Video game franchises like NBA 2K allow any casual gamer to temporarily don the digital sneakers of a pro athlete. But what about the real-life NBA stars, the ones whose poetry-in-motion inspires the game? Ever wondered if LeBron or Durant can turn their on-court brilliance into NBA 2K victories? Imagine them, controller in hand, playing as themselves or even as their fiercest rivals—now that’s blurring the lines between reality and game.
Basketball season is on the horizon. NBA 2K24 just hit shelves, featuring Kobe Bryant on its cover to commemorate ’24 and introduce cross-play, along with gameplay enhancements. That means you can now challenge your PlayStation buddies even if you’re an Xbox owner.
I chatted with Ronnie Singh, better recognized as Ronnie 2K on social media, Head of Lifestyle and Content Marketing for 2K Games and a key figure in NBA 2K’s explosive growth and community over the past 15 years. He provided insights into which NBA players reign supreme in the virtual world and which… might need a bit more practice.
Some NBA talents seamlessly transition from jump shots to joystick mastery. Others? Perhaps they’re better off sticking to what they do best on the real courts. Join us as we delve into the gaming prowess (or lack thereof) of the NBA’s finest.
Tell us about the One Up x 2K24 tournaments? There’s big money up for grabs, right?
Ronnie 2K: NBA players host their own Qualifier tournaments on the OneUp platform; there will be a total of 16 Qualifiers. The total prize pool per Qualifier is $25 grand. The total prize pool for the entire OneUp x NBA 2K Championship series is set at $1 million with the finalist taking home $250k.
There’s so much content of me playing with Paul George and Jamal Murray, and you get to see them transplant, time travel back into being a kid and playing. You see what it meant to them growing up, and build those conversations and what this game has done culturally for kids interested in basketball and lifestyle everywhere.
Who was your favorite to play against?
The guy that’s the best at 2K, in my opinion, is Paul George. He’s very good. He knows how to use himself and is really smart. He has those playbooks memorized where he can see it in 2K. It’s so authentic that it really translates well. He’s really figured out how to play. I think being a basketball player has just given him an IQ edge over your average Joe. So that’s really cool to see that connected. He’s probably the top guy, but there are a lot of guys that are really good. I faced Deandre Ayton, who finished second and then…
We did an ESPN players tournament a few years ago. I don’t know if you saw that during COVID. During COVID we had a responsibility to fill the entertainment void. ESPN needed stuff, so we put NBA players together and had them trash talk from their own homes while they were sheltering, to play 2K. And I hosted the show and actually broadcast, that was 20 hours of gameplay of guys playing 2K and talking garbage. It was really, really funny. So, Deandre didn’t finish second Devin Booker who was our cover star. So I played Deandre as part of the series and you just see him turn into a total man-child.
Who did you play as against him?
He played as the Suns. I think I played as the Bucks against him. ‘Cause anybody playing the Suns… There are tiers of teams and the Suns are so stacked. They’re such a video game team that you have to give them a video game team back, and there is no better video game player than the Giannis Antetokounmpo.
So that was usually my strategy. I’d tier it with whoever they were playing. So I played Dorian Finney-Smith who’s on the Nets, and he was the Nets. And so I played somebody not… Some team that wasn’t upper echelon. I’ve won every single game except against him. And I don’t know why he beat me. I still have no idea.
I think he shot 90%. Something was going on with the game where he shot 90%. I don’t know what was going on. But you just see these guys and their enjoyment of the game is remarkable. All those guys play. You know what I mean? And they all talk trash online. It’s just another way to engage and engage the community…
Yeah. But they’re talking trash privately though to each other online.
Well The City allows you to talk a little more trash where it’s public, like where you… So you’ll have a logo in the game. So they’ll have an NBA logo, so people will know it’s an NBA guy that’s jumped on and at three-on-three and the park games. You get open mics so you’re talking trash to four people. And Pro-am is a whole other thing. You’re trash talking to nine other people, so there’s lots of documentation of people talking trash, but that’s what’s great about it, you know?
Okay. So who’s trash?
Who’s the garbage of the game?
I don’t know if anybody is. They all have an IQ. I don’t know if anybody’s total garbage. I’m trying to think of somebody I played that was like that. I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus that bad, either.
I’m trying to think if somebody stood out. You know, I can give him a hard time because he’ll find it funny more than anything else. Two guys, Andre Drummond, he plays all the time and when I played with them he definitely thinks he’s better than he is. [chuckle] It’s pretty funny.
And then Andre Igoudala, he doesn’t play as much as he used to, but he used to play a lot. Now his kids play and so that’s the only time he plays.
Did Iggy play as himself a lot?
Yeah. But now he’s is one of the veterans. He’s got an 11-year old, I think, so he’ll play with his kids, but he doesn’t play 2K religiously anymore. That’s what’s great about our game, it’ll give you what you give, it’ll return to you. So the guys that are usually good have put in the hours to be good, you know?
Who would you like to see play more?
Giannis and his brothers talked to me about being a fan. They hit me up all the time for stuff. And they say Giannis plays a lot, but I’ve never seen it.
Does he have a burner account that he plays on?
Probably. I mean, there are so many stories like that. So Kevin Durant plays our game a ton, but he’s one of the few guys in the league that’s asked us not to put his head or logo on, which is actually funny ’cause that’s how he is on Twitter too and so seeing that is kind of hilarious. He asks… All the guys ask for their heads. They don’t want a scan. They wanna look like themselves, and they ask for the logo so that their fans can engage them.
I think KD likes to stay under the radar and talk trash and surprise and delight his fans, which is super cool of Kevin. Kevin’s great that way.
Doesn’t want that limelight.
Well, I just think when you are logged on in the game, people swarm you. They definitely come up and if they know Kevin Durant’s playing, drop everything and try to jump in and play him in The City. And so I think a little anonymity is good for some of the guys, because they want to go in and play like a regular person.
What about Steph? How does Steph play?
I’ve only seen Steph play a few times. I think he’s busy with his kids, his empire, and his wife. The older guys like started maybe edging themselves out a little bit. He definitely has an IQ for it. I’ve watched him play. He might not know all the things you’re supposed to do with dribbling mechanics and stuff like that. But you can see he can read the playbook and it’s registering to the way he plays, which is pretty cool.
Well feature-wise, what are you the most stoked on for this year’s version?
So this year is our 25th anniversary, and we’ve really pulled out all the stops. Cross-play is number one in my mind. I think what’s crazy about that is, it’s not just a single mode, it’s across the entire ecosystem of our game. And that’s gonna take competition on a whole another level, ’cause for a long time PlayStation or Xbox, those guys that think they’re the best at one and then smoke everybody on the other console. Now we can find out who’s really, really good. So I’m excited about the competitive angle of our game with cross-play.
It’s not been talked about a lot lately, but I think that’s the big thing and I’m excited about that. Obviously, Mamba moments will celebrate Kobe.
Can you talk through the tribute to Kobe?
We’ve had moments for Michael Jordan in previous titles, so we had to do it for Kobe and celebrate these amazing moments in his career. There are seven moments that you get to relive. So there’s some top ones. Did you know that he had the three points in a game record before Steph and Clay kept breaking it over and over again?
No. Really? That’s awesome.
Now it doesn’t sound that impressive, but he had 12 threes in a game, so you get to relive that, which is challenging. He had 62 and three quarters, which now, you know, Steph and Clay have done that a few times, but getting to relive those historic things is super awesome. It’s just right for us to celebrate his legacy and career.