Q&A with Ronnie 2K on NBA 2K23: On J.Cole, Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant and more (2024)

Every fall, Ronnie Singh, aka Ronnie 2K, gets one of the first copies of the latest NBA 2K the Friday before it’s released.

As the digital face of the ubiquitous video game franchise, Singh posts his copy to promote the game, eliciting hysteria from 2K fans all over the world who are trying to secure an early copy, offering absurd amounts of money.

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“Everybody’s like: ‘Oh, my god, you have the game. I’ll fly there from wherever I am in the world,’” Singh, who lives in San Francisco, told The Athletic. “I had somebody say that they would fly from London to just pick up the game and go back. I’m like, ‘That seems like a lot.’”

The release of NBA 2K23 was a weeks-long event unto itself. The video game publisher hosted an influencer launch event in downtown Los Angeles featuring TVs and consoles to play the game early, stations to design 2K cards, T-shirts and photo booths, free food and drink and a performance by Lil Wayne. Cover star Devin Booker was in attendance, as were The Game, Swae Lee, Soulja Boy, Scotty Pippen Jr. and others.

NBA 2K23, which was released Sept. 9, features five cover athletes: Booker, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Michael Jordan and rapper J. Cole, who most recently played professional basketball in Canada with the Scarborough Shooting Stars. The cover selection process begins every February, with the selections often determined by March, a few months ahead of the June unveiling.

“Everybody mid-June is like, ‘Oh, my god, it should be the Finals MVP,’” Singh told The Athletic. “And it’s like, we can try to tell the future, but (we can’t). … There’s always a handful of guys that you would think of. But then, who do we believe is gonna fit what message we’re trying to tell?”

Singh spoke to The Athletic about choosing this year’s cover athletes, J. Cole, the return of the Jordan Challenge, 2K player ratings, improved features, adjusting the gameplay in the 3-point era, the potential return of the players-only tournament and more.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What were the criteria for selecting each of the cover athletes?

So, this is the “Year of Greatness.” That was the big thing that we wanted to kind of staple — the greatest of all time — for what we think will be the greatest 2K of all time. But Devin (Booker) is probably the best 2K player. He won that players’ tournament during the pandemic. And so he’s known as one of the best gamers, one of the best 2K players around. I think there are three reasons we pick the current cover athletes. I’d say trajectory. Somebody that’s definitely on the rise. Probably the biggest one is if they play the game. They have to play it a lot and talk about it. It’s got to be authentic. And then the third thing is how it aligns with our marketing campaign. We’re always trying to tell a story, whether it’s features or in our advertising, marketing, whatever it might be.

And Devin just checked off the boxes for all three of them. And, of course, Diana and Sue are among the greatest women’s basketball players of all time. Sue, obviously, she and I are very good friends. I was there for her last game and to get to celebrate that moment for her last season. She’s got a handful of games left — hopefully more than a few — but the amazing career she’s had, a four-time champion, she just seemed like a really logical partner. And then, of course, MJ, the 23 is the obvious thing. But I think it’s more than that. Again, I think it’s a statement about our game and it being the best one yet.

We’re GOLD! The first copies of #NBA2K23. Only one week left! Who needs a copy? pic.twitter.com/Vd2Re4lFvC

— Ronnie 2K 2K23 (@Ronnie2K) September 2, 2022

With Booker’s cover, you guys did a photo shoot. Normally, you’ll take an action shot from a game.

Yeah, people don’t know that, though. People have always thought that we have always done photo shoots for that. Devin was our first one. And what was cool about it is it allows us to just have a lot more creativity and really shift into what we want to do on the background of the cover. I think it’s contextually one of our best covers to date because it’s not a slap of an action shot. It’s actually thought out together. And so he was really excited to participate in that. I’m sure that’s probably not surprising because he’s very into his own creative (process) and things like that. And it really set the tone. I think it’s going to be one of those things that we try to duplicate as often as possible.

I think the most interesting cover is the J. Cole cover and the decision to use a professional basketball player (and rapper) who’s not an NBA/WNBA player. You tweeted that it had been years in the making. How did that connection come about?

