To understand how and why Joel Berry broke his hand after a video game is to understand two things, the second of which we’ll come to momentarily. But the first is that he shares a particular fierce video game rivalry with Theo Pinson, his teammate, roommate and close friend.
“Me and Theo have a long history of battling it out on 2K,” Berry, the North Carolina senior point guard, said of Pinson, the Tar Heels’ senior forward. The “2K” Berry referenced, for those unfamiliar, is NBA2K – a popular NBA video game.
A little less than a month ago, Berry and Pinson were at home, dueling it out once again on NBA2K17. Berry played as the Cleveland Cavaliers. Pinson the Golden State Warriors, which, Berry said, “is kind of cheating.”
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Berry, who played in his first game of the season on Wednesday night and labored through UNC’s 93-81 victory against Bucknell, was telling the story, publicly, for the first time. He’d been on the mend for weeks, after all, while recovering from his video-game-related injury.
So, OK, back to the game. The video game. Berry and Pinson were playing, and Pinson won. Berry began walking back to his room, in disgust and anger at having lost, and here comes the second thing you need to understand about how and why Berry broke his hand after a video game:
He hates to lose. “Competitive” is a word that fits him, but doesn’t necessarily do him justice, either.
“Even when I was younger I had an incident with my dad where I threw the controller at him,” Berry said, straight-faced but with an I-know-this-sounds-crazy sort of tone. “And my dad never got on me about it, because he saw the good out of it, and he saw that I just had that competitive nature.”
And so Berry, fuming after his defeat against Pinson, said he “jokingly went to punch the door.” That’d be his bedroom door. And instead of “jokingly” punching the door, he really did punch it, and his right pinkie finger caught a piece of the door frame.
Sometimes it’s the little things, Berry lamented on Wednesday. If only his punch had been a little more on target.
“If I would have hit the door straight on I would have been just fine,” he said. “But I ended up hitting the door frame.”
Now, Berry has “a high tolerance for pain,” as he put it. Anyone who remembers the NCAA tournament last March and April can attest to that. Berry, after all, played on two injured ankles while he helped lead the Tar Heels to a national championship victory against Gonzaga.
So when he hit the door, his hand hurt, but initially Berry blew it off.
Then, Berry said, “I woke up the next morning and it was swollen and I was like, ‘Dang, I think I might have actually messed my hand up.’ But at least I didn’t do like the Pittsburgh player and fight my own teammate. But I brought it upon myself.”
And so began Berry’s pursuit of a diagnosis for what was a first for him: a video-game-related injury. Berry began last season hobbling around – off the court and after games, especially – on two bad ankles. He began this season with his hand in a protective brace.
When he told UNC coach Roy Williams about what happened, and how it happened, Berry said there was “a pause.” Then Williams, as he does, “made it into a joking thing,” Berry said.
It’s funnier now, in hindsight, given that Berry returned from the injury sooner than expected. After it happened, he was expected to miss at least four weeks, which meant he would have missed the Tar Heels’ first two games. As it turned out, he only missed one.
He made his first shot on Wednesday night against Bucknell – a 3-pointer from the left side. And then he missed his next 10 consecutive shots from the field, and finished just 1-for-11. Berry said he played just so he could start to “get back in the groove” and “get the rust off” before UNC’s long trip west.
Berry also wanted to play simply because being on the court – in practices, in games – is better than what he’d been doing in the weight room, and off the side of the court, with Jonas Sahratian, the UNC strength and conditioning coach. Sahratian had Berry doing “some pretty crazy stuff,” Berry said.
Looking back, Berry said, the whole thing “is actually pretty funny.”
He lost a video game to a teammate. He punched a door. He broke a bone in his hand.
“It’s just because I’m competitive,” Berry said, “and that’s what makes me who I am, and that’s what helps this team out. … You live and you learn, and I’ve tried to be as positive as I can throughout the whole thing and it gave me an excuse to work on my left hand, so I’ll use that.”
And, yes, Berry learned a valuable lesson, too – a true moral that can only be achieved through the most trying of circumstances.
“It’s not the way to take out my anger on the door,” he said. “The door was doing just fine for the last three weeks when I was out.”