GAMING & ESPORTS

Exclusive: Inside NBA 2K22’s NBA 75th Anniversary Cover Starring KD, Dirk, & Kareem

Durant, Nowitzki, and Abdul-Jabbar join Luka Dončić and Candace Parker as this year’s 2K cover athletes.

From the Valley to the Deer District, the NBA Finals are in full bloom. But across the whole NBA calendar at this stage of the 21st century, it might just take a no-mercy Game 7 for real basketball to match the single-day global excitement and sheer commercial explosiveness of one annual tradition that never fails to send the gaming world into a frenzy:

2K Day.

On this year’s edition of the virtual holiday — September 10, to be exact — we will welcome NBA 2K22 into the world. And today, the game’s cover stars are revealed.

Luka Dončić graces the game’s Standard Edition and Cross-Gen Digital Bundle covers, but the 2K team has pulled out several more stops to celebrate the league with a very special release.

2K22‘s NBA 75th Anniversary Edition cover features a starting lineup of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant.

NBA 2K22 “NBA 75th Anniversary Edition” cover featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant

“Sharing the cover with two of the greatest big men to ever play is a real honor. Kareem is an undisputed legend, Dirk elevated the template, and I’m still out here putting my mark on the game,” said Durant. “NBA 2K gives younger hoopers the chance to experience the brilliance of Kareem and Dirk’s play, and the creative control to further change how big men play the sport.”

Designed by Atlanta-based artist Charly Palmer, the NBA 75th Anniversary Edition is a snapshot of decades of basketball delivered with bold, evocative colors.

“Our cover’s always been a vehicle to story-tell, whether it’s a 2K story, a player story, or something around the league itself,” NBA 2K VP of Global Marketing Alfie Brody told Boardroom. “So it’s just an opportune time to celebrate 75 years from a fan perspective. It’s going to be exciting because we all know that everyone has their opinion on who should be on that list.”

75 Years of Stars

Sure, the “My GOAT”/“Not My GOAT” debate will never go away. Basketball Twitter would implode on itself if such a thing actually happened. But if you’re looking for three players to tell the story of the first 75 years of the Association — especially if your through-line is the evolution of what it means to be an NBA big man — you’re not going to waste a solitary breath arguing against these three.

KAREEM, whose impact on the game could never fade. The inventor of the skyhook is a six-time NBA champion, six-time league MVP, Hall of Famer, the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, and has been a leading voice on civil rights and social justice for more than 50 years.

DIRK, an enduring symbol of both the ever-expanding global reach of the game and the evolution of the NBA big man into a no-mercy knockdown shooter. The NBA champion, MVP, and 14-time All-Star captured imaginations by redefining what it meant to bring the European game across the Atlantic.

KD, whose legacy has long been secured despite the fact that his story is still being written. An 11-time (and counting) All-Star, league MVP, and two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, the Brookly Nets superstar is an NBA 2K cover athlete three times over.

This iconic trio will bring the NBA 75th Anniversary Edition of the game to life. But big men aren’t the only cover athletes with history on their side.

“Record-setting” may as well be Luka Dončić’s official title. It ought to be written on his placecard at fancy dinners. And if you ever saw a glass ceiling that needed shattering, Candace Parker is game for that.

In Standard Edition copies of the game that will be sold exclusively at GameStop and EB Games, the Chicago Sky power forward/center, WNBA champ, and two-time league MVP will make history as the first woman ever to land a 2K cover.

“The women’s game continues to elevate, and I love seeing Candace Parker as the first female NBA 2K cover athlete,” Kevin Durant said of the news. “NBA 2K has taken great strides to represent the women’s game in gameplay, and as a huge fan of and investor in the women’s game through outlets like Just Women’s Sports, I’m glad to be witnessing every step forward for equal representation in sports.”

Portrait of the Artist in His Bag

Charly Palmer‘s fine art and illustrations have attracted some serious patrons, including TIME magazine for its June 2020 cover story “America Must Change” and the cover art for John Legend’s 2020 album Bigger Love.

