NBA 2K: the game that is part of the very fabric of the NBA

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The NBA 2K franchise has become synonymous with the sport of basketball since it started back in 1999, no doubt helped by the professional players' ongoing fascination with the game.

The player ratings that the developers at 2K Sports dish out is very serious business indeed. Players have been known to bemoan their overall ability down the years and to say the chaps creating the game come under intense scrutiny is an understatement.

As important as a player's rating is, the appointed cover star for each instalment has become a prestigious honour in itself.

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Only the cream of the crop are handed such a privilege and the proof is in the proverbial pudding. Allen Iverson - one of the slickest point guards in league history - was the front cover star for the first five NBA 2K games and his smooth handles coupled with lightning speed made the former Sixers man a pure joy to play with.

After winning the title with the Detroit Pistons, big man Ben Wallace was the first star to dethrone Iverson and don the front cover. The four-time All-Star had just played a pivotal part in the championship success and the rebounding machine was almost untouchable in the paint on that year's incarnation of the franchise.

Shaquille O'Neal would enjoy the good fortune of featuring on the 2005 and 2006 covers off the back of his success with the Miami Heat. One could argue he would have been a better fit during the early 2000's during his time with the Lakers, but, nevertheless, his paint presence on those games was indisputable. Ridiculous even.

A fresh-faced, 22-year-old Chris Paul would take over cover duty in 2007 after enjoying a fantastic start to life in the NBA during his first two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets. This made the point guard the youngest player to enjoy the honour, something that Anthony Davis has since equalled.

Kevin Garnett and then Kobe Bryant followed Paul off the back of MVP campaigns before the great Michael Jordan became the cover star of the 2010 instalment of the game, some seven years after retiring.

In NBA 2K12 the same old school theme would continue as MJ was joined by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as the poster boys. The three all-time greats wold make way for the new generation the following year as Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant assumed their position, all of whom were 23-years-old at the time.

Off the back of MVP campaigns, LeBron James and then Kevin Durant would front the next two releases respectively before the young Davis shared the pleasure with Stephen Curry and James Harden last year.

Paul George is the superstar that has been selected for the 2K17 version, set for release in late September, and not only does that make him the first Indiana Pacers star to receive the nod, it's also a crowning moment of a comeback from a career-threatening broken leg in 2014.

As you can see, not many big names are excluded from the process. For a heavyweight NBA player, earning the 2K front cover is a source of recognition for their status and isn't a distinction to be taken lightly.

Established stars like Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade are yet to have bestowed such an honour and young guns like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond and Kawhi Leonard will have, what is essentially an accolade, in their sights.

The cover is just the tip of the iceberg. As the release date for 2K17 draws closer, players will start to pay close attention to the ratings they have been allocated.

For 2K16 - Bryant's last ever 2K game as an active player - the Black Mamba was given his lowest ever rating of 85. As a playable character since the game's inception, this greatly offended some of the five-time NBA champion's peers.

Dion Waiters, who himself was rated 71, responded when asked if he deserved a higher rating than Kobe with: “Hell no! That’s Bean man.”

After recording a 14-point, 13-rebound, 12-block triple-double against the Chicago Bulls in the 201-15 season, Hassan Whiteside said in a postgame interview that he's "just trying to get my NBA 2K rating up".

2K heard the Miami center loud and clear and gave the shot-blocking machine a jump from 59 to 77.

The mainstream appeal of the game made it's way to The Tonight Show when Durant was promoting its release back in 2014. Who did the 2014 MVP play as when he played the game with his boys?

He deemed that playing as yourself was arrogant, so he had to settle for LeBron.

Make no mistake, the NBA 2K series is a part of the fabric of the league now and players pay close attention to what the game thinks. It's hard to imagine Lionel Messi scoring a hat-trick and claiming he is trying to get FIFA to up his finishing, but in the world of the NBA, multi-millionaire superstars care just as much about the game and their ratings as you do.

Durant and Drummond have confessed to being avid online players, could you knock them down a peg or two with, well, themselves?

Paul George
Indiana Pacers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Kobe Bryant
L.A. Lakers
Pacific Division
Western Conference
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Michael Jordan
Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City Thunder
Northwest Division

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