August is the month where motivation goes to die. It’s also the time of year when the league’s 30 front offices hold their collective breath for 31 days in the hopes their superstar doesn’t injure himself in some stupid pickup game. Really, that’s a pretty accurate summation of what’s happening across the NBA.
But the lack of anything consequential does leave time for other things, like video games.
NBA players and video games go together like peanut butter and video games. (I can’t stress the August angle enough.) While no news has broken about any players diagnosed with Fortnite addictions, the vast majority of the NBA plays video games routinely, especially the NBA 2K series. And they can get downright ornery about their in-game ratings. It’s become a time-honored tradition for players to call out Ronnie 2K on twitter about their ratings, and it’s a dry day in Portland when they approve. For those wondering, Deandre Ayton’s rating is a 79.
(Speaking of traditions, the tradition of players not knowing or caring what their NBA Live ratings are is going strong into its second decade.)
But there is another component to video games that gets people talking, and that’s cover athletes. This year, Giannis Antetokounmpo graces the cover of the NBA 2K19 standard edition, and LeBron James is featured on the cover of the 20th Anniversary Edition that retails for a $99.99 premium. Joel Embiid is on the cover of EA’s NBA Live 19, but he might as well be on a milk carton.
Those with a sharp eye will notice there weren’t any Phoenix Suns mentioned, and any video game aficionado can tell you Phoenix players don’t have an esteemed history headlining games.
Amar’e Stoudemire was on the cover of NBA 06 and NBA 08 before that property went belly up. Boris Diaw co-covered the French versions of NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08 with Tony Parker. Stephon Marbury was on the cover of NBA Ballers in 2004, but he was traded to the New York Knicks a couple months before the game’s release so probably shouldn’t count.
In fact, the most prominent Sun at headlining video games is Charles Barkley. He was the star of Barkley Shut Up and Jam!, released in 1993-94 for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles when players were little more than dribbling, dunking 16-bit blobs. He later featured in Barkley Shut Up and Jam! 2, released for Sega Genesis in 1995. Barkley also stars at the main protagonist in Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, a 2008 freeware RPG that serves as a tongue-in-cheek sequel to both Barkley Shut Up and Jam! and the film Space Jam, wherein Barkley has performed something called a “Chaos Dunk” in a game that killed everyone in attendance and caused basketball to be banned. Michael Jordan is in it and so is a cybernetic Vince Carter and, you know, just click here.
So yeah, it’s a sparse list. But change could be on the horizon.
Games are moving away from adorning their boxes with well-established players from big markets and trending towards players with emerging cachet. It’s the digital version of assembling a team “full of potential.” Cover athletes are skewing younger than they used to, and games are shying away from having athletes appear on covers in consecutive releases, preferring fresh blood with their yearly offerings.
Take the 2K franchise for example. Antetokounmpo, the cover athlete for the new 2K19, has five seasons under his belt. Before him, Kyrie Irving had six when he got the cover of 2K18. Paul George also had six before he got the nod for 2K17. Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Anthony Davis had six, six, and three respectively before getting individual variants of 2K16. That is six players who made their 2K cover debuts in the last four iterations, and none of them had more than six years of NBA experience.
Those trends bode well for a player like the Suns’ Devin Booker. He is young and entering his fourth season in the league. He has a growing profile, having just signed a max extension with Phoenix and participating as a member of USA Basketball. His stats last season (24.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) place him among the league’s best, and a 70-point game adds shine to anyone’s CV.
But Booker still has work to do in a couple important areas if he wants to rep a Suns jersey on the cover of 2K. Since Chris Paul’s cover for 2K8, no player has made a 2K cover (standard U.S.) without at least one trip to the playoffs and two All-Star selections.
Sadly, Booker has neither.
However, Booker still has time. By his sixth NBA season, he could have two or three All-Star selections to his credit and a playoff berth or two as well (some would argue he better). If he adds those unofficial prerequisites to his other accomplishments, Booker could be a prime candidate to be featured on NBA 2K22.
Or NBA Live 22...I guess.
Will Devin Booker ever be the cover athlete of a video game?
This poll is closed
He was already on an NBA Live cover but nobody noticed
Shhh! I’m playing Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden