The Jordan Challenge anchored NBA 2K11, a sports title honestly given overall game-of-the-year consideration at the time. The mode returns for NBA 2K23, but last week’s reveal also invited an elephant into fans’ living rooms: What about “NBA’s Greatest”?
NBA’s Greatest was the historical mode for NBA 2K12, likewise appearing only in that game. For many fans, it was an even richer experience than 2010’s Michael Jordan tribute. Following a media presentation on Monday, now we know that Visual Concepts did not forget about them.
The key elements of NBA’s Greatest have been folded into the MyNBA franchise mode, now called MyNBA Eras, in NBA 2K23. In it, players may journey back to three distinct periods of league history, with the opportunity to rewrite it while leading a period-authentic club over a multiyear stretch. (They may also start from the current NBA season, the same as all franchise modes before.)
“We’ve put in a feature set that we have been talking about for my entire duration” at developer Visual Concepts, said executive producer Erick Boenisch, a 20-year veteran of the NBA 2K series, and the lead designer of its franchise mode for 15 years. “This year, we’re asking our fans the question, ‘What if you could go back in time and change the course of NBA history?’”
In addition to the present day, there are now three different historical starting points available for MyNBA Eras: 1983, 1991, and 2002. Players could, for example, take over the Portland Trail Blazers and, ahead of the 1984 season, draft Michael Jordan with the No. 2 pick instead of Sam Bowie. In real life, that fateful selection would come back to haunt the Blazers in 1992, with Bowie long gone from the team and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls stopping Portland in a six-game NBA Finals.
“Total control unlike everything we’ve ever done in this mode,” Boenisch said. The mode will give players an end-of-year summary telling them what’s going to happen in the next season, like rule changes or franchise relocations. “You can say, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want the Hornets to move between their eight cities they played in for, like, five years. You can deny the [Seattle] SuperSonics’ relocating” to Oklahoma City in 2008.
“Created rosters are available here, and user-created draft classes are available for those die-hards out there who want to, maybe, fill the holes where we couldn’t [get] certain players,” Boenisch emphasized. And yes, MyNBA Eras will be playable for up to 80 seasons from the starting point, just like Franchise/The Association/MyGM were.
“Everything is available for people to build your own universe,” Boenisch said. That includes expanding the league to as many as 36 teams at any point on the timeline.
Visual Concepts picked the three historical starting points to mark the time of the NBA’s most dominant stars. 1983 represents the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson years; 1991 begins Michael Jordan’s reign; 2002 is the Kobe Bryant era. Wrapping all of this won’t just be NBA rosters and draft classes accurate to each year; the same broadcast presentation and gameplay elements that are going into an impressive Jordan Challenge will also be part of MyNBA Eras.
Mike Fratello will sit with lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan for games played from 1983 to about 2000, for example. Greg Anthony will join the broadcast booth after that, and present-day games will feature the varied commentator rotation the NBA 2K series has employed for the past five years. MyNBA Eras will also use the same period-accurate rules, playing styles, and strategies that gameplay director Mike Wang described last week in the Jordan Challenge’s preview.
And, for sports fans who are somewhat inured to playing “classic” teams and players in settings that are anything but — looking at you, MLB The Show — Boenisch noted that the arenas themselves have era-specific looks. “I’m sure you saw from the screenshots, and the Jordan Challenge trailer, it really grounds the environment,” Boenisch said. “There’s nothing weird; [the viewer isn’t] seeing, you know, AT&T 5G in 1983. It doesn’t make sense; it’s dumb. We made sure none of that happens.”
Serious basketball fans are likely wondering if this or that historically accurate detail, like switching from two referees to three in 1988-1989, or non-expansion divisional realignments, will show up in the game. There was also a six-year stretch (1997 to 2002) where players wore their individual uniforms in the NBA All-Star Game, instead of a single uniform. Boenisch says the answer to all of those is yes.
But he and Visual Concepts also anticipated a lot of skepticism from the core, franchise-playing base of the NBA 2K series. Team finances will change according to the era, including changes to the rookie contract scale. As to that, introducing historical draft classes and famous players in their rookie years means adding players that have to develop the way they did at the time. Disrupting a draft by taking a player out of historical order means the rest of the draft should still play out realistically.
“Creating a roster for every single year, re-rating guys, doing the badges; creating draft classes, doing the badges on those guys, testing their potential, making sure they develop correctly — it’s a significant amount of work,” Boenisch said. “Sitting there, tweaking and tuning those, and simulating and adjusting, and simulating again. It’s an incredible amount of work.”
As with the Jordan Challenge, MyNBA Eras looks like a blue-sky sports game designer’s dream come true, to say nothing of fans who had seen MyGM and MyNBA seem to struggle for depth and new features, taking a back seat to the MyCareer and MyTeam modes. MyNBA Eras, at face value, more than overhauls a sports title’s most-iterated mode — it sets a standard for other developers to either envy or live up to.
“I feel really, really proud of what the team has accomplished,” Boenisch said. “And I feel strongly, it’s exactly what our audience has been clamoring for, for so many years.”