This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at LeBron: Path to Greatness in NBA 2K14.
Being a launch title, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version of NBA 2K14 was obviously the priority for Visual Concepts back in 2013. However, 2K did try to keep the prior gen version of the game relevant, by way of some new bonus content. Since adding features celebrating the cover player was in vogue, in NBA 2K14 we received LeBron: Path to Greatness, a story-driven challenge mode starring LeBron James. With two distinct storylines to follow and creative challenges along the way, it was certainly an interesting concept.
In fact, LeBron: Path to Greatness was arguably one of the most creative things that NBA 2K had done, prior to the implementation of the story-driven approach to MyCAREER on the current generation. Let’s take a look back…way back…
When LeBron: Path to Greatness was first announced, most of us assumed that it would be similar to either the Jordan Challenge, or the original version of Creating A Legend: an unlockable career mode in which gamers took control of a rookie Michael Jordan, placed him on any current team in NBA 2K11, and rewrote history. Suffice to say, we were completely wrong. Rather than going back in time, Path to Greatness instead looked ahead, presenting gamers with a speculative story about LeBron James’ future career. Rather than being a standard career mode, it consisted of games with unique challenges related to an overall plot, and control wasn’t locked to LeBron.
Although the mode was fairly linear, taking the user from one challenge to the next as the plot unfolded, there were two story options; two paths to greatness, as it were. The first path, “Continue Heat Dynasty”, sees LeBron remaining with the Miami Heat. Building on his now infamous “not one, not two, not three…” proclamation, choosing to stay with the Heat results in a string of NBA Finals appearances. The second path, “Fantastic Journey”, sees LeBron join other NBA teams and build a legacy of changing fortunes wherever he goes. He even gains a fictional rival, John “Johnny Buckets” Trice, and Allen Iverson makes a comeback with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite the craziness, LeBron: Path to Greatness would end up making a few correct predictions. The Fantastic Journey option begins with LeBron’s Heat taking on the Spurs during the 2013 regular season, in a rematch of the 2013 NBA Finals; in reality, the two teams would clash again for the 2014 championship. The rest of the mode sees LeBron move on from Miami, as he did after the Heat lost in the 2014 Finals. Although the Fantastic Journey would first take King James to New York, it also predicted a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which did in fact happen. It remains to be seen whether or not he finishes his career in Miami, as in the mode’s final chapter.
Funnily enough, NBA 2K14 wasn’t the only 2K game to make a correct prediction in 2013. WWE 2K14, the first WWE game released under the brand following 2K’s acquisition of the series from THQ, featured a mode in which users were challenged to either extend or break The Undertaker’s undefeated winning streak at Wrestlemania. One of the most iconic storylines in the history of professional wrestling, Undertaker’s famous streak did come to an end in 2014 at Wrestlemania 30, at the hands of Brock Lesnar. Perhaps 2K knew something we didn’t, as Taker losing at Wrestlemania and LeBron leaving Miami both seemed highly unlikely in 2013!
So, how was LeBron: Path to Greatness? Well, I have to admit that I may have been a little hard on it in a previous article. It was definitely creative and somewhat unique, an interesting change of pace that expanded the gameplay experience beyond the usual assortment of modes in NBA 2K. However, I would still suggest that it isn’t on par with the Jordan Challenge or NBA’s Greatest. It certainly doesn’t have the same appeal to me personally, and while it did intrigue gamers, I think it’s fair to say most people preferred the historical content. It did ensure that the prior gen version of NBA 2K14 received some kind of new content though, so credit where it’s due.
It’s also significant as the last big feature celebrating a game’s cover player. Sure, Kobe Bryant has a presence in NBA 2K17’s MyCAREER (regardless of whether or not you ordered the special edition), and there are generally pre-order bonuses connected to the cover player, such as MyTEAM cards and MyPLAYER gear. Those don’t quite compare to an entire mode spotlighting the cover player though, which is something we haven’t seen since NBA 2K14. In some ways that may be for the best; creative as LeBron: Path to Greatness may have been, it’s also a concept that could have easily been run into the ground in future titles.
Honestly, LeBron: Path to Greatness is a mode that I might go back and play through at some point, when I’m in the mood to dust off an older game and be a completionist. It might not be in the same class as the Jordan Challenge or NBA’s Greatest, but it’s an interesting take on a story-driven challenge mode. I imagine there’d be a sense of satisfaction in going back and completing it, even if it doesn’t quite hold the same appeal as the historical modes in previous games. It may not be a concept that needs to be revisited in future releases, but for the prior gen version of NBA 2K14, it was a mode fit for King James.