Best Games In The Series According To Metacritic

Another season of NBA 2K is about to tip off with the release of NBA 2K24. The yearly sports franchise from 2K Sports and Visual Concepts is often one of the most anticipated releases each year as excitement for the new NBA season grows. Fans are eager to see their favorite team’s new-look roster in action and explore the changes and updates made in the latest release.



The history of the NBA 2K series dates back to 1999 with the aptly named NBA 2K. The NBA 2K series has since grown to overtake EA Sports’ NBA Live series and stand alongside other yearly sports franchises like Madden NFL and FIFA in terms of popularity. Unfortunately, recent iterations have become marred by excessive microtransactions, but there is no shortage of fantastic basketball games throughout the nearly 25-year history of NBA 2K.

Updated on December 22, 2023, by Michael Colwander: The NBA season is well underway and, well, most fans are excited with where their teams are at. For those who aren’t excited, looking back at the history of NBA 2K can be an easy reminder of the good times both for their team and NBA 2K in general. This list has been updated to reflect CBR’s current styling standards.

Not all NBA 2K games have a Metacritic score; the scores listed are from the system with the most reviews.

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15 NBA 2K19 Introduced The Neighborhood And The Takeover System

Metacritic Score: 82 (PS4)

Systems

PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii

Cover Athlete

Milwaulkee Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo

Celebrity Collab?

Travis Scott, Anthony Mackie, Aldis Hodge, Haley Joel Osment, Ginger Gonzaga, Rob Huebel, Mo McRae, Ricky Whittle, and Michael Rapaport

NBA 2K19 was released in time for the 2018-19 season, which was won by the Toronto Raptors. Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was the cover athlete, who went on to win his first of back-to-back MVPs that season. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James appeared on the cover of the 20th Anniversary Edition.

NBA 2K19 marked an improvement over NBA 2K18 featuring gameplay enhancements such as the Takeover system, where stars can begin to dominate a game like they’re capable of in real life to completely shift momentum. NBA 2K19 also introduced The Neighborhood, a game mode where players play 3 vs. 3 basketball on a street court.

14 NBA 2K10 Was The First NBA 2K Game To Have The MyPlayer Mode

Metacritic Score: 82 (Xbox 360)

Systems

PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii

Cover Athlete

Los Angeles Lakers G Kobe Bryant

Celebrity Collab?

No

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NBA 2K10 was released in time for the 2009-10 season, which was won by the Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was the cover athlete, who would go on to win his second of back-to-back NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant is on the cover of NBA 2K24.

NBA 2K10 is notable for being the first NBA 2K to be released on Nintendo consoles since NBA 2K3. NBA 2K10 introduced the MyPlayer mode that players are familiar with today, where players create a customized NBA player and take them through their NBA career and other various game modes. MyPlayer was well-received by critics while much of NBA 2K10’s criticism was directed toward bugs and glitches.

13 NBA 2K15 Allowed Players To Scan Their Faces For MyPlayer Mode

Metacritic Score: 83 (PS4)

Systems

PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS

Cover Athlete

Oklahoma City Thunder F Kevin Durant

Celebrity Collab?

Pharrell Williams

NBA 2K15 was released in time for the 2014-15 season, which was won by the Golden State Warriors. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was the cover athlete, who was coming off an MVP season.

NBA 2K15 enhances the MyPlayer/MyCareer experience by allowing players to scan their faces with a compatible camera. This ensured that players can play as an avatar that looks just like them. MyCareer also received new additions such as a mentor and upgrading system, both of which enhanced the RPG mechanics while beginning to inject storylines that would become more prominent in later NBA 2Ks.

12 NBA 2K9 Added Signature Styles And Mid-Air Adjustments

Metacritic Score: 84 (Xbox 360)

Systems

PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360

Cover Athlete

Boston Celtics F Kevin Garnett

Celebrity Collab?

No

NBA 2K9 was released in time for the 2008-09 season, which was won by the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett was the cover athlete, who was coming off of his first and only NBA championship.

NBA 2K9 focused on presentation more than anything by improving the visuals, textures, eye movement, and crowd reactions. The A.I. also saw improvements and the new Signature Styles and mid-air adjustments add a level of authenticity that hadn’t been seen in an NBA 2K prior. NBA 2K9 also made improvements to the Association mode such as player personalities, player ambitions, and a slew of customizable options to further deepen an already deep mode.

