Yusuf Abdulla is living the dream and doing something that even his own parents never thought could happen.
“They didn’t really believe in me, just because of the odds of it,” said Abdulla, otherwise known on the sticks as Yusuf_Scarbz. “Thousands of people playing 2K and only 102 spots. I tell my parents that and they thought there was no way.”
Even though his parents didn’t think there was a way, Yusuf made one.
Despite the numbers stacked against him, the 26-year-old stood out in the pack and became one of the select few to play in the inaugural NBA 2K League season when he was selected by his hometown team Raptors Uprising GC last year.
After helping Raptors Uprising to a playoff push in his first season, Abdulla has now joined Kings Guard Gaming for his sophomore year, when he was selected 53rd overall in this year’s draft.
None of this may have been possible, however, if it weren’t for a life-changing decision made by his family all the way back in 1992.
While Yusuf’s mother was still pregnant with him, she and her husband escaped the ongoing conflict in the country of Somalia and fled to Italy. After being born there, Abdulla and his parents relocated to Canada in the city of Montreal, before eventually settling down in Toronto.
Growing up in The Six, Yusuf developed a competitive fire ever since the first time he picked up a video game controller. Whether it was Super Smash Bros., Golden Eye 007, or Mario Kart – the only thing on his mind was beating his relatives and his friends.
Despite the fun he was having early on as a child playing video games, danger was never far from Scarbz. He was raised in what he described as a tight-knit but troubled area of Toronto.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve seen gun violence and stuff that I shouldn’t have seen when I was a kid.”
The threats lurking in his area were to the point where Yusuf’s parents didn’t even want him to play basketball outdoors at the nearby courts, knowing that there was often gang related activity and altercations there.
Since they knew their son loved to hoop, Abdulla’s parents got him a membership at a local gym to allow him to play basketball.
When he wasn’t on the hardwood in real life, Yusuf also started developing his new hobby – playing NBA 2K. As an only child, he said it often got lonely in his younger years, but having a game where he could make new friends and play with them online helped to fill that void.
“Growing up as an only child made me wish I had a brother,” said the Toronto native. “But once I got on the sticks, I had online brothers basically.”
Hooping at a gym and staying indoors to play 2K meant that Scarbz was able to stay away from the trouble just outside his doorstep. Unfortunately, that was not the case for everyone. One of Yusuf’s closest friends Samatar Farah was shot and killed in Toronto just a few months before Abdulla would hear his name called in the 2018 Draft.
“He was the nicest guy. He would never get into trouble. Just at the wrong place and wrong time,” said the 26-year-old. “Being at the funeral and thinking about how I was just with him the other day; it was crazy.”
In memory of Farah, Abdulla wears No. 35 on his jersey – the same number that his friend wore when he played basketball.
I will be wearing #35 for my friend who passed away Samatar Farah I love you brother
— Yusuf_Scarbz (@Yusuf_Scarbz) April 8, 2018
The passing of his friend was a major part of the Kings Guard forward’s decision to pursue a career in criminal justice as a police officer. Even before the tragedy struck him personally, Yusuf knew he wanted to do his part in helping stop the violence in his community.
“If [Samatar’s] getting killed, then I’m sure there’s a bunch of people out there too like him,” said Scarbz.
Abdulla has completed several years of education on the road to becoming a police officer and is just one semester away from completing his Bachelor’s degree in criminology.
Prior to living out his next chapter of law enforcement, he’s focused on continuing his current dream job of being a pro 2K player. This season at power forward for Kings Guard, Yusuf is currently ranked second in the League in blocks per game.
Sacramento may be far from home for No. 35, but Scarbz has been enjoying the adjustment.
“I like the atmosphere. The people are cool here,” said Yusuf. “It’s a nice vibe — I like it.”
Abdulla’s life thus far has been a testament to rising above challenges in one’s path, and he hopes to continue doing so in his 2K career. For all the 2K League hopefuls out there, striving to make it in the professional realm someday, he offered simple but inspirational words of wisdom.
“There’s going to be obstacles, but just play your game how you always play it.”