Live, professional sports will return to the local scene Thursday night. Virtual sports, anyway, as T-Wolves Gaming opens its NBA 2K League title defense with its season opener at 6 p.m. against Hawks Talon GC out of Atlanta.

After weeks of practicing remotely, with each player participating from home, the T-Wolves Gaming team will meet up at the practice facility in Mayo Clinic Square, one floor down from the Timberwolves and Lynx’s practice facility, for the first time in a long time.

Playing at the facility is a necessity, head coach and general manager Justin Butler said, to possess the necessary infrastructure and bandwidth to pull off the broadcast; all games are streamed on the NBA 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube pages.

But T-Wolves Gaming has made the necessary accommodations to ensure the safety of the players. Traditionally, six players all sit closely together at an octagon-shaped table at the facility. Now, they will be spread out at stations across the facility, with eight to 10 feet between each player. Butler won’t be onsite, and will coach the team remotely, per the league’s guidelines.

“Probably wouldn’t have been as comfortable coming in with the previous setup,” said Michael “BearDaBeast” Key, the team’s point guard and reigning NBA 2K League Finals MVP. “The way they have it now, with everybody being spaced out … there’s wipes everywhere, there’s hand sanitizer everywhere, there’s masks if we want them, so there’s a lot of precautions, so that definitely helps the situation.”

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Butler said the start of the season was pushed back by about a month and a half. Though the regular season is finally getting underway, it won’t be business as usual in the 2K League. The league was supposed to get started with a tournament in Manhattan, at which T-Wolves Gaming would have received its championship rings. Butler is hopeful the team will receive its rings in time to have a virtual ring ceremony ahead of Thursday’s contest.

The games also will be a little different. Usually, the two teams play across from one another. Now, they’ll be at their individual practice facilities across the country, thousands of miles apart.

“We’ve got some guys who really like to talk and go at it,” Butler said, “and now we lose some of that interaction that you would see on the stage.”

That crushes Key.

“I enjoy that just as much as playing,” said Key, who grew up with brothers who provided plenty of tough love and trash talk. “For me, that’s a big key. I want to just sit there and go at the guy, even if they’re winning by 20, still just go at them. I’m going to miss that, 100 percent.”

But hey, at least this is something. The start of the 2K season is a return to a sort of normalcy for the league’s players and fans, and a chance for others to try something new.

Key knows there are plenty of people who aren’t acquainted with professional gaming, or the idea that he’s one of the best in the world at playing this basketball video game, and gets paid to do so. There was a time when he had to explain it to his own father. But he also knows whenever people ask him about what he does, and he dives into it, whether it be on an Uber, train or subway, people are “absolutely fascinated.”

What better time for the league’s audience to grow than now, when the 2K League is just about the only show in town?

“This is our chance for people who’ve never even heard of it to look at it, and then they can judge it,” he said. “For me, it’s amazing for this to be the platform. Nothing else is really going on. We can showcase it and people can kind of see what we do. … It’s the new thing, it’s the new trend, and it could be really big down the road.”

Never hurts to jump on a winning bandwagon, either. T-Wolves Gaming won the league title in the team’s expansion season in 2019. Butler noted the T-Wolves were underdogs back then. That is no longer the case. Key said opposing teams have touted preseason scrimmage victories as massive feats already this spring. That only figures to amp up during the season. That’s part of living life on top.

“That’s what we wanted. Last year, we were the underdogs, and we wanted people to know we were a top team. Now we’re getting that recognition as a top team, so now we can’t shy away from it,” Key said. “That championship is my baby. I don’t want that going home with anybody else. I need it here with me.”