It's been a decade since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston. And on the 10th anniversary of that memorable title run, NBA 2K19 has found a fun way to pay tribute to one of the NBA's first true super team-ups.
About an hour into the latest iteration of NBA 2K19's MyCareer, the story's hero steps into a Shanghai arcade with his friend and discovers a "classic" NBA 2K arcade. NBA 2K, of course, has never been an actual arcade (it made its debut on the Dreamcast), but the version in NBA 2K19 is a solid stand-in for everything from NBA Showtime to NBA Jam.
This sort of fourth wall breaking is common in NBA 2K. Sports video games are a strong part of Visual Concepts' world, and characters will often hang out and play NBA 2K, just as athletes do in real life. So it only makes sense for it to appear here as an arcade.
As the characters sit down at the sticks, it's natural to expect a cut to the next scene. After all, sports games are annualized franchises with limited time and resources. Instead, we get a fun, simplified version of NBA 2K with a retro filter featuring such classic names as Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and of course, the 2008 Celtics.
Being as the first part of MyCareer is set in China, Yao Ming is obviously a big part of this tribute, and he is a suitably dominant force in NBA 2K's arcade throwback. But KG and the Celtics are strong too, and what follows is an enjoyable run-and-gun, back-and-forth game of arcade basketball. If you win, your MyCareer character rubs it in a bit with their friend, who is also something of a rival.
It feels like a throwback to NBA 2K9: an attractive but obviously much simpler sports game from the days of the Xbox 360. It clearly doesn't play like the current game in any case, nor does it look like it, leading me to believe that it's much more than NBA 2K19 with a retro filter. I reached out to 2K to find out how they did it, and I'll update this article if they get back to me.
[Update: Here's how it works according to a 2K rep: "It is not emulated. It's 2k19 with a filter. [It] also utilizes actual art (overlays/wipes) from 2K6. It has features removed to look/play more like 2k6-2k9 era." So there you have it.]
Either way, it's a fun tip of the cap to a historic NBA team, and yet another way in which NBA 2K goes the extra mile with its presentation. It also speaks to the appreciation Visual Concepts has for the actual history of the sport. I can't think of the last time I saw Madden celebrate, say, the 2007 Patriots (18-1... hah). The best you get is usually a handful of legendary players in Ultimate Team. In that regard, NBA 2K19 is more than just a sports sim: it's a love letter to the sport of basketball.
NBA 2K19 launched worldwide today, and I've been playing it for my review, which should be going up on Friday. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that it's as impressive as ever from a presentation standpoint. I'm constantly amazed at how much Visual Concepts is able to squeeze in on an annual basis. Misgivings over microtransactions aside, NBA 2K is a hell of a basketball sim. This is just more proof of it.
I'll have additional thoughts as the week progresses. In the meantime, check out our NBA 2K19 guides if you need help with defensive controls and more.