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 and Williamson 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.
If you missed Part One, you can check it out here.
How Every NBA 2K Cover Athlete Fared that Season, Part Two
LeBron James: 2k14, 2k19 20th Anniversary Edition
How did LeBron James not make the cover of NBA 2k until 2014? By the time James hit the cover, he was already a two-time champion and a four-time NBA MVP. He could have retired in 2013 and been a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. I digress.
James was the fourth athlete featured on the cover the year after winning a title. The first three were Ben Wallace, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant. Additionally, Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were the only two players to have won the NBA title as reigning cover athletes. Could James join that list?
No. Despite being on one of the most impressive three-year runs in NBA history, James fell short of the NBA title in 2014. He did average 27.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game during his impressive final season with the Miami Heat, though, so that has to count for something.
James would later appear as the cover athlete for the 2k19 20th Anniversary Edition as well.
Kevin Durant: 2k13, 2k15
Okay, so technically Kevin Durant doesn’t fit in here because he was a cover athlete before 2014. But, since he had a solo cover in 2015, it felt more appropriate to put him here. Get over it.
Ironically, Durant saw a slight dip in his statistics after appearing on the cover of 2k13. He won four NBA scoring titles in five years from 2009 to 2014 with the only exception coming in the 2012-13 season. However, he still put up 28.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game that year.
Durant saw another dip after appearing on the 2k15 cover. He would only play 27 games the next season due to injury and averaged the fewest points per game in a season since his sophomore effort. For Durant, there seems to be a bit of a 2k curse.
Steph Curry: 2k16
Steph Curry had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history in 2016 right after his NBA 2k cover debut. He averaged 30.1 points per game, demolished his own NBA record for three-pointers made in a season (402), and became the NBA’s first unanimous MVP after leading his Golden State Warriors to a record-breaking 73 wins in the regular season.
Don’t ask about the NBA Finals that season, though.
James Harden: 2k16
The 2k16 cover was very generous to its cover athletes. Not many players had a better 2015-16 season than James Harden (outside of Curry, of course), as he averaged 29.0 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.1 rebounds per game. His Houston Rockets finished eighth in the Western Conference that season, but would soon break out and become the only legitimate threat to the Durant/Curry Warriors in years to come.
Anthony Davis: 2k16, 2k20
The jury is still out on how Anthony Davis will finish the 2020 NBA season, but it’s already been one of his most memorable. He and his lesser-known teammate LeBron James have the Los Angeles Lakers atop the Western Conference through 63 games. The Lakers are also the betting favorites to win the NBA title once the league restarts in Orlando at the end of July.
As for Davis’ 2016 campaign, he was an All-Star behind a stat-line of 24 points and 10 rebounds per game. Outside of that, though, as his New Orleans Pelicans finished with an abysmal 30-52 record. At least he can win games now alongside one of the best to ever do it.
Paul George: 2k17
All jokes aside, George had a solid final year with the Indiana Pacers in 2017, putting up 23.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He was an NBA All-Star that year and led the Pacers to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, though they got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
Kyrie Irving: 2k18
LeBron James was on the 2k14 cover for the Miami Heat and switched teams the next season. Paul George was on the 2k17 cover for the Indiana Pacers and switched teams the next season. Kyrie Irving was on the 2k18 cover for the Cleveland Cavaliers and switched teams before the game was even released. NBA 2k actually had to release a new cover to show Irving on the Boston Celtics.
Despite Irving’s tenure in Boston being viewed as nothing short of a dumpster fire, he had a really good year in 2017-18 after donning the cover. He averaged 24.4 points and 5.6 assists per contest while leading the Celtics the second-best record in the East. Of course, Irving would only play 60 games that season and missed the entire playoffs. His Celtics still managed to push the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but when Irving returned, the whole ship went down.
Was it all Irving’s fault? Of course not. Yet, to this day, Irving gets a bad rap for his tenure in Boston.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 2k19
The Giannis Antetokounmpo hype train took off a little early but reached its destination during the 2018-19 season. After earning a spot on the 2k cover, Antetokounmpo put up one of the most dominant seasons in recent NBA history averaging 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds while leading his Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the league. He earned MVP honors as a result, but fell just short of the NBA Finals, losing to Kawhi Leonard and the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.
Antetokoumpo is poised to repeat as league MVP in 2020 behind a daunting stat-line of nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists per game.
What it Means for Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson (2k21)
Now, it’s time for Lillard and Williamson to hit the cover. Lillard will be the cover athlete for NBA 2k21 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but Williamson will debut as the first cover athlete for the “next-gen” consoles, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X.
Though there is far from a consistent patter on how the 2k cover athletes fare after receiving the honor, more times than not, those athletes find at least a moderate level of success.
Of course, Williamson will have his best season to date in 2021, since he hasn’t even played 20 NBA games yet. For Lillard, the future isn’t as bright as it once was. He’s in his prime but doesn’t have as much time left as his “next-gen” counterpart. Perhaps his Portland Trail Blazers will find a way to compete for an NBA title sooner than later, but the clock is ticking.
Other Cover Athletes
This list has primarily focused on cover athletes for the base version of each game. Special edition covers have been denoted but were not factored into the analysis. To be fair to all cover athletes, here are all the other players featured on some version of NBA 2k that have yet to be mentioned:
- Larry Bird: 2k12 Limited Edition
- Magic Johnson: 2k12 Limited Edition
- DeMar DeRozan: 2k18 Canada Edition
- Ben Simmons: 2k19 Australia Edition
- Dwyane Wade: 2k20 Legend Edition
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