When he was finishing high school, Nick Gartelle learned how to coach basketball.
Gartelle’s father, David, is a basketball coach, running a skills training business and working with various professional teams. So while Nick was finishing high school and living with dad in Melbourne, Florida, he had his own apprenticeship. Gartelle did go on to become a coach — albeit not in the way he or his dad might have thought.
This past season, Gartelle was the head coach of T-Wolves Gaming, the 2K team for the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. When he was promoted to head coach from assistant coach, the 23-year-old Gartelle became the youngest coach in 2K League history. According to Gartelle, his dad was all-in on him pursuing this form of coaching.
“Outside of my friends, my dad was one of the few people that really supported me going for esports,” he says. “No one else really understood it. But he actually had seen it on TV and said ‘Nick, you should look at this — you’re always playing 2K anyway.’”
Gartelle started his 2K journey back in 2018 when he was in college in New York City, going to watch the 2K League in person after class everyday. For that season, he believes he only missed a week of play because he was in Barcelona helping coach at a basketball clinic with his dad.)
“It wasn’t the esports for me really,” he says about what drew him to attend and chase a job in the 2K League. “It’s about the love of 2K. I’ve played 2K all my life. I’ve played the game since 2K9 and when I’m not working, I’m probably playing 2K. So I figured I play this every day, I might as well go for it.”
That season, he was tipped off by a friend about open job interviews with the Nets’ G League team for security and non-2K roles.
“So I went to the interviews and told them ‘I have no interest in any of these jobs, but I hear you guys are starting a 2K team and I’d like to get involved with that’, he says. “And they looked out for me and I kept interviewing and they gave me a shot.”
Gartelle spent a season with the Nets, where he worked on compiling draft reports, scouting opponents and analyzing film for the coaching staff to breakdown. After a year there, he was hired by Minnesota to be an assistant under coach/general manager Justin Butler. When Butler stepped back from coaching to focus on being a general manager, he recommended Gartelle take his palace. In year one under Gartelle, T-Wolves Gaming won the Tip Off Tournament to start the year and made the playoffs before losing to Warriors Gaming Squad.
T-Wolves Gaming center Slaughter (real name Malik Lesinger), remembers meeting Nick for the first time back in 2018 when Nick was still with the Nets. When they got to talking, Slaughter recalls Nick asking him if he thought he could make it as a coach one day in the league.
“I told him ‘you’re young right now’ and ‘there’s no coaches your age in the league,’” he says. “I was pretty much telling him ‘no.’ And two years later, he’s the latest head coach to win a banner and we are winning together.”
Slaughter also sees that year under Butler as critical for the young Gartrelle in learning how to operate as a head coach.
“He needed that year. JB really showed him the ropes,” Slaughter says. “He’ll also tell you he needs to keep growing and put in the work. And he’s a guy who is willing to do that.”
As a head coach in the 2K League, Gartelle’s responsibilities aren’t all that different from what other professional coach’s might be. He breaks down tape. He forms scouting reports for his players to turn to. He has to develop bonds with his players.
“I don’t like people to yell at me, even if I know it sometimes need to be done,” Gartelle says. “I’m more of a talk to you on the side kind of person. I watch Kara Lawson speak and the way Monty Williams speaks and watching how Kobe Bryant was coaching the girls he was working with. I took everything I could and try to mush it together.”
According to T-Wolves Gaming shooting guard BearDaBeast (real name Michael Key), Nick’s approach is all about creating a positive atmosphere, even when he’s teaching and going over film.
“He’s happy-go-lucky — that’s the best way to describe him,” Key says. “He’s alway happy, he’s energetic and really goofy. And with Xs and Os, he’s always breaking down film, giving us tendencies and what they tend to do a lot.”
“He’s one of those characters that comes in a room that’s instantly smiling,” Slaughter adds. “He’s one of those people that seems to have a good day every day. He’s the guy that keeps us together. There’s a lot of ups and downs and he does a great job of keeping us composed and keeping us going.”
For Gartelle, that’s what makes being a coach worth it. He loves basketball and he loves 2K — if he wasn’t coaching and doing it for a living, he’d almost certainly be playing it in his off-time. But as a coach’s son, even one carving his own path, he keeps going because of the people he’s working with.
“I love watching the person’s growth and watching them grow as a player,” Gartelle says. “When I was six or seven years old, my dad would take me Knicks camp, Nets camp, Laker camp – we’d go all over and I’d play basketball, but I’d watch him coach and I thought that was so cool.”
“You also just get to help them become a better person — that’s what drew me to it. It’s my job now to help them win and help them get to where they want to go.”