10 best NBA video games of all time

Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images
Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images /
11 of 11

1. NBA 2k11

After exploding onto the scene with NBA 2k, Visual Concept’s NBA franchise continued to grow in popularity as it left its original home of the Sega Dreamcast and made its way to the more popular Sony PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles. EA Sports’ NBA Live was still the market leader but every single year NBA 2k crept closer and closer to taking the top spot. True basketball purists would tell you the NBA 2k games were better as they offered a much more realistic recreation of NBA basketball but casual fans wouldn’t be swayed. NBA Live was an institution and one that would seemingly never be toppled.

Enter NBA 2k11. 5.5 million copies later, we had a new king of NBA video game basketball.

NBA 2k11 wasn’t revolutionary by any means as the NBA 2k franchise had made exponential growth over the last decade, it was, however, the confluence of years of hard work, development and the inclusion of one man: Michael Jordan.

The newly-introduced Jordan Challenge game mode offers players a simple goal: recreate Michael Jordan’s ten most iconic accomplishments and unlock new shoes (Jordans, of course). Unlockables aside, the Jordan Challenge game mode was some of the most fun players had ever experienced in an NBA video game. Whether it was trying to put 69 points up against the Boston Celtics or finishing off the Utah Jazz to win your second three-peat, each game offered a new and unique perspective into the career of Jordan as well as the NBA at the time of the accomplishment. For the first time ever, players felt like they were really playing in 1986 or 1998 again. This wasn’t simply a Michael Jordan-like character playing against a group of lifeless, faceless players wearing Jazz jerseys. No, 1998 Michael Jordan (who played dramatically different than 1986 Jordan) was facing John Stockton, Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz, Jordan was playing against Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson, Jordan was finally vanquishing Isiah Thomas and the hated Detroit Pistons.

NBA 2k11 was the perfect confluence of a decade of hard work culminating in one of the all-time great not just NBA or basketball video games but sports video games of all-time. It’s as perfect as they come. The gameplay, the game modes, the sounds, the soundtrack, the customization, the online experience… NBA 2k11 had it all.

As IGN reviewer Hilary Goldstein said in the website’s official review of NBA 2k11, “it’s fitting that NBA 2K11 prominently features Michael Jordan. After all, His Airness is the greatest basketball player of all time and NBA 2K11 has the greatest feature set of any basketball game ever made.”

You’ll find very few people with a bad word to say about NBA 2k11.

Adding to its legacy, NBA 2k11 also once and for all declared the NBA 2k series as the official winner of the NBA video game war.

While EA’s NBA Live had been sputtering in recent years but NBA 2k11 was the knockout blow. Due to mounting pressure from their competitors, EA Sports retooled their series under a brand-new name: NBA Elite 11. They released a demo of NBA Elite 11 to the world, ready to take NBA 2k11 head-on, and, well, this happened:

The demo was an absolute disaster and EA was canceled before release. EA Sports then announced they’d be taking the year off. A year later, another year off, while NBA Live did return, it was never the same again.

2k hasn’t looked back and despite some issues in recent years, they remain king of the NBA video game landscape and their crowning achievement is the best NBA video game of all time: NBA 2k11.

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