So, J. Cole and I spoke 3 1/2 years ago. I’ll never forget this. We were at All-Star. I just played the celebrity game. He was at All-Star Saturday night, and he did that dunk thing. I’m like, “Man, it’d be cool to, like, get J. more involved.” And so him and I had a conversation that night. And he’s like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be involved in MyCAREER.” And he’s a big fan of our game. Him and Bas and Elite, they have a very successful Pro-Am team. So it’s something that they’ve always wanted to do. But a lot of these things take time. We had to figure out a storyline that matches him (and) what we’re trying to accomplish in a given year.

But the intersection between music and celebrity and fashion, and obviously 2K sits right in the middle of all of those things, so it was the appropriate time. Now, are we gonna do it again? It was very well received by our community and our fan base. I would say we’d like to lean in and make our fans happy. Whether it’s music, I don’t know. Whether it’s something bigger — celebrity, fashion — there’s a lot of ways that we could go with it. So as long as the consumer has an appetite for it, I think it’s something that we would like to continue to push the envelope on. Because that’s what we’ll always do, right? So, yes, it created an exciting opportunity to do more of that stuff. And people were really excited about it. The social media mentions were crazy.

This sh*t crazy. NBA2K23 cover. 🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯 DREAMER @NBA2K pic.twitter.com/x42onadqMq

— J. Cole (@JColeNC) September 1, 2022

In a way, #NBA2K23 has been years in making. Talked to @JColeNC for more than 3 years about integrating into MyCAREER and bringing his influence to the personality and sounds of this game. Glad to take the game to a whole new level by introducing his 2K23 cover coming this fall. pic.twitter.com/FID3cUMWck

— Ronnie 2K 2K23 (@Ronnie2K) September 1, 2022

What, in your estimation, is the biggest difference between NBA 2K22 and 2K23?

I mean, there’s a huge difference in features, right? Like, obviously, the Jordan Challenge. But the gameplay, I think the balance between offense and defense and the number of builds people will get to use. Ultimately, in previous years, especially since NextGen has come about, we’re still sort of trying to figure out how we balance outside-inside, especially with the Steph Curry generation. How do you deal with video games and shooting from the outside? Did you see that stat, by the way, the other day, that the effective field goal percentage of the points from 35 feet are more than the points from within 10 feet in the NBA? Isn’t that crazy? So how do you build a video game around that kind of thought process? You don’t want everybody to be shooting from 35 feet, but it’s in the game and it’s obviously effective. So it’s one of those things that we always have to kind of think about.

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But, yeah, I’d say, like, Jordan Challenge. The City … is smaller but in a good way. It’s a lot more compact because there was a lot of walking around unnecessarily. I think people are gonna be really excited about that. MyCAREER is more dramatic than it’s been before. It’s very, very serious in tone. And I feel like our best MyCAREERs have been more serious than more jovial. And MyTEAM, we have a triple-threat online co-op, which I think is gonna be a big wave in our community of people playing that game with legends from all over and playing it online. And no more contracts. I think people are really excited about that. So it’s just like the breadth of the game. There’s something for everyone. But we want to make sure that we lean into the communities within all of those. And we didn’t even talk about MyNBA.

One of the coolest features is the different MyNBA eras.How long did it take to put that together?

Obviously, all the research that goes into the commentary styles and the way the camera presentation looks. I think a lot of that, both for the Jordan challenges and MyNBA, the filters and the way that it looks to represent that, it’s just hours on hours of research and watching that video and trying to make it as authentic as possible. It’s very important to the team.

We have four eras: We have Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird, which is obviously early ’80s. It looks like an ’80s broadcast. Then we have MJ. And then we have Kobe (Bryant). And then we have the modern era. The way that the game has changed, the way that the presentation has changed, all of it’s different. So I think people are gonna get a real kick out of playing it in different ways. And then, of course, you have the option to kind of turn that stuff off. But I think people are really going to enjoy the amount of work and effort that went into that.

You guys also brought back the Jordan Challenge, which debuted in 2K11, and added five new challenges.

