After a three-year arms race, mostly against themselves, NBA 2K's cover kingmakers seem to have de-escalated the situation while still communicating the greatest-ever reputation the game has worked so hard to earn.
NBA 2K13, as was rumored, will feature Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, all three 23 years old, all three part of the league's next generation of superstars.
The three will share the same cover. There will not be three different covers, as there was for NBA 2K12. The new cover also features a revised NBA 2K logo.
"This year, it's clear that, with the lockout over, and a fresh breath of air pushed into the sport we're doing what I call the Masters Green Jacket transition, from the legends of the game to the new legends of the game," said Jason Argent, the 2K Sports vice president of marketing.
All three players were rookies of the year, Durant in 2008, Rose in 2009, and Griffin in 2011. Rose also was the 2011 MVP and is a three-time all-star, though he tore knee ligaments in the first round of the playoffs this season, and the top-seeded Bulls fell to Philadelphia.
Durant's Thunder just lost in their first trip to the NBA Finals though Durant and his young team are seen to be at least conference champion contenders for some time to come. Durant has won the league's scoring title, made the all-star game, and the All-NBA first team the past three consecutive years. Durant also, snarkily enough, was to have been the cover star for the aborted NBA Elite 11; EA Sports' NBA simulation gets back on shelves this year.
Griffin became the first rookie in eight years to make an all-star team when he was voted to the 2011 squad. In two seasons with the Clippers, he's been performing jaw-dropping dunks, well before Chris Paul arrived in a trade this year and turned L.A.'s second franchise into "Lob City."
On their own, any of these three would have a tough time following the previous three acts. Together, they make a strong showing.
NBA 2K10 got Kobe Bryant, the active player most often called the greatest of his generation. NBA 2K11 landed Michael Jordan, the greatest player of all time. NBA 2K12 went and got three of them—Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Trying to outdo that would have been extremely expensive. LeBron James is the only player who would come to mind, and after paying the massive freight on him in a championship season, 2K would still have to revisit this dilemma next year.
That's not to say 2K Sports is pushing out Jordan. A teaser image meant to give clues as to the cover subjects included the Brooklyn Bridge, which Argent admitted was tied to Jordan (he was born there.)
Pressed for specifics, he remained mum. "Michael Jordan is a part of our game and our marketing plan, in a similar capacity to the way he has been in the past," Argent said.
And again, this is only the cover reveal; 2K Sports has said nothing about the game's features, beyond the acquisition of NBA All-Star Weekend festivities, which will be made available as a general preorder bonus to all customers.
"We have one of the biggest announcements ever," Argent vowed, "if not the biggest ever in the history of the 2K Sports franchise ever coming in a couple of weeks. I think you'll be surprised. Pleasantly."