Cover 2 Cover: A Retrospective on 20 Years of NBA 2K Cover Athletes | Part 1
Posted by Raphael Leynes September 14, 2020

Being selected as the NBA 2K cover athlete carries a lot of weight and importance. They get to represent both the league as well as the product during their entire reign. In some cases, the cover athlete is also involved in the game development process by citing gameplay features that they would like included and the like. They’re also involved in the promotion and community building that NBA 2K engages in as the face of the product and the brand. As such, the selection of the cover athlete is actually a very important process and is usually indicative of the state and/mindset of the game, the League, and basketball in general.


We here at GG Network thought that it would be a cool idea to look back at the 20 years of cover athletes that have graced the box of NBA 2k and try to figure out what the thought process was in selecting them. 


For the sake of brevity as well as depth, we’ve decided to split the article into two parts, highlighting the 2K to 2K10 covers this week and the latter half in another article next week. Let’s take a look!


Allen Iverson

NBA 2K, NBA 2K1, NBA 2K2, NBA 2K3, ESPN Basketball (NBA 2K4)


In many ways. Allen Iverson was the perfect cover athlete to represent the early years of NBA 2K. The Answer not only won a scoring title during that time; he also led the Philadelphia 76ers to the Playoffs and won the MVP award in those years. He also had a raw and rebellious attitude and was the face of the new guard that was set to take over the NBA. Back in the early 2000s, NBA 2K was in a similar boat, going against the more established NBA Live from EA and slowly proving their worth thanks to their technical proficiency and overall brilliance. 


Ben Wallace




After an amazing 2003-2004 season with the Detroit Pistons which culminated with an NBA Championship, Ben Wallace was selected as the cover athlete for NBA 2K5. Wallace, who averaged 3.2 blocks a game was consistently in the Defensive Player of the Year ballot,  was the cornerstone of the Pistons defensive mentality that led them to their first appearance in the finals since 1990 as well as their first championship in over 15 years


Over on the videogame side of things, this was the year when people started to really consider 2K as a viable alternative basketball videogame. They haven’t surpassed NBA Live just yet with Live releasing Live 2005, widely considered the best entry in the franchise but 2K was firmly in contention and people were starting to take notice. 


Shaquille O’Neal

NBA 2K6, NBA 2K7



The 05-06 and the 06-07 Seasons of the NBA were some of the most game-changing seasons. Not the least of which was Shaquille O’neal —the legendary Lakers Big Man who had been synonymous with the Los Angeles franchise—being traded to the Miami Heat. Shaq would continue his dominance in Miami, teaming up with the then-up-and-coming star, Dwayne Wade to give the Heat their first championship 


NBA 2K6 and NBA 2K7 were also the iterations where 2K pulled ahead in the basketball videogame race. These were the first 2K games to usher in the Xbox 360 and PS3, respectively were largely successful in bringing the experience to the then next-gen platforms. 


2K’s  simulation-style basketball offering translated perfectly to the new consoles and as such, attracted more people who were gravitating away from the arcadey romp that Live was slowly stagnating to be. NBA 2K7 was eventually where the gap widened the most, taking their simulation to the next level with signature/player-specific moves and actions, while Live struggled to keep up with the new console generation. 


I find symmetry in Shaq’s and in 2K’s success, in that they both made big, game-changing moves to pull ahead of the competition. They both found greatness just by taking a risk and trying something new. 


Chris Paul




Just as NBA 2K8 ushered in a new era of basketball simulation, dominating the competition becoming the preferred videogame in the market, they highlighted another similarly rising star in selecting Chris Paul as their cover athlete. Paul had just won Rookie of the Year in the season prior and led all rookies in points, assists, steals, and double-doubles. He would later earn a more accolades in his career including becoming a 9-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star MVP Award, and becoming a 2-time  Olympic gold medalist representing the US Men’s Basketball team. 


Kevin Garnett 





Kevin Garnett was more than just a big name trade back in the late 2000s. He became the symbol of the resurgence of super teams in the NBA. He had teamed up with fellow veterans Ray Allen and Paul Pierce who had been cornerstones of their respective teams as well as then-rising star Rajon Rondo, to finally win a championship together in Boston. The team succeeded in doing so during Garnett’s first season as a Celtic, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award as well as the first NBA Championship for Boston since 1986.  


Garnett also exclaimed “Anything is possible!” after their historic championship win which I’d like to think echoes the elation and vindication that 2K felt in rising up to become the premier basketball videogame in the market after so many years of grinding and trying to just get a foot in the door. 


Kobe Bryant

NBA 2K10



Make no mistake, the late Kobe Bryant was already a massive star before his selection as the NBA 2K10 cover athlete. He had already won 3 NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, and 2 scoring titles as well as becoming consistently selected as an NBA All-star. These were all on top of legendary feats such as multiple game-winning shots, the 81-point game, and that time he outscored a whole team by himself. However, it was his return to championship form, following his multiple struggles on and off the court from ‘04-’07, that got him to the NBA 2K cover. A revitalized Bryant led his Lakers to recapture the crown in the ‘07-’08 Season,  earning his first Most Valuable Player award in the process. 


While not necessarily struggling, NBA 2K also had a new beginning in their product with the introduction of the My Player mode. The popular mode saw players creating their own character with their desired stats and likeness and take that character to the NBA. 2K took the concept of Create-A-Player and elevated it with the use of the revolutionary “Teammate Grade” system which measured your actions on the court in more nuanced ways that what would be recorded in the stat sheet. The base DNA of this mode is still seen even in today’s NBA 2K games and it all started here.


That does it for the first half of the NBA 2K Cover Athletes from the start of the franchise to the end of the decade. We still have another 10 years to look back on which featured all-time greats such as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as well as the game-changing stars of today like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard so don’t miss the second part of this retrospective next week!


Until then let us know which cover or iteration of NBA 2K did you like the most? Sound off in the comments below!  For more on NBA 2K stuff check out Korea’s PROMY Dominates First-Ever NBA The Pacific Pro-Am Tournament and NBA 2K21: New Shot Stick, 2K Beach, and WNBA Questions Answered by the Devs!

And while you’re at it leave us a like on the GG Network Facebook Page so we can keep you entertained with more videogames and geek stuff! Take care and stay safe out there!


Now Reading: Cover 2 Cover: A Retrospective on 20 Years of NBA 2K Cover Athletes | Part 1
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