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

(Image credit: 2K)

The NBA 2K21 release date comes with extra poignancy following the death of Kobe Bryant in January. It's out on PS4 and Xbox One on 4 September. The basketball legend, synonymous with the series, was killed in a helicopter crash aged just 41, and will be one of three cover athletes for this year's game. Below we catalogue all 2K's digital b-ball plans as well as what we know of the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions. This is your NBA 2K21 guide.

NBA 2K21 trailer: watch it here

The first NBA 2K21 trailer hit Youtube on 6 August 2020, and you can watch it below. Note that it pertains to the PS4 and Xbox One versions.

NBA 2K21 cover star: Bryant one of three covers

(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 petition was even started in the hope of triggering 2K’s attention.

Sure enough, Bryant is one of three NBA 2K21 cover athletes, along with Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, and New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson.

Lillard fronts the current-gen edition, Williamson the next-gen version, and Bryant special edition covers across both formats.

“Each of our cover athletes represent different eras of the game of basketball – Damian Lillard dominates the court today, Zion Williamson is a standard bearer for the next generation of NBA superstar and what more could be said about Kobe?,” says Alfie Brody, Vice President of Global Marketing at NBA 2K. “Three athletes representing the current, future and storied history of the game."

NBA 2K21 release date: 4 September on current-gen

(Image credit: 2K)

As with many series in the sports genre, there’s a pattern behind 2K series releases. NBA 2K18 came out on 15 September, NBA 2K19 on 7 September, and NBA 2K20 on 6 September. 

Sure enough, just as we predicted when this feature premiered in May, the NBA 2K21 release date on PS4 and Xbox One is Friday 4 September.

PS5 and Xbox Series X are tabbed to emerge a little later, with a loose release period entitled ‘Holiday 2020’. 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 Kobe Bryant edition: what's the deal?

(Image credit: 2K)

To honour Kobe Bryant, the version of the game with him on the cover is known as the Mamba Forever Edition. It features him wearing a #8 jersey on the current-gen edition, and a #24 jersey for next-gen. 

Along with the base game, the Mamba Forever edition includes 100,000 in VC (NBA 2K's in-game currency), 10 MyTeam tokens, 40 MyTeam packs (10 at launch, with 10 additional packs available each week for the next three weeks) and sapphire versions of Lillard and Williamson that can be used in MyTeam.

It also includes Bryant-focussed perks such as the Sapphire Kobe MyTeam card and a Mamba MyPlayer uniform.

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 Giannis 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 MyTeam: does progress carry over?

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In a word, yes. Much like in FIFA 21, progress made on current-gen systems will be transferable to next-gen consoles.

"In NBA 2K21, your entire MyTeam collection and progress will seamlessly carry over from PS4 to PS5 and Xbox One to Xbox Series X, so you can enjoy MyTeam uninterrupted, all year long," 2K says in a press release. 

"Start earning on NBA 2K21 for current-gen on September 4 and your entire balance of VC, MyTeam Points, pulled cards and Tokens will be there later in the year when you upgrade to NBA 2K21 for next-gen."

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.”

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.