Behind the HYPE: How 'NBA 2K' Solidified Itself as a Mainstay in Basketball Culture

NBA 2K has become an influence and integral part of basketball culture — in addition to being inspired by the sport — and has come to almost perfectly reflect the current blend of the digital and physical worlds of gaming in 2021. 2K is popular among enthusiasts and gamers in general, as well as the players who are featured in the game themselves. Much like the game of basketball, the title has become a massive international hit, which has led to global basketball stars like reigning NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo and former Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, to grace the game’s covers with much fanfare. NBA 2K‘s wide appeal and mainstream acceptance can be contributed to its fitting emulation of basketball culture in the game beyond basketball, like having in-game sneaker releases and soundtracks curated by artists like Travis Scott and Pharrell. In our latest episode of Behind the HYPE, we explore this intersection of sport with culture and NBA 2K‘s role in the mashup.

In 2020, Kevin Durant signed a first-of-its-kind partnership with 2K to assist in the development of future versions. This allowed players into the mix and allowed them to have input in how the game can be made more realistic in a way that bests represents their own day-to-day life and grind. Other celebrities, like Drake, Quavo and Ben Baller, have been prominently featured in the franchise too, having had their faces scanned into the game. Before this, back in 2018 Jerry Lorenzo used the game to tease his highly-anticipated Nike Air Fear of God 1s, with its success leading to NBA 2K dropping real world sneaker releases in-game. NBA 2K has truly grown into a platform for music, fashion and pop culture, marrying all three together, to create a real lived experience for gamers as the franchise excels at keeping up-to date with certain trends.

NBA 2K21 set the bar extremely high for cultural mashups in the world of gaming, where everybody wants to live in each other’s worlds and now that it’s actually possible, it’s even more impressive that NBA 2K22 was able to top it. NBA 2K is a highly realistic video game that reflects not just the sport, but also the detailed personality and styles of each of the players, too. From their unique playing styles to what they wear on the road, developers have closely examined what players act like on and off the court. LeBron even said in an interview with ESPN that he knew how certain matchups on the court would play out in real life because he tested them in NBA 2K. Not a bad idea to get a film session in while playing, as the game can serve as an actual simulator of real life basketball as well as a fun game to play with friends.

In 2020, shirts reading “I can’t breathe” were made available in 2K20, mirroring the real world shirts players wore in the bubble in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which signified another step by the game to elevate themselves into a whole different playing field with real social responsibility measures. 2K20 also allowed players to play as WNBA players for the very first time, as well as 2K21 allowing for customizable female characters in Career mode in an effort to be more progressive and inclusive of women’s sports. Music, also remaining a huge element in the title, incorporating some of hip-hops biggest hits as well as championing up-and-coming acts. Over the years has featured music from high caliber artists and now, NBA 2K22 takes the crossover even further, with side adventures in your MyCareer option that allows you to pursue a side hustle as a hip-hop artist, almost like Miles Bridges in real life. New music will be also added every new season on first Fridays for the first time.

2K22 covers feature Luka Doncic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Candace Parker (the first WNBA player to be featured on an NBA 2K cover). This newest version of the franchise will elevate customization for gamers, giving them more control over their MyTeam and MyPlayer experiences. The City also sees a nice boost, adding more interactive features and combining MyCareer to have more narrative experiences. 2K blends real world fashion into the experience even further too, as players can deck their characters out in new releases from brands like Nike and Just Don, even if the releases seem impossible to get in real life. The game’s integration of sports, music and fashion is nearly seamless, bridging the gap between the virtual world and reality with real world in-game apparel and sneaker drops. From a product of basketball culture, to an integral part of it, NBA 2K22 easily builds its best version of the strong NBA 2K franchise yet.

Watch the full Behind the HYPE episode in the video above and head to NBA 2K‘s website to cop NBA 2K22, out now.
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