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NBA 2K21 release date, cover, Kobe Bryant plans, and everything you need to know

(Image credit: 2K Games/Twitter user @stoolgametime)

There’s an air of poignancy around the release of NBA 2K21 following Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in January. The basketball legend, synonymous with 2K’s ever-popular hoops-thrower, was killed in a helicopter crash aged just 41 - and while he’s not appeared in a series entry since NBA 2K18, some kind of tribute seems inevitable. Below we’ll take a look at what that might entail, in addition to cataloguing all the confirmed details on NBA 2K21 on PS5 and Xbox Series X as soon as they become available. 

NBA 2K21 cover star: Could it be Kobe Bryant?

(Image credit: 2K)

Kobe Bryant’s glittering b-ball career encompassed five NBA championships, two NBA-finals MVP awards, one overall MVP awards, and adulation across the nation - indeed, the entire world. Little wonder, then, that his tragic passing immediately had fans clamouring to make him this year’s cover star on social media. A change.org petition was even started in the hope of triggering 2K’s attention, although at time of writing it’s amassed a relatively modest 305 signatures. Still, you’d think he’d be a natural choice, given his status as a legend of both video game and real courts.

If the cover star is not to be Bryant, then the leading choices are surely Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. Antetokounmpo is the reigning NBA MVP, while Durant already has two previous covers under his belt - NBA 2K15 and NBA 2K17. 

NBA 2K21 release date: Early September looks certain

(Image credit: 2K)

As with many series in the sports genre, there’s a pattern to release dates that enables us to predict when this year’s edition should emerge. NBA 2K18 came out on 15 September, NBA 2K19 on 7 September, and NBA 2K20 on 6 September. The NBA 2K21 release date, then, should be either Friday 4 September or Friday 11 September - on PS4 and Xbox One, that is.

PS5 and Xbox Series X are tabbed to emerge a little later, with a loose release period entitled ‘Holiday 2021’. NBA 2K21 hasn’t been confirmed as a launch title for either, but you suspect it will be. None of the big publishers want to miss out on early sales, so expect it to line up on shelves right next to FIFA 21. 

NBA 2K21 PS5 and Xbox Series X: What to expect

(Image credit: 2K)

The first edition of any sports game on a new console tends to focus on aesthetics over wholesale gameplay improvements. That’s not necessarily developers being lazy - more that it takes a year or three to fully master new hardware. As such, you shouldn’t expect the NBA series’ next-gen debut to completely transform MyCareer, or reinvent the sport. 

What it will do is look sensational. NBA 2K’s player likenesses and overall presentation have led the genre for years, only matched in those fields by Sony’s MLB The Show games. So players like Durant and Antetokounmpo will look just as they do on a live TV broadcast. 8K supported gameplay, meanwhile, is the stuff of dreams - offline at least, everything should run as smoothly as an end-to-end Toronto Raptors passing move. Online play will be more dependent on server reliability and connection speed, as ever, but for two opponents on high-end fibre-optic broadband the experience should be as silky slick as offline play. Cool.

NBA 2K21 features wishlist: What do the fans want?

(Image credit: 2K)

In a rarity among the sports community, Reddit has a dedicated forum where the best community suggestions actually get forwarded on for consideration by developer Visual Concepts. 

Better AI, especially late in games, features high on NBA 2K21 fan wishlists. “I can’t count the times I've jumped into a down-to-the-wire game, in the last minute or during overtime to find the stupidest lineups on the floor,” writes kainsta929. “Dwight Howard at PG with no LeBron James or Anthony Davis, or [for the Rockets] James Harden on the bench – only to check in with five seconds left, when down by more than 10. [Then you have] teams calling time out, then calling again it the play after. Waiting ages then chucking up some stupid shot. Setting up to play through a star player, then that star player only attempting 5 shots in a game. Small things like that really sour the game.”

More specifically, ibuytiers has an excellent suggestion on how to improve the Park, where players meet up in order to find online team-mates. “[My idea is you] press the left stick to open up a menu similar to the running animations, where you could choose "looking for a *insert position*" or "looking for a rec squad". Then these would be shown above your player in the park.”

“This would act as a catalyst for the Park,” he continues,” as the lack of communication available makes it hard to distinguish between people looking for a game, and players just standing there. In the player list on the phone, you could sort by players needed at a certain position. This would increase teamwork as there would be more squads, and help out players who play Park as a solo find more games. Right now there's very little incentive to play Park as a solo [rated] above 95 and this would help that.”

As soon as official features for the game are announced, likely around E3, we’ll share them here.

I'm GamesRadar+'s lead sports writer, obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB – and very occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym. Namely: Bill Bryson, Pitch Perfect, and the Streets Of Rage series. I have two kids who aren't quite old enough to play Madden yet. Soon, though…