11 NBA 2K14 Gave LeBron James His Own Version Of The “Jordan Challenges”

Metacritic Score: 84 (PS3)

Systems

PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS

Cover Athlete

Miami Heat F LeBron James

Celebrity Collab?

LeBron James

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NBA 2K14 was released in time for the 2013-14 season, which was won by the San Antonio Spurs. Miami Heat forward LeBron James was the cover athlete, coming off of his second of back-to-back NBA championships; the first two of his illustrious career. LeBron James also curated the soundtrack for NBA 2K14.

At the center of NBA 2K14 is the “LeBron: Path to Greatness” mode, which is similar to the “Jordan Challenges” from earlier NBA 2Ks. Unlike the Jordan Challenges, which are set in the past, Path to Greatness takes LeBron into the future in his pursuit of seven career NBA championships.

10 NBA 2K7 Further Acclimated The Series To Seventh Generation Hardware

Metacritic Score: 84 (Xbox 360)

Systems

PS2, Xbox 360

Cover Athlete

Miami Heat C Shaquille O’Neal

Celebrity Collab?

No

NBA 2K7 was released in time for the 2006-07 season, which was won by the San Antonio Spurs. Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal was the cover athlete, marking back-to-back appearances on the cover for the all-time great player and Shaq-Fu and Kazaam star.

NBA 2K7 focused on refining the advancements made in NBA 2K6, such as the Dual Player Control system, allowing players to set screens or set up an open three-point shot. Overall, NBA 2K7 saw much of its praise directed toward its visuals and amount of content, being the first entry to fully take advantage of seventh-generation hardware.

9 ESPN NBA 2K5 Was Released For Only $19.99

Metacritic Score: 85 (Xbox)

Systems

PS2 and Xbox

Cover Athlete

Detroit Pistons C Ben Wallace

Celebrity Collab?

No

ESPN NBA 2K5 was released in time for the 2004-05 season, which was won by the San Antonio Spurs. Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace was the cover athlete after leading the Pistons to an NBA championship in the previous season. This is the first NBA 2K game without Allen Iverson on the cover, and the last to feature the ESPN brand.

The 2K5 games, across all sports, were best known for their welcoming price point of $19.99. In addition, ESPN NBA 2K5 introduced the 24/7 mode. The highly criticized 24/7 mode, a precursor to the MyCareer mode, allowed players to create an avatar to play games and complete challenges to upgrade their avatar.

8 NBA 2K16 Is A Fan-Favorite With A MyCareer Mode Directed By Spike Lee

Metacritic Score: 87 (PS4)

Systems

PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS

Cover Athlete

Golden State Warriors G Steph Curry, Houston Rockets G James Harden, and New Orleans Pelicans C/F Anthony Davis

Celebrity Collab?

Spike Lee

NBA 2K16 was released in time for the 2015-16 season, which was won by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry shared cover athlete duties with Houston Rockets guard James Harden and New Orleans Pelicans center/forward Anthony Davis.

NBA 2K16 is a fan-favorite NBA 2K game. It’s the top-ranked NBA 2K game on Ranker. NBA 2K16 is perhaps best known for its MyCareer mode with a story directed by acclaimed director Spike Lee. NBA 2K16 also featured full-body scans for NBA players creating a much more visually accurate representation of those NBA players.

7 NBA 2K13 Was Produced By Rapper Jay-Z

Metacritic Score: 88 (Xbox 360)

Systems

PC, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, Android, iOS

Cover Athlete

Oklahoma City Thunder F Kevin Durant, Chicago Bulls G Derrick Rose, and Los Angeles Clippers F Blake Griffin

Celebrity Collab?

Jay-Z

NBA 2K13 was released in time for the 2012-13 season, which was won by the Miami Heat. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant shared cover athlete duties with Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose and Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

NBA 2K13 was produced by rapper, and former Brooklyn Nets part-owner, Jay-Z, who curated the soundtrack, helped design the menus and interface, as well as decided to include both the 1992 and 2012 United States men’s national basketball team, the former being the famed “Dream Team.” NBA 2K13 was praised for its updated control scheme while also being criticized for its lack of challenge modes from the previous two NBA 2Ks.

6 NBA 2K17 Stars Michael B. Jordan And Hannibal Burris

Metacritic Score: 88 (PS4)

Systems

PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS

Cover Athlete

Indiana Pacers F Paul George

Celebrity Collab?

