scoring Dallas Mavericks. Using the knowledge that I gained from my first two losses, I managed to get to the half leading comfortably as my high-percentage two pointers counteracted Dallas' lower percentage three pointers. Unfortunately, in the second half, Dirk Nowitzki started heating up and nailed three after three (after three ad nauseum). With every minute that passed, another point of my lead was shaved off. With less than a minute to play, another three pointer by Nowitzki gave Dallas a three point lead with 20 seconds left. The horror! As I couldn't bear to think about starting off 0-3, I hurriedly ran up the court with Kobe and nailed mid-range jumper to pull myself within one with 10 seconds left. Miraculously, I was able to steal the inbounds pass with Kobe and feed Shaq for a layup (a la Larry Bird against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals). As time expired, my opponent threw a Hail Mary that came dangerously close to going in. I danced a celebratory jig, wiped the champagne from my brow, and went to bed... with a one game winning streak! After playing in single-player mode for months, I can honestly say that I doubt I will ever go back. It's just so much more fun and exciting playing against unpredictable human opponents who each have their own style and strategy. It actually felt like I was participating in a real NBA game with all the highs, lows, and everything in between. It truly was an amazing experience. I was very impressed by the smoothness of the online gameplay. It was almost like I was playing somebody sitting next to me. Perhaps when I get more comfortable, I'll actually turn on the mic and say "Boomshakalaka!" whenever I get a dunk using the robot voice mask (maybe not). But for now, I'm just grateful for the online gameplay experience. Granted, in my short time playing, I haven't encountered any cheaters or pausers or a-holes. Hopefully I won't because I really like what I've seen so far. Kudos to Microsoft for setting up such a great service. I look forward to playing many more Live-enabled games in the future with and against some of you HTFers. It's like the NBA slogan-- LOVE IT LIVE!