History of Every NBA 2K Cover Athlete: List

Chad Collins

NBA 2K25 Cover

Since Allen Iverson appeared on the first NBA 2K cover in 1999, the game has become an important part of basketball culture. Each cover athlete is carefully selected to reflect their impact on the sport at that time. Choosing the right player not only adds prestige but also attracts more fans of both the player and the game. The 2025 cover will feature stars Jason Tatum, A’ja Wilson, and Vince Carter.

Looking back at the history of NBA 2K covers, we can see that they have showcased some of the most iconic basketball players over the years, from legends like Kobe Bryant to rising stars. These athletes not only represent their individual talents but also the spirit and evolution of basketball itself. Special editions, like the Kobe Bryant Edition, celebrate milestones and honor legends, adding a special touch and providing fans with unique content that highlights the player’s legacy.

NBA 2K Cover Stars: History

The Early Years (1999-2004)

YearGameCover Athlete(s)
1999NBA 2KAllen Iverson
2000NBA 2K1Allen Iverson
2001NBA 2K2Allen Iverson
2002NBA 2K3Allen Iverson
2003ESPN NBA BasketballAllen Iverson

The Rise of Superstars (2005-2012)

YearGameCover Athlete(s)
2004ESPN NBA 2K5Ben Wallace
2005NBA 2K6Shaquille O’Neal
2006NBA 2K7Shaquille O’Neal
2007NBA 2K8Chris Paul
2008NBA 2K9Kevin Garnett
2009NBA 2K10Kobe Bryant
2010NBA 2K11Michael Jordan
2011NBA 2K12Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird
2012NBA 2K13Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose

The Modern Era (2013-Present)

YearGameCover Athlete(s)
2013NBA 2K14LeBron James
2014NBA 2K15Kevin Durant
2015NBA 2K16Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis
2016NBA 2K17Paul George, Kobe Bryant (Legend Edition)
2017NBA 2K18Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal (Legend Edition)
2018NBA 2K19Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James (20th Anniversary Edition)
2019NBA 2K20Anthony Davis, Dwyane Wade (Legend Edition)
2020NBA 2K21Damian Lillard, Zion Williamson, Kobe Bryant (Mamba Forever Edition)
2021NBA 2K22Luka Dončić, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (75th Anniversary Edition), Candace Parker (WNBA)
2022NBA 2K23Devin Booker, Michael Jordan (Championship Edition), Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi (WNBA)
2023NBA 2K24Sabonis (Standard), Kobe Bryant (Black Mamba and Kobe Bryant Editions)
2024NBA 2K25Jayson Tatum, A’ja Wilson, Vince Carter (Hall Of Fame Edition)

Key Takeaways

  • The first NBA 2K cover featured Allen Iverson in 1999.
  • Cover athletes highlight top basketball talent and the sport’s evolution.
  • Special editions celebrate significant milestones and players.

Evolution of NBA 2K Cover Athletes

The NBA 2K series has featured many basketball stars on its covers since its debut. Each era of the game has brought with it memorable athletes that reflect the league’s evolving talent and diversity.

The Inception and Allen Iverson Era

Allen Iverson was the first cover athlete for NBA 2K in 1999. His dynamic playing style and popularity made him a fitting choice. Iverson continued to grace the covers for NBA 2K1 through NBA 2K3. His presence in the early years helped build the game’s reputation.

Iverson’s influence went beyond just being a cover athlete. His charisma and on-court impact drew attention to the NBA 2K franchise. This era set the stage for the game’s future growth.

The 2010s: A Decade of Diversity

The 2010s saw a wide range of cover athletes. NBA 2K10 featured Kobe Bryant, followed by Michael Jordan on NBA 2K11. These choices highlighted legends of the game.

NBA 2K16 stood out with seven different covers, showcasing stars like Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Anthony Davis. This approach celebrated the game’s global appeal. New faces continued to appear, such as Kyrie Irving for NBA 2K18 and Giannis Antetokounmpo on NBA 2K19.

The diversity in cover athletes during this decade reflected the growing variety of talent in the NBA. It also marked the inclusion of international players, enhancing the game’s worldwide reach.

Representing the New Generation

Recent NBA 2K editions have featured younger, rising stars. Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson were the cover athletes for NBA 2K21, symbolizing a shift towards the next generation of players. Luka Doncic graced the cover of NBA 2K22, bringing attention to emerging talent.

In NBA 2K23, Michael Jordan returned as a cover athlete, bridging past and present. Meanwhile, the NBA 2K24 editions honored Kobe Bryant, reinforcing his lasting legacy.

These choices demonstrate a balance of honoring past legends while embracing the future of the sport. The inclusion of WNBA players in special editions also marked a significant step towards diversity and recognition of women’s basketball.

Special and Anniversary Editions

Special editions of NBA 2K often feature alternative cover athletes and are made to commemorate events or honor iconic players. These editions sometimes include additional content or perks for fans.

Commemorative Editions

The Legends Edition often highlights retired stars. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird have been featured in these editions, showcasing their impact on basketball history. The NBA 2K20 Legend Edition honored Dwyane Wade.

The Mamba Forever Edition, created to honor Kobe Bryant after his passing, includes exclusive in-game items and unique cover art. NBA 2K22 featured a WNBA 25th Anniversary Edition with Candace Parker on the cover, celebrating women’s contributions to the sport.

Iconic Editions and Tributes

NBA 2K has celebrated its anniversaries with special editions. The 20th Anniversary Edition included LeBron James, while the 25th Anniversary Edition featured multiple cover stars, emphasizing the game’s long history.

Shaquille O’Neal was the cover athlete for a special edition of NBA 2K18, emphasizing his dominance in the game. NBA 2K19’s Anniversary Edition celebrated Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan on its cover. The NBA 75th Anniversary Edition paid tribute to various legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Garnett, blending the past with modern stars.