NBA 2K21: Everything To Look Forward To in the Next Generation of Sports Gaming

By Richard Nebens Posted:
Michael Jordan, Damian Lillard, Zach Lavine, NBA2K21 logo

As the next generation of gaming begins with the releases of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, fans will have over 40 different options for new games to pick up and enjoy for hours on end. While most of these are single-player adventure games like the all-new Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla , the sports division is also represented with the highly anticipated release of NBA 2K21 on both PlayStation and Xbox.

The NBA 2K series has been the premier professional basketball video game ever since it first debuted in 1999, and it has continually evolved as gaming systems have become more and more advanced. Gamers can customize their players to levels never before seen, and the NBA has also provided the opportunity to enjoy the services of some of the most memorable teams in the history of the sport.

Fans of basketball and all sports are already chomping at the bit to get their hands on this new game, which should be even more impressive on the next-gen consoles after its initial release two months ago. Even though the game has had mixed reviews thus far on in its PS4 and Xbox 1 versions, it’s still one of the go-to sports games.

As fans wait to finally gain the full experience, here’s everything to look forward to as NBA 2K21 ramps up to its next-gen debut:


NBA 2K has always featured some of the greatest NBA players ever as its cover athletes, and 2K21 is no different by including covers for Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard and New Orleans Pelicans rising phenom Zion Williamson. However, due to tragic events from earlier this year, it was only right that the biggest cover star is none other than Los Angeles Lakers legend/newly confirmed Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, whose life was taken in January 2020. Kobe's cover edition of NBA 2K21 is appropriately titled the Mamba Forever Edition of the game.

While the standard edition of 2K21 is mostly similar to the Mamba Forever Edition, this new Kobe tribute-edition seems to be made for the most dedicated 2K fans. There are multiple custom jerseys, new Mamba-style uniforms, skills boosts, and other items usable in customization of gamers’ MyPlayer.

It will be exciting to find out further concrete details upon the game’s next-gen release, but 2K is doing a fantastic job paying tribute to one of the NBA’s most iconic players. Kobe Bryant earned cover athlete status for both NBA 2K10 and NBA 2K17 as well, and after his death, fans have a way to remember his impact forever with the latest special edition of this new game.

Check out some of the art used for Mamba Forever Edition in the video below:


While the NBA 2K series has always featured the best of the NBA’s current and past stars, the WNBA will be getting its shine in NBA 2K21 for the first time in the franchise’s history. This will be the first time that a full women’s professional league has been represented in a single-player sports game, and 2K21 will provide the opportunity for a women’s version of every mode offered in the men’s version.

Fans of the game will now be able to create their own personalized, female MyPlayer and use her in any of the WNBA’s twelve franchises, playing amongst all of the league's top names such as Candace Parker, Brittney Griener, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and more. None of the league's classic players have been included yet, but this is the biggest step yet in the right direction, and fans can be hopeful to see more of the WNBA's all-time greats in future editions of NBA 2K .

The 2K franchise has been popular amongst men and women for years, and 2K21 has taken a great step forward in representing women who want to see themselves represented through the WNBA version of this game.


Over most of the past decade, NBA 2K has made a concerted effort to add some of the greatest teams in NBA history for fans to play within a real game. The Bill Russell-captained 1960s Boston Celtics, the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson, the Michael Jordan-centered 1990s Chicago Bulls, and more have all made prominent appearances over the past editions of the game, and every year adds more and more outstanding options. 2K21 is no different, with this year adding four more new classic teams to play within the game.

The most recent team of these four is the 2018-19 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors, led by two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. This team won the first title for any NBA team outside of the USA, and with Leonard dominating alongside key players like first-time All-Star Pascal Siakam and formerly blocked shots-leader Serge Ibaka, they were able to take down the depleted Golden State Warriors for their first title in franchise history before Leonard bolted to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Speaking of Golden State, another version of their squad was added to this year's game in the form of their team from 2016-17, which won the franchise's second title in three years. After four-time scoring champion and eventual Finals MVP Kevin Durant joined forces with league MVP Steph Curry, shooting sensation Klay Thompson, and all-around dynamo Draymond Green, they dominated the league in the regular season and only lost one playoff game on their way to winning the championship. This is remembered as one of the most star-studded and unstoppable teams of all time, and they should prove to be a tough matchup for anyone in their way.

