Damian Lillard has been revealed as the newest cover athlete for current-generation consoles for the monster video game franchise that is NBA 2K. Zion Williamson has been named as the cover athlete for NBA 2k21 for next-generation consoles. Lillard will join a long list of illustrious athletes to grace the cover. But is there any correlation between being named the cover athlete and play on the floor? In the NFL, there’s something known as the Madden Curse, but can the same be said for the NBA? To find out, Last Word on Pro Basketball has taken a look at every cover athlete since 1999 and how they performed the next season.
How Every NBA 2K Cover Athlete Fared that Season, Part One
Allen Iverson: 2k, 2k1, 2k2, 2k3, 2k4 (ESPN Basketball)
Allen Iverson graced the cover of the first five NBA 2K games (it’s almost like he was good at basketball or something). He still holds the record for most cover appearances, a record that likely won’t be broken any time soon.
Iverson made the most of his seasons as the featured athlete from 1999 to 2004. During that span, he was a five-time All-Star, won NBA MVP honors, and even managed to make the NBA Finals. He led the league in scoring twice (2000-01, 2001-02) while simultaneously leading the league in steals those two seasons. He also led the league in steals in 2002-03.
Iverson absolutely deserved to reign as the cover athlete for those five years.
- 1999-00: 28.4 PPG, 2.1 SPG, 4.7 APG, 3.8 RPG
- 2000-01: 31.1 PPG (league leader), 2.5 SPG (league leader), 4.6 APG, 3.8 RPG
- 2001-02: 31.4 PPG (league leader), 2.8 SPG (league leader), 5.5 APG, 4.5 RPG
- 2002-03: 27.6 PPG, 2.7 SPG (league leader), 5.5 APG, 4.2 RPG
- 2003-04: 26.4 PPG, 2.4 SPG, 6.8 APG, 3.7 RPG
Ben Wallace: 2k5
Ben Wallace and his Detroit Pistons won the NBA title in 2004, so it only made sense to put the defensive juggernaut on the new 2k cover. The next season, Wallace averaged a career-high 9.7 points per game to go along with 12.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
Wallace would also go on to win his third (of four) Defensive Player of the Year awards that season, but his Pistons would fall just short of back-to-back championships after losing in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in seven games.
Shaquille O’Neal: 2k6, 2k7, 2k18 Legend Edition
Shaquille O’Neal was an absolute monster prior to his NBA 2K debut in 2005. However, despite hitting the cover back-to-back for 2K6 and 2K7, he didn’t display the dominance leading up to the covers.
During the 2005-06 season, O’Neal averaged a solid 20.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as he and Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat to their first-ever NBA Championship. The next season, O’Neal severely declined, posting just 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. However, the fact that those stats were his “decline” speaks to how utterly phenomenal he had been up to that point.
O’Neal was an All-Star both seasons as he kept the tradition alive. He would later appear as the cover athlete for the 2k18 Legend Edition as well.
Chris Paul: 2k8
Chris Paul was fresh off his sophomore season in the league when he was revealed as the newest NBA 2k cover athlete. Leading up to the cover, Paul won Rookie of the Year in 2006 and built on his hot start the next season. After donning the cover, though, he took his game to a new level.
In the 2007-08 season, Paul led the NBA in both steals (2.7 per game) and assists (11.6 per game). The latter still stands as his career-high for a season, while the former is his second-best (2.8 in 2008-09). He also upped his scoring average to 21.1 points per game, which still stands as his second-most in a season (22.8 the next year).
It’s safe to say the future Hall of Fame point guard took a leap after his 2k cover debut.
Kevin Garnett: 2k9
The final thing Kevin Garnett did on the basketball court prior to hitting the newest NBA 2k cover was scream “anything is possible” in his postgame speech after winning the 2008 NBA Finals. The next season was supposed to produce more of the same, but fate had a different idea.
Garnett struggled throughout the 2008-09 season as he battled injuries. His points-per-game average dropped to its lowest since his rookie season, though his Boston Celtics were still primed for another run at the NBA Finals. The season ended earlier than anticipated, though. The Orlando Magic knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs in the second round. Garnett would still be a force to be reckoned with in the NBA for a few more seasons, but his best days occurred before his 2k cover debut.
Kobe Bryant: 2k10, 2k17 Legend Edition
Despite being arguably the best player in the NBA for several years leading up to being named the cover athlete for 2k10, Bryant finally made his debut prior to the 2009-10 season. What perfect timing.
Bryant was fresh off his fourth NBA title run and had notched his first Finals MVP just prior to being named to the cover. Just months later, he would repeat as an NBA Champion in what would be his final championship appearance. During the season, Bryant averaged an astounding 27.0 points, 5.0 assists, and 5.4 rebounds per game while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to 57-25 record. They earned the top seed in the Western Conference and had the third-best record in the NBA.
It seems somewhat ironic that, at the time, Bryant and O’Neal were the only players to win the NBA Finals the same year they were featured on the cover. In fact, no athlete has done it since.
Again, there will never be another Kobe Bryant.
Michael Jordan: 2k11, 2k12, 2k16 Special Edition
Shockingly, Michael Jordan turned in the worst post-cover performances of any athlete on this list. In fact, since donning the cover of NBA 2K11, Jordan has scored a whopping zero points in the NBA.
Maybe it’s because he retired in 2003? Who knows?
Blake Griffin: 2k13
With all due respect to Blake Griffin, he is a bit of an outlier in terms of 2k cover athletes. To be fair, though, he did appear with two other athletes. Prior to his cover debut, Griffin was averaging close to 21 points and 11 rebounds per game through his first two seasons in the NBA. The next year, he had one of his worst seasons to date. Despite playing a career-high 80 games, Griffin only averaged 18 points (a career-low prior to the 2019-20 season) and 8.3 rebounds.
During his prime, Griffin was one of the most athletic players in the entire league, but he was never at the level to deserve a solo cover.
Derrick Rose: 2k13
Derrick Rose remains one of the greatest “what-if” stories in the history of the NBA.
Prior to hitting the cover in 2012, Rose had already become the league’s youngest MVP in history after averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists per game during his 2010-11 campaign. But then, tragedy struck.
Rose suffered what seemed like 500 knee injuries within a very short span, and his career never truly recovered. He was one of three athletes on the cover for the 2012-13 season, yet never saw the floor due to an ACL injury.
Thankfully, Rose has had a rejuvenated career as of late, though we will never know just how great he could have been.
Check back for part two of our breakdown as we look at all the cover athletes from 2k14 to the newest 2k21 athletes.
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