Thanks to the impending lockout, there's a good chance the only way you'll get to experience a 2012 NBA season is with a game controller in your hands. And with EA's Sports' long-running NBA Live series benched for another year due to serious development issues, there's really only one option for NBA simulation fans.
NBA 2K12 (2K Sports)
Releasing Oct. 4, it's the follow-up to the highly-praised NBA 2K11, a game bold enough to put Michael Jordan on its cover and good enough to justify the decision. But any champ will tell you that it's significantly harder defending the title than winning it, putting 2K Sports in the tricky position of trying to make a great sports game better while the league itself is in limbo.
So how, exactly, do they intend to do just that? By working like maniacs during the off-season — and taking a trip back in time to a simpler, less lockout-y era (or three).
Here are a few of the game's new tweaks.
1. It's more legendary
Last year's NBA 2K11 was brought to you by the number 23, and it soared. Not only was Jordan the cover athlete, but you could play as His Airness in a variety of challenges based on his Hall of Fame career. To say this was epic is like saying his last shot in a Bulls uniform was "nice."
2K Sports realized that you gotta go big to top Jordan — and they might actually pull it off. 2K12 features a whopping 15 NBA legends (including the Holy Trinity of Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, each of whom gets his own cover), spanning old-school greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Julius Erving to more recent stars like Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Jordan running-mate Scottie Pippen. Actually, it packs more than just Hall of Famers — you can play as each legend's most famous team in a rival matchup, meaning you'll get to control every player on some of the best teams ever assembled. The Showtime Lakers against Bird's Celtics? Dr. J's '84 Sixers versus Sidney Moncrief and the Bucks? It's a hoop fan's dream.
2. Old-school look, new-school tech.
Covering every basketball decade since the 1960s in one game is a tall order, but NBA 2K12 will do just that by changing up the delivery based on the era. Play as Russell's '64 Celtics and it will be shown in black and white, while the announcers get piped in via transistor radios. Check out the crowd during Chamberlain's '72 Lakers and you'll spot turtlenecks and leisure suits. Even the scoreboard fonts are accurate. Groovy, baby.
But it's not just about authentic looks. Any game played prior to the 1979-1980 season will feature an omission that might startle younger NBA fans: no three-point line.
3. It must be the shoes
Mars Blackmon had it right -- shoes are a big deal to ballplayers. And when it comes to sneaker style, 2K12 laces up with the best of them. A partnership with Nike and Jordan means that anytime a player debuts a new shoe line on the court, it will be downloaded and appear in the game. Of course, you might not appreciate the sickly green of Kobe's Christmas kicks, so the game will let you design your own shoes, too.
4. A league of your own
If indeed there's a real-world lockout, NBA 2K12 offers a pretty cool way to fake it: Association online. You'll be able to take the game's vaunted franchise mode online with up to 29 friends, forming a virtual league, picking teams, and becoming your own managers and players as you simulate your way through the season. The game also goes the distance with social network tools by offering Facebook and Twitter updates along with the ability to upload highlight reels to Youtube. Just don't spam your friends' feeds, k?
5. Post production
Jordan, Magic and Bird might spend the bulk of their time facing the basket, but if you prefer to play as a big man, you'd better get comfy in the post. NBA 2K12 gives big men a big upgrade with a much wider variety of post moves. Shoot hooks with either hand like Kareem, spin like Olajuwon, step up and under like Dwight, or just take it to the rack like Shaq (or Wilt). And a new defensive counter system gives you a fighting chance at stopping all that offense, too.
- Michael Jordan