His technique and passion speak for themselves through those two pieces, as well as his latest exhibition, “On the Shoulders of Many,” on display this summer at Milwaukee’s Portrait Society Gallery.

But the opportunity to take on his favorite sport enlivened something different inside the Atlanta artist.

Behind the scenes of the 75th Anniversary cover with artist Charly Palmer

“I jumped into this with enthusiasm and excitement because it happened to be a sport that I absolutely love,” Palmer told Boardroom. “When they gave me the assignment, I knew I wanted to do a head shot and I wanted to do an action shot. It’s so much about the energy and the attitudes of players, and you try to emulate that and incorporate it as much as you can.”

There’s no pre-existing roadmap for capturing the particular energies of three inimitable superstars who came to define three distinct eras of basketball. So when it came to gaming out his artistic process, Palmer let his fandom take the wheel.

“When it comes to [these] legends, they all brought something to the game,” he said. “When you think about Dirk, he started to truly show that the European style can work in the NBA. I’m surprised that nobody has adopted [Kareem’s] skyhook. I’m in awe of Durant. I don’t understand how he’s is able to do what he does at his size. You think about him right now, he’s on this superstar team, but he’s still able to keep his own [style] and do his thing.”

But such a final product couldn’t have been possible if Palmer wasn’t given a fair chance to do his thing.

So he hit the studio and got into his rhythm. And as with any sharpshooter, when you’ve got the hot hand, you keep firing.

“It’s very much about learning to get out of the way and letting it happen. It’s like a basketball player being in the zone, where all of a sudden you just can’t miss. When I get into it, it’s just happening, and I don’t overthink it,” he said. “I just dove into it and hoped that what I did would work. I expressed my excitement for [the project].”

His ultimate hope for what 2K heads will think when they see his handiwork?

“This person clearly and truly enjoys the sport,” he said.

The State of 2K

According to market research firm NPD Group, NBA 2K21 was the No. 2 bestselling sports video game in the US in 2021, and No. 13 among all games overall, beating out killer apps like FIFA 21 and Mortal Kombat 11.

That had 2K’s Alfie Brody thinking about what else was possible.

“We’re at a point now where 23 years into the franchise, we’re always trying to re-invent and do new, fresh, innovative things,” he said. “This year, we decided to identify an artist focused on fine art, someone that had credibility within the basketball space, and someone that would really be authentic in bringing this imagery to life.”

Enter Charly Palmer, who noted that he couldn’t have been more pleased that the only directive from the 2K team was to be true to himself and let it fly.

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“The brief to Charly was really to try to tell a cross-generational story with Kareem and Dirk and KD and the evolution of the big man — and he certainly brought them to life,” Brody told Boardroom, adding that the growing strength of the NBA as a truly international game was a powerful point of emphasis for the feel and the aesthetic of 2K22.

“The globalization of the game is really represented this year, both in-game and out-of-game. The NBA has prioritized international expansion, and basketball transcends geography. It transcends culture. And so leveraging the players that we have, the partners we have, it really showcases how big basketball is globally,” Brody said. “And as we continue to focus on our own global expansion and engagement in territories around the world, it’s kind of our first really big foray into bringing that to life via our covers, our marketing efforts, our in-game experience. The international piece is probably what I’m most excited about for 2K22.”

Some things, however, never change. When you’ve got a sports franchise that’s as singular and culturally resonant as 2K, you don’t reinvent the joystick. As Brody noted, that’s why the participation of an enthusiastic gamer like Durant was especially significant this time around.

“One key variable is having someone that’s authentic to NBA 2K. Someone who actually plays the game. I know for a fact [KD] plays it religiously,” he said. “He’s very passionate about the game itself. We can learn a lot about how to improve the game and how to improve the overall consumer journey and experience from someone like that.”

As for Durant himself, he’ll be hoping that the learning experience also extends to a younger generation of gamers who didn’t get to watch Kareem and Dirk get busy under the bright lights — or witness the prodigious technique that first earned Candace Parker the moniker “SheBron.”

They’ll get their chance when NBA 2K22 launches on September 10, 2021 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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