Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
Around this time each year, we generally start speculating about the cover players for the next edition of NBA Live and NBA 2K. Last week, a report from Polygon gave us something to think about, as leaked images have fuelled rumours that NBA 2K16 will feature three different cover players – James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant – as well as involvement from filmmaker Spike Lee, presumably in this year’s MyCAREER mode. As of writing however, no official announcement has been made.
Although the cover is ultimately inconsequential as far as the quality of a basketball video game is concerned, it remains a popular talking point, so I thought I’d write a Friday Five or two about previous cover players. I’ve been thinking about some of the best and worst cover players, and have some lists to post in the not too distant future, but I’ve also been thinking about superstitions and supposed “cursed” cover players. Basketball players have generally fared better than NFL players who have graced the cover of Madden, but misfortune has befallen some players who have appeared on the covers of various hoops titles. Here are five such players that come to mind.
1. Derrick Rose – NBA 2K13
Let’s start out with my favourite active player on my favourite team: Derrick Rose. Rose might just be the unluckiest NBA player since Grant Hill and Anfernee Hardaway, whose time as superstars in the league was cut short by injury. The jury’s still out on Rose as things are finally looking up for him, but whatever happens next, he’s lost a significant chunk of his prime these past few years. Rose’s first knee injury occurred before he was officially announced as one of the three cover players for NBA 2K13 (Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant being the other two), but his bad luck wasn’t over yet.
Rose infamously missed the entire 2013 season despite a social media campaign hyping “The Return”. In other words, one of NBA 2K13’s cover players saw no action in the season where it was the latest game from Visual Concepts. Ten games into the following season, Rose injured his other knee, and he was subsequently ruled out for the rest of the year. His luck seems to have changed for the better, as follow-up surgery this year did allow him to return in time for the Playoffs, and he had some good performances in the Chicago Bulls’ first round series with the Milwaukee Bucks. I don’t like to think of myself as being particularly superstitious, but I’ll refrain from saying anymore, and keep my fingers crossed.
2. Jay Williams – NCAA College Hoops 2K3
Speaking of point guards who played for the Bulls…remember Jay Williams? The second overall pick of the Draft in 2002, right behind Yao Ming, Williams was the Next Great Hope for Chicago after Elton Brand was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers the year before, in exchange for the Draft rights for Tyson Chandler. I remember talking with fellow Bulls and NBA Live gamers about Williams in the lead up to the release of NBA Live 2003; I was looking forward to starting a Franchise game with the Bulls, and turning him into a star.
Unfortunately, neither NBA Live 2003 nor Jay Williams turned out exactly as I was hoping. He didn’t have a spectacular rookie season, but had his moments, and showed promise. He was certainly a highly regarded prospect coming out of Duke, which led to him appearing on the cover of NCAA College Hoops 2K3. The “cover curse” would strike Williams in the 2003 offseason, when a motorcycle accident ended his NBA career before it could really get started. Fortunately, the story doesn’t have a more tragic ending – Williams later admitted to attempting suicide following the accident – as in the years since his playing career ended, he has found work as a motivational speaker and an analyst for ESPN.
3. Greg Oden – College Hoops 2K8
College Hoops 2K8 remains a very well-regarded release among basketball gamers. Although the servers for the game have now been shutdown, fans continue to develop and share custom rosters, which is a testament to its popularity. Unfortunately, cover player Greg Oden hasn’t been able to carve out the same kind of legacy. Taken first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, Oden missed what should’ve been his rookie season due to microfracture surgery on his right knee, finally made his NBA debut the following year, and appeared in 61 games.
Although Durant would very quickly establish himself as the best player to come out of that Draft class, Oden’s play showed promise. Although he had difficulty staying out of foul trouble, he put up some solid numbers for a player seeing less than 22 minutes of court time per game. His good play continued into his second campaign, where he played and started 21 games for the Blazers, before a freak accident on December 5th 2009 resulted in him fracturing his left patella. Oden ultimately sat out the next three years, before attempting a comeback with the Miami Heat last season. Although he’d get a BIG Moment in NBA Live 14, he didn’t see much action for the Heat, and his pro career is once again in limbo.
4. Gilbert Arenas – NBA Live 08
After seemingly establishing himself as a perennial All-Star and part of the next generation of marquee NBA players, Gilbert Arenas’ career quickly nose-dived after appearing on the cover of NBA Live 08…something he was actually pretty happy about at the time. The player known as “Agent Zero” and “Hibachi” appeared in just 13 games during the 2008 season, as he battled knee injuries; he would then play in only two games the following season. Things were looking up as he appeared in 32 games in the 2010 season and posted his best numbers since 2007, before the infamous incident with Javaris Crittenton and firearm charges led to a lengthy suspension.
He was traded to the Orlando Magic during the 2011 season, where he posted rather subpar numbers coming off the bench. Following a 17 game stint with the Memphis Grizzlies during the lockout-shortened 2012 season, he spent a year with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, and hasn’t played pro basketball since. Once a rapidly rising star whose chip-on-the-shoulder attitude and scoring outbursts made him quite popular, Gilbert Arenas’ decline happened almost as quickly. Some of his injuries pre-dated his appearance on NBA Live 08’s cover, but nevertheless coincided with his fall from superstardom.
A little anecdote about Gilbert Arenas and the NBA Live 08 cover: when I attended the community event for NBA Live 08, which was held in New York and included a trip to the 2007 Draft, we also went to a preview party for the game where Arenas was in attendance. None of us got to chat with him, but we did watch him playing the game with some members of the media. He pretty much shot the ball with his virtual counterpart on every trip up the floor, and ended up with forty something points on about forty something shots.
5. Kevin Durant – NBA 2K15
Or perhaps, a delayed effect of the NBA Elite 11 cover? This one may be premature, but after Kevin Durant was named the cover player of NBA 2K15 following his first MVP win last season, he hasn’t exactly had a great run of fortune. After withdrawing from Team USA during the offseason – originally citing mental and physical fatigue, but later revealing that he’d been diagnosed with a Jones fracture – Durant missed the first seventeen games of the 2015 season, injured his ankle on December 18th, sprained his left big toe in late January, was sidelined on February 22nd following a minor procedure on his right foot, and officially ruled out for the year on March 27th, after deciding to undergo further foot surgery.
All in all, he appeared in just 27 games this season. Now, that could all be a distant memory by this time next season, and with any luck, it will be. It’s a shame to see one of the league’s best players and biggest stars out of action, but it’s a rare player that doesn’t have at least one season afflicted by or completely lost to injury. Nevertheless, for now his season remains reminiscent of the infamous “Madden Curse” that has afflicted so many NFL players over the years. Given the current rumours, it’ll certainly be interesting to see if he does grace the cover of NBA 2K for a third time, following such an unlucky season.
That’s all for this week. Which other basketball players have seemingly been struck down by the proverbial “cover curse”, in your opinion? Sound off in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.