PHOENIX, Arizona (Reuters) - Imagine playing around with an NBA videogame and creating a custom jersey for your virtual NBA players to wear on the court.
Now imagine having that virtual jersey worn by some of the biggest names in the NBA on the real hardwoods of the US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona during the 57th NBA All-Star weekend.
For 18-year-old gamer Tim Ahmed from East Meadow, Long Island, this will become reality when the NBA All-Star Rookie and Sophomore teams take the court February 13 during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam.
The purple All-Star jerseys donned by the likes of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose were created by Ahmed using a videogame and he won the inaugural EA Sports' NBA Live 09 Jersey Creator Contest.
While creating custom players and jerseys to be worn within sports videogames has been the norm for years, this contest marks the first time that a pro sports league has opened up its uniforms to gamers.
"I'm really excited about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has been given to one of our fans, Tim Ahmed, having his NBA Live 09 jersey creation actually worn by the players," said Jeff Roth, marketing director of basketball, EA Sports.
According to Vicky Picca, senior vice president, Licensing & Business Affairs for the NBA, 85 percent of NBA players are avid videogamers.
This is one reason why the league is one of the few that awards licenses to multiple game makers -- something the NFL, PGA TOUR, NASCAR and FIFA do not do.
"Videogames are very popular in the NBA," said Boston Celtics All-Star Kevin Garnett, who's on the cover of 2K Sports' NBA 2K9. "A lot of our young guys play the games, whether it's at home, on the planes or on the road."
Game publishers are taking advantage of that popularity by further integrating videogames into the weekend events.
Take-Two Interactive is a sponsor for both the NBA All-Star Balloting and the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, EA Sports is a sponsor for the new NBA All-Star Block Party and Sony Computer Entertainment sponsors the PlayStation Skills Challenge and the NBA Official Players' Lounge at the downtown Sheraton Phoenix.
In addition to having NBA 09, NBA Live 09 and NBA 2K9 available for fans to play on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii throughout the NBA Jam Session and the free Block Party, the weekend will also offer three videogame competitions.
Fans who can't make it out to Phoenix can partake in the NBA All-Star Game virtually while EA Sports is offering soldiers overseas the chance to play NBA Live 09 against Phoenix Suns star Shaquille O'Neal via Xbox Live on Sunday.
Soldiers stationed overseas will be able to see O'Neal through Xbox Live Vision video cameras as they play one-on-one on the virtual court.
The new technology allows real NBA player stats to be regularly updated to the videogames -- further blurring the line between the real and virtual worlds.
"When I was growing up in France, videogames were the only way for us to get information on the NBA players," said Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs All-Star and cover athlete for EA Sports' NBA Live 09.
In 2008, NBA videogame sales accounted for $178 million in the U.S. alone, according to The NPD Group, down from $199 million NBA games hauled in 2006.
Editng by Belinda Goldsmith