I do want to say, it wasn’t an addition. It’s completely rebuilt. The number of people that contributed to that thing — you’ll see interviews from Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and from Jeanie Buss and from Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing. As you play along with those challenges, you’ll get their point of view and what they were involved in. That just takes it to a whole other level. And so those were not even rebuilt; they were started from scratch.

So there are 15. Obviously, the 10 that existed before, because they are among his 10 most famous games. But we really thought that there was more there, especially around the first time he played Kobe. I think that one, the pass-the-torch challenge, it’s a really tough one. You have to beat them by like 20, and then he has to score 36 and hold Kobe to 20, which is really difficult to do, obviously. So they get more challenging as you go along. But it plays throughout his whole career, and it’s a good educational device for those people that didn’t grow up in the Jordan era to know who the greatest player of all time is.

Do you have a go-to team or player? I saw a couple of months ago you mentioned Kevin Durant as your favorite player to play with, depending on where he ended up this offseason.

That’s my favorite player of the modern era. Like, wherever he goes, that’s my fandom. And he’s a really good friend, too, which is kind of funny. I do a lot of press where I have to keep it fresh for me year over year, so I’ll pick different teams. I haven’t thought about who I’m gonna pick for ’23. It might be Minnesota. That might be fun. I like the two bigs and stuff. Last year I played a lot with Utah. But yeah, I might play with Minnesota.

You guys haven’t released the ratings yet. How are you unveiling them?

Yeah, so I’m gonna do a call-out to NBA players to ask. It’s a little bit later this year. I think part of the reason is we wanted to tell the story about Jordan and all that stuff. The back and forth is always entertaining with some of those guys because they really care. It’s so important to them, which is funny because it’s also totally within their hands to control by their actions on the court.

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But at the end of the day, I’ve always said, it’s a really good device for us to increase the conversation around our game. But also, if you look at the top 20 list in order, it makes sense. Now, people might get mad because we don’t have any 99s currently in the game. But I think I like it because it’s more authentic to the history of basketball as opposed to this year and losing your mind over one year.

Aye @Ronnie2K I’m gonna need an explanation on why I’m not a 99? This has become laughable https://t.co/oySQUtcDP2

— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) September 6, 2022

The last time I interviewed you, I asked about the legendary Rolodex. Who have you been talking to this week?

This week, you can forget about it. Literally right before you walked in here, Quavo called me, mad about the J. Cole cover. He was like, “Why isn’t that me?” I’ve gotten that a few times over the past few days. But obviously, we’ve got our launch event on Wednesday, so we have Lil Wayne performing and we’re trying to get that all organized. And then obviously, Wayne is going to drive celebs to this event. Everybody wants to watch him perform as one of the GOATs. So this is the year of greatness, and having him involved is great.

Tunechi answered the call 🎤 @LilTunechi #NBA2K23 pic.twitter.com/J6PejiA8lc

— NBA 2K (@NBA2K) September 8, 2022

But obviously, even more than that, it’s, “Where’s my copy?” … But it’s great. Again, one of those things, to have that kind of support and enthusiasm from people that are very busy and have a lot going on but they celebrate 2K Day just like any fan is pretty cool.

The players-only 2K tournament was a hit early in the pandemic. Are there any plans to eventually bring that back?

I would definitely love to. Obviously, the challenging thing about that is we did that in the middle of the season. And that’s probably never gonna happen again, right? Like, we’re not going to get the opportunity to have these NBA players who have nothing going on. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen. It’s just we have a small window. We are the NBA’s offseason. We announce our cover athlete right after the NBA Finals. And then our game comes out a month before the season starts. So we kind of bridge that whole gap.

But there aren’t very many opportunities for the NBA players to all be in one place and play. So the only real possibility is like a late September, early October thing to sort of be another kind of beat around our launch. But it’s challenging because then they get to training camp. So I think the timing is the biggest thing. It was very successful. And it was very cool to see those guys, like, trash talk because you don’t even hear that, like, watching an NBA broadcast. But for them to talk trash playing 2K during the pandemic, that was the really cool thing because you really got to see their personalities and how much this game means to them.

(Photo of J. Cole and Kemba Walker: Kevin Mazur / Getty Images)

Q&A with Ronnie 2K on NBA 2K23: On J.Cole, Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant and more (2024)

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