USA Basketball is also making a strong return in this game as 2K21 adds the Olympic gold-medal winning teams from both 2012 and 2016. 2012 featured the talents of icons like the late Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Kevin Durant, and Durant would return in 2016 alongside three-time Olympic gold medalist Carmelo Anthony and young stars such as Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins. Both of these teams obliterated the international competition and only faced challenges in the medal rounds as they brought the gold medal back to the United States once again.

Safe to say, all four of these teams are dominant forces to be reckoned with, and NBA fans will undoubtedly be eager to see what kind of damage can be done with so much firepower on the court.

Side note: Rosters for every NBA franchise's All-Time teams have also been updated after last season, including the additions of Lebron James (Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (Clippers), Trae Young (Hawks), Luka Dončić (Mavericks), and Manu Ginóbili (Spurs).


NBA 2K21 MyPlayer Builder
NBA 2K21

One of the most popular aspects of any NBA 2K game is the MyPlayer Builder, where gamers get to make their very own NBA player who looks and plays any way they want. Many fans build their own via the game's incredible customizable presets, and the game has even given players the chance to scan their own face for quicker results as they take the journey to become their own virtual NBA player and try to become the GOAT.

NBA 2K21 has taken the customization capabilities to an entirely new level, giving players so many more options on how to create their own players. Instead of the preset skill pie chart from past games, control can now be taken over each individual rating and setting to the player’s personal desire. There is even the new option to pick where exactly your MyPlayer begins their career before the NBA by starting in high school and providing options for college play and G League experience before making their way to the big leagues.

There are also dozens of new badges added from years past, with more specific skills that players can use to play the game exactly how they want to play it. Included are options like Heat Seeker, Fearless Finisher, Deep Threes, Clutch Defender, Hot Shot, and so many more that gamers can take advantage of as they create their own player.

There are even more a couple of dozen new ways to use the Takeover mode, with options like Finishing Moves, Limitless Range, Paint Intimidation, and others so that players can dominate in almost any way possible. MyPlayer has consistently been one of the most popular options of the NBA 2K series, and this year feels like it will be one of the best versions ever released.


NBA 2K neighborhood, Steph Curry, NBA 2K21 city
NBA 2K21, Steph Curry

The past few years have provided MyPlayer gamers with an entire area to explore called The Neighborhood as they improve their skills and obtain in-game items to up their game. NBA 2K21 takes this concept and expands on it exponentially by turning The Neighborhood into The City, a giant new world inside the game for players of all levels.

All of the classic locations from The Neighborhood in past games are returning, and they will be expanded upon and improved as they transition into 2K21's The City. Players will start off in an area called “Rookieville” before checking off several activities and unlocking more factions of The City over time. There are four different factions (North, South, East, and West) that players can align with and play games in a Warehouse Court in each area, which will help gamers progress more quickly with their MyPlayers.

There are also other fun options, such as driveway basketball, garage hoops, HORSE competitions, and even quests with NPCs to obtain new moves and skills upon completion. The visuals in The City are absolutely astounding, too, delivering a whole new world that is just as enjoyable as stepping on the court and playing in a real NBA game.


Even with all the extra fun that comes with playing the NBA 2K series, the core thrill is stepping onto the court and winning a game in any way possible. 2K21 has taken note of this and made some exciting gameplay changes, and even though they may take some getting used to for players of all levels, they give more control and handle over what can be done in between the lines.

