Illustration by Michael Pantaleon.

“NBA 2K23” released on Sept. 9, 2022. It is available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Nintendo Switch and PC. 2k releases annually, and is all but guaranteed to meet sales expectations, similar to that of an annual iPhone release. 

Despite this, 2k may be able to attract new fans or returning fans this year because of some new and returning additions.

So let’s take it back.

The year is 2010. 

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers had just defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 winning back to back championships, and giving Bryant his fifth championship overall. 

Lebron James had broken Cleveland’s heart and “has taken his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat.” 

That fall, my sister and I saved up money to buy an Xbox 360. She bought the system, and I paid for Xbox Live. Our username was xxajgotskill23. My sister would go on to spend the majority of her time playing “Left 4 Dead 2.”

I, on the other hand, would spend the majority of the time playing “NBA 2K11.” 

NBA 2K23 has brought back the Jordan Challenges from NBA 2K11 (Courtesy of NBA 2K11)

When I first booted up our brand new Xbox 360, “NBA 2K11” the game opened to Michael Jordan coming out of the tunnel while “Sirius” played, the song synonymous with the Chicago Bulls, as my dad was looking on saying “Oh, it’s the “Showtime Lakers.”

The game’s opening tutorial — as the game installed — has you playing as the 1991 Chicago Bulls vs the 1991 Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson. 

Jordan had signed an exclusive deal with 2K Sports, meaning he would not be the other known basketball game at the time “NBA Elite 11” which was formerly the “NBA Live” series. 

This was significant because back in Jordan’s prime in the 1990s, he was actually noticeably absent from the basketball games at the time. When playing most basketball games at the time, if you were playing as the Chicago Bulls, your version of Jordan was a generic player that played like MU, without ever using his likeness.

“NBA 2K11” would dedicate an entire mode to MJ, known as “The Jordan Challenges” and play some of Jordan’s most memorable games of his career. The mode had you play some of the most legendary teams such as the “Showtime” Lakers, Larry Bird Celtics, Bad Boys Pistons, Patrick Ewing led Knicks, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp Seattle Sonics, and John Stockton and Karl Malone Utah Jazz teams. 

The mode gave fans, old and new, a chance to relive Jordan’s career — even if they never saw him play a game before. 

“NBA Elite 11” would later be cancelled, due to the very viral glitches that occurred during the demo, whereas “NBA 2K11” would go on to be 2K Sports best selling game at the time.

The “Jordan Challenges” alone would not be able to hold the attention of most for too long. 

2k11’s career mode was only about basketball and endorsements back then, there was no story mode, which is what 2k promotes a lot when you play a current “MyCareer.” 

Instead, the only noticeable cutscene were press conferences after a game, that could boost or lower team morale based on how you answer the media’s questions. You could also take your player online and play team games. 

There was no virtual currency during this time, you just had to play the game to upgrade your player. 

This is a vast difference to current times, where virtual currency, paid for by real money, is almost a necessity to compete, unless you want to play the game as if it were another job. 

I named my player Cam Newton, who had just won a National Championship in College Football, before he played for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.

I would play with randoms online, which would now be the Rec Center in modern 2ks. 

I did eventually want to play “Crew Mode,” which would be “Pro-Am” and park modes in the current 2ks. You could use your player with other players, and if you were missing a spot, NBA players would be your teammates, instead of a random generated player.  

It would be possible for you to be teammates with players such as Kobe, Lebron, or Carmelo Anthony, as well as the other players during the 2010-2011 NBA season. 

I would later go on GameFaqs to find random people online to make a team —it was an interesting experience.

 “NBA 2k23” sees the return of 2K11’s “Jordan Challenges” in addition to five additional games added. 

Each game has an interview, so it is very reminiscent of the “Last Dance” documentary that became so popular in 2020. The style of play within this mode is in line with the times of that era. 

Instead of the modern NBA that is dominated with three-point shooting, MJ uses his mid-range game and athleticism to win, while also enduring the hard fouls that were legal back then. 

The “MyGm” portion of 2k has not really seen any improvements in recent years. But, this year the added “MyNBAEras” might keep the mode less stale this year. 

In “MyNBAEra” you could start out in four different eras of basketball. Each era will organically have the changes that happened in real life such as the addition of expansion teams, relocation of teams, rule changes and the changes in the salary cap. 

What makes the mode unique is each decade will also mimic how the times were. For example, the 80s and 90s will have lower scoring games. The present NBA will see higher scoring games as more teams emphasize shooting threes. 

In the 1980s, the faces of the league were Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. The game lets you import the draft class that has Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. The 1990s was dominated by Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The top draft pick that teams would be fighting to get was Shaquille O’Neal. The 2000s have Shaq and Kobe dominating the league in midst of their three-peat. Many franchises could become contenders again if they are able to draft LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, or Chris Bosh. The last era is the present day NBA based on the upcoming 2022-2023 season. 

The other two popular modes in “NBA 2K23” are “MyTeam” and “MyCareer.” 

Some of the noticeable additions to “MyTeam” are the elimination of contracts and a co-op “Triple Threat Online.” 

The elimination of contracts in “‘MyTeam” means that you won’t have to worry about constantly spending coins to keep a player eligible to play. In essence, once you acquire the player, they are eligible to be used (unless restricted in certain modes).

“MyCareer” has changed their builder for their games. If you’ve ever played “Pro-Am” or games in the city, you would be very familiar with meta. 

In “Pro-Am” most teams will run 5 out: 

  • have a big set a screen 
  • the guard goes left right to green a 3

Games in “The City ” also have a similar meta in 2s and 3s, the set a screen, left right green a 3. The builder has been redone in hopes of having a more balanced game, and more variety in playstyles, but that remains to be seen.

I’ve actually owned every single 2k since “NBA 2K11.” 

Yet, I found myself not playing every game, despite owning them all. There are exceptions to these. My favorite 2ks of all-time are “NBA 2K16” and “NBA 2k11.”

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but 2k16 just hits differently, and fits the vibes of the 2015-2016 era. For me, personally — things good or bad — it did not affect me as much, because 2k16 was just that good of a game. A game that I would play with my friends until the early morning hours of 4 or 5 a.m., consistently. 

While there are other cover athletes for “NBA 2k23” such as Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, former UConn teammates Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and rapper/pro basketball player J.Cole, the main cover athlete is Jordan, who other than James, is synonymous with the No. 23 in the NBA. 

Expectations are usually raised whenever Jordan is a cover athlete. Only time will tell if “NBA 2K23” is an all-time great.

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