Michael B. Jordan, Hannibal Burris, and Aaron Covington

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NBA 2K17 was released in time for the 2016-17 season, which was won by the Golden State Warriors. Indiana Pacers forward Paul George was the cover athlete. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant appeared on the cover of the Legend’s Edition.

While infamous for its loading screen bug, NBA 2K17 is still an all-around great basketball game. MyGM and MyLeague modes saw the most significant improvements through increased realism and customization, particularly with team expansion. Michael B. Jordan and Hannibal Burris star in the MyCareer mode with a storyline written by Aaron Covington, who co-wrote the film Creed.

5 NBA 2K2 Brought The Franchise To Other Platforms

Metacritic Score: 89 (PS2)

Systems

Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox, GameCube

Cover Athlete

Philadelphia 76ers PG Allen Iverson

Celebrity Collab?

No

NBA 2K2 was released in time for the 2001-02 season, which was won by the Los Angeles Lakers. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson was the cover athlete after winning league MVP in the previous season. This was the third of Iverson’s five appearances on the cover of NBA 2K.

NBA 2K2 is notable for being the first NBA 2K to be released outside the Sega Dreamcast. In the process, NBA 2K2 features far greater polygons, animations, and lighting effects than its predecessor. Newer facial expressions, animations, and player-specific moves created a more authentic NBA experience.

4 NBA 2K3 Was The First NBA 2K To Feature ESPN Branding

Metacritic Score: 89 (PS2)

Systems

PS2, Xbox, GameCube

Cover Athlete

Philadelphia 76ers PG Allen Iverson

Celebrity Collab?

No

NBA 2K3 was released in time for the 2002-03 season, which was won by the San Antonio Spurs. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson was once again the cover athlete.

As NBA 2K2 focused on creating on-court authenticity, NBA 2K3 enhanced the overall presentation. NBA 2K3 was the first NBA 2K game to feature ESPN branding, which would carry over to the following two NBA 2K games. The gameplay did see an upgrade by giving players different ways to take and alter shots, adding a level of flexibility and adaptation to each possession.

3 NBA 2K11 Gave Players The Chance To Experience Michael Jordan’s Most Iconic Moments

Metacritic Score: 89 (Xbox 360)

Systems

PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii

Cover Athlete

Chicago Bulls G Michael Jordan

Celebrity Collab?

No

NBA 2K11 was released in time for the 2010-11 season, which was won by the Dallas Mavericks. Legendary Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan was the cover athlete.

NBA 2K11 was a game-changer for the NBA 2K series. NBA 2K surged in popularity after the release of NBA 2K11, which many fans still believe is the best NBA 2K game. NBA 2K11 featured the Jordan Challenges mode, which takes players back to relive Michael Jordan’s most iconic moments including his famed “Last Dance” season. The mode was so popular that it was expanded upon in NBA 2K12 and made its return in NBA 2K23.

2 NBA 2K12 Expanded The Jordan Challenges To Other Legends

Metacritic Score: 90 (Xbox 360)

Systems

PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii, iOS

Cover Athlete

Chicago Bulls G Michael Jordan, Los Angeles Lakers G Magic Johnson, and Boston Celtics F Larry Bird

Celebrity Collab?

No

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NBA 2K12 was released in time for the 2011-12 season, which was won by the Miami Heat. Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan returns as the cover athlete with alternate cover arts featuring NBA legends Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson and Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird.

NBA 2K12 expanded on the Jordan Challenges by introducing NBA’s Greatest mode, where players can recreate moments based on legendary players and teams. NBA 2K12 also featured Create A Legend, a MyPlayer-like career mode where players play through the career of an NBA player instead of a created player.

1 NBA 2K1 Was The First NBA 2K Game With Online Play

Metacritic Score: 93 (Dreamcast)

System

Dreamcast

Cover Athlete

Philadelphia 76ers G Allen Iverson

Celebrity Collab?

No

NBA 2K1 was released in time for the 2000-01 season, which was won by the Los Angeles Lakers. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson was the cover athlete. NBA 2K1 was the final NBA 2K to be released exclusively for the SEGA Dreamcast.

The second entry of the NBA 2K series is still the franchise’s high-water mark based on Metacritic. Whether or not it’s the best NBA 2K game is up for debate considering technological advancements made in the decades since, but its Metacritic score makes for a good argument in its favor. NBA 2K1 introduced modes such as Association, General Manager, and Street, giving players an immense level of content for a sports game at that time. NBA 2K1 is the first NBA 2K game that was playable online through the SegaNet service. NBA 2K1 is still playable online through private servers.

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