The shot meter has been given a major upgrade, not only being more visually prominent as gamers take a shot but also playing a more important role in shot makes and misses. There is even the addition of Shot Stick aiming, which should be an exciting new feature as more details about it are revealed. NBA 2K Gameplay Director Mike Wang offered these quotes helping to break down the new shooting mechanics:

"So instead of trying to stop the shot meter when you reach the perfect release window, you adjust the Pro Stick in real time to hit the ideal center aim point. The target window resizes dynamically based on player ability, shooting range, and how well the shot is contested and can also shift to the left or right based on the shot’s degree of difficulty. If you miss the target too far to the left or right, your shot will miss in that direction."

Players also have much more control in this game over handling the ball, passing, and even settling where on the court they want to shoot from. Deciding between two-point shots and long-range bombs becomes that much easier to control as player functionality improves greatly with the new release. This should provide some of the best, pure basketball action ever seen in the 22-year history of this gaming franchise.


The MyTeam gameplay in the NBA 2K series has been one of the most widely utilized options for a long time thanks to multiple improvements over the years. While MyPlayer gives players the chance to become the best NBA/WNBA player they can be, MyTeam lets fans step into more of a General Manager role by building their own dream team from scratch.

Filled with usable players from both the current NBA and the extensive history of the game, this game mode can be played both online and offline with more than a handful of different options to take advantage of. These include the MyTeam Unlimited 2.0 with traditional five-on-five matchups, Triple Threat with three-on-three matchups to 21 points, MyTeam Limited with different rules to follow when creating a team, and that's all just playing online against the rest of the world.

Offline options are just as plentiful, with games against AI players including Triple Threat once again, along with Domination for five-on-five play, and different weekly challenges for players to complete for rewards. New packs featuring different players and skillsets are constantly released throughout the season, and there is even a brand new feature called The Exchange that gives rewards for completing an entire roster for one team.

Along with so many other improvements in NBA 2K21 , fans should be ecstatic about the massive upgrades to MyTeam with so many more capabilities in building their own team and dominating the competition.


NBA 2K21 Zion Williamson, NBA 2K21 court
NBA 2K21, Zion Williamson

Every single year brings improvements to the NBA 2K franchise, although the most noticeable yearly updates are the improvements to the game's graphics. That continues in a big way for NBA 2K21 , and as it finally gears up for its release on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the new game will bring undoubtedly the best graphics in the video game's long history.

In images and videos already released, the players and arenas look more realistic than ever before. Looking at the light reflections coming off of the hardwood, the way the players' uniforms move as they run up and down the court, and even the beads of sweat falling off the brows of the NBA's best, it's clear that this is the closest the 2K series has ever come to looking this realistic. It adds that much more fun and excitement to playing alongside and against professional basketball's top athletes.

This will apply even more importantly to modes like MyTeam and MyPlayer, especially as gamers scan and configure their own faces into the game to put on an NBA player's body and getting to the business of dominating. After spending most of the last decade improving internally on PlayStation 4 and Xbox 1, the next-gen consoles should provide a huge boost both in terms of visuals and gameplay for millions of next-gen players worldwide.


The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are now available for purchase primarily via online sources, although there are still delays due to both consoles selling out so quickly all over the internet. NBA 2K21 is available as a launch title for both consoles, and as fans enjoy the current-gen copies of the game, the hype is through the roof to see how the next-gen consoles take the game to entirely new levels of awesome.

In the real world, the NBA draft will officially take place on November 18, after which new rookies like LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards and more will have their likenesses added to the game with whichever teams select them. The regular season will then begin on December 22, with the official season's 72-game schedule releasing sometime between those dates and added to the game at that time.

- About The Author: Richard Nebens
Richard Nebens joined The Direct in March 2020, now serving as the site's Senior Writer and also working as an assistant editor and content creator. He started his journalism career as a hobby in 2019 and is passionate about sharing news and stories from the entertainment industry, especially comic book movies, comedy, and sci-fi. Richard looks to expand his knowledge about movies and TV every day, and he is eager to stay locked into the latest releases and breaking news at every opportunity.