It is difficult to find a video game series that has had such a stranglehold on its genre the way that NBA 2K has. When it debuted, it had some competition from NBA Live but the franchise dominated things so much that EA Sports had to take a few years off to retool things.
More than two decades after it began, NBA 2K remains as strong as ever. With so many great installments over the years, the longtime fans have had trouble figuring out which is the greatest ever. Many have taken to Ranker to share their votes on the best entries.
10 NBA 2K (1999)
Obviously, the first-ever NBA 2K game can’t really hold a candle to the latest installments in terms of smooth gameplay and graphics. That being said, it’s the kind of thing that is iconic and incredibly important, so it still holds an impressive place in franchise history.
The game saw Allen Iverson on the cover, which is fitting since he became synonymous with the series in its early years. Although it was missing some of the modes that later entries had, the game stood out for being more realistic than its counterparts.
9 NBA 2K9 (2008)
It makes sense that defense seemed to be a focus of NBA 2K9 since Kevin Garnett was on the cover and that was his calling card. Although the gameplay was once again a hit, the thing that stood out this year was the improved presentation.
NBA 2K9 saw Clark Kellogg and Kevin Harlan handle commentary duties with Cheryl Miller as the sideline reporter. This was a huge step up, Harlan remained in these games for years, and commentary has continued to be better than any other gaming franchise.
8 NBA 2K15 (2014)
Once again, this franchise found new ways to make things better. The presentation aspect was boosted, this time by the addition of pre-game shows hosted by Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal, making everything feel like you were watching TV, even if some fans don’t find it realistic.
On the gameplay side of things, NBA 2K15 was another slam dunk for the series. The other major addition was that players now had the ability to scan their faces into the game, making their created MyCareer characters look as perfect as possible.
7 NBA 2K12 (2011)
One of the biggest selling points for this franchise is that the games now feature plenty of classic teams. You can use every team currently in the league as well as so many from the past, with NBA 2K12 marking a huge upswing in that department.
With Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird on the covers, the game immediately made it clear that the past was prominent. The “NBA’s Greatest” mode allowed players to relive some of the most iconic games in history, making it a favorite for fans new and old.
6 NBA 2K13 (2012)
A year after three legends were showcased on the cover, the series looked toward the future. Three rising stars shared the cover as Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, and Kevin Durant were the featured stars.
Obviously, this worked for the expected things like gameplay but two new aspects made it stand out. First, this marked the debut of MyTeam, a mode that remains a popular hit to this day. Second, NBA 2K13 also saw Jay-Z added as a producer and he helped curate an incredible soundtrack.
5 NBA 2K10 (2009)
In a lot of ways, NBA 2K10 feels almost like the end of an era for the franchise. This was the last game released before they added so many classic teams and many of the modes that have become a staple. However, it also feels special in its own way.
This installment made big changes to career mode and dubbed it MyPlayer, which would later become the now-iconic MyCareer. There was also Doris Burke joining the commentary team and releases for the PSP and Wii, which had never been done before. Throw in Kobe Bryant on the cover and this was a great time to be a fan.
4 NBA 2K17 (2016)
No matter how good a sports game’s presentation is, it can still be incredibly difficult to nail the atmosphere. The crowd never seems to react exactly how they should when a big play happens and the arena just doesn’t seem to sound authentic.
NBA 2K17 looked to fix that by having the Visual Concepts team travel to every NBA arena to record audio that would be used in the game. It’s still not perfect but it was a positive change. MyLeague also saw huge changes, allowing players to control every aspect of their league and even relocate teams.
3 NBA 2K14 (2013)
While the production value of NBA 2K13 with Jay-Z working on it was impressive, it took another step the following year. This time around, LeBron James took over the reins, handpicked the soundtrack, and was the cover athlete.
The game also featured the “Path to Greatness” mode, which let players control James through some of the biggest moments of his career. NBA 2K14 also marked the debut of the EuroLeague teams, adding even more playable options.
2 NBA 2K11 (2010)
Due to contracts with the NBA Player’s Association, some stars haven’t appeared in video games for a long time. Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, and Rasheed Wallace are just a few of them. For the longest time, Michael Jordan was in that group.
However, NBA 2K11 saw Jordan make his return and he did so in a huge way. Jordan was the cover star and the focus of the “Jordan Challenge” mode where players had to recreate the most iconic games from his career. There was also top-notch gameplay to make it all come together expertly.
1 NBA 2K16 (2015)
The franchise took yet another big step forward when it comes to presentation in NBA 2K16. It’s one thing to have Jay-Z and LeBron James work on the games but it’s a totally different story when acclaimed director Spike Lee joins the fray.
Lee wrote, directed, and produced the new storyline in MyCareer which many hold up as the best in the franchise’s history. Other aspects of that mode didn’t work as well but the game made up for it with major successes in other avenues.
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