Ronnie 2K Explains How J. Cole Got His Own NBA 2K23 Cover, Talks Gameplay

·10 min read
Image via Publicist
Image via Publicist

NBA 2K has evolved from just another hyped product in the gaming world.  It’s now a cultural moment and its intersection of music, pop culture, fashion, sneakers, and of course, basketball has brought the franchise to heights that no other game has rivaled. With its latest edition, NBA 2K23, the game made history after announcing J. Cole as the first ever rapper to grace the cover of NBA 2K with the Dreamer Edition. Although it was certainly a surprise that 2K announced a cover like this especially so late in the rollout, the trend of the game itself probably hinted at this happening some day. Even with that being said, this wasn’t even 2K’s idea, it was J. Cole’s.

“Three and a half years when he dunked during one of the breaks of  the All-Star Weekend Saturday Night, J. Cole said ‘Ronnie, I’d love to be in MyCareer and help think about the ideation around that,’” Ronnie 2K tells Complex. “I worked with our team on bringing this to life but it was very fitting to work with him. When we put out that tease, everybody thought it was going to be another basketball player...it allows us live in fashion, culture, music which 2K has a seat at the table now.”

The J. Cole cover is one of four different covers for the new edition of 2K with the others featuring Michael Jordan, Devin Booker, and a duo of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. NBA 2K23 talk has been buzzing on social media of late with the NBA ratings dropping this week. Kevin Durant even took at playful jab after his 2K rating was released.

On the week of the game’s release, we talked to Ronnie Singh aka Ronnie 2K on the decision to put MJ on the cover over LeBron, why Devin Booker was selected over other NBA stars, MyCareer, ProAm, gameplay, and more.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Ronnie 2K and Jayson Tatum
Image via Getty/Kevin Mazur

As someone who’s apart of the process, what is the biggest thing you’re excited about for NBA 2K23?
Well, getting to put Jordan on the cover is always amazing, and getting to work with him, and the statement that makes us about our game: the greatest of all time. It really speaks volumes to what we were trying to do from a marketing perspective but then also for what the game is translating to be. We have the Jordan challenges. They’re they’re back, but they’re bigger. Better. There’s been a lot of buzz about about, all of them, and then the one that’s going to be really emotional, and the one i’m most looking forward to going back to and reliving is Kobe. The first match up against each other. It’s going to be really fun. I’m a big MyTeam player so I was pretty excited about to more contracts and triple threat online co-op. 

You guys recently announced J. Cole having his own cover. How did that happen and why? 
Three and a half years when he dunked during one of the breaks of  the All-Star Weekend Saturday Night, J. Cole said ‘Ronnie, I’d love to be in MyCareer and help think about the ideation around that.’ I worked with our team on bringing this to life but it was very fitting to work with him.  But I love that it’s called the Dreamer Edition, because it was like one of those dreams that was manifested over several years. It took a long time to kind of make this happen. Obviously his integration into the basketball world and playing overseas and doing a lot of very big things in the basketball world. When we put out that tease, everybody thought it was going to be another basketball player… So you know it was a dream that came together and so excited that it allows us live in fashion, culture, music which 2K has a seat at the table now.


Do you see this becoming a thing now with covers? An actor, a non-athlete or another rapper? 
Yeah, I mean, we’re starting to live in places that aren’t just basketball or aren’t just video games. So I definitely think that’s possible down the line as we continue to grow in the cultural ecosystem and where that could take us, I mean who knows? Right? We talk about how musicians want to be athletes, athletes want to be musicians. You hear about it all the time, you see it. You saw that Serge Ibaka thing last week with him having 35 million plays on Spotify. They’re like living together in a way. And so 2K’s responsibility in that is to just be as authentic as possible and and push the boundaries of culture. So wherever we can play into that, I think that’s something that’s going to excite us.

I have to ask you this. A lot of fans wondered why 2K23 wasn’t a joint cover between LeBron and MJ for the legend edition? Did you guys consider LeBron?
I know 23 just jumps into everybody’s head, but I think us putting Jordan on a cover was much more of a statement about the greatest of all time right, and we felt like this was the greatest 2K of all time, and so we were making a statement by putting him on there. It is the year of greatness, and we felt like Jordan was the move. We’ve obviously worked with LeBron in previous covers, and we’ll do so again. He’s a great partner of ours but I mean it was always Jordan for us.

I know the fans want Kobe for 2K24. Is there a chance for that?
Who knows? We’re so excited about 2K23 right now. Twenty-four is far away enough, but we have those conversations early, and we’ll just have to see.

At what point do you guys start focusing on the next 2K? 
Well, I don’t think we ever move on. Obviously the game stays in the life cycle for a couple of years. We just put out 2K22 content like a week or two ago. The basketball world will be 365 & 24/7 and with our game, it’s gonna be the authentic basketball. It needs to be the same. What you’re asking me is like, when do we start thinking marketing wise about covers, and all that, and I think it’s a constant conversation like we’ve talked about 2K24 and 2K25. And maybe this is how I can like answer a question that I’m sure is coming, which is the Devin Booker cover right and how do we get to Devin?

Yup. 
There’s three ways that we kind of think about cover stars. Number one is they have to play the game, and with Devin it was pretty simple. He won the ESPN Player’s tournament a couple of years ago during the pandemic. He’s one of the best 2K Players that there is so for us to say that this is the greatest gameplay. why don’t we have the the greatest 2K player that’s in the NBA representing. Then the trajectory of an athlete right. Devin’s so young and he’s twenty five. He’s really just scratching the surface. He’s one of the youngest to ever score 10,000 points. His path to greatness is only beginning. The third thing is, how do they align with the story we’re trying to tell with our game and with our marketing. And so this year was all about the greatness, and we were like we got to put the greatest 2K player on the cover.

So you’re not entirely basing your cover choices off the most recent season? 
It definitely helps like I mentioned to the trajectory right like Devin. Obviously he’s on the rise and he’s evolving. You look at our past couple of athletes, you know the Kyrie and Dame, like these guys that were on the upward and our cover sort of like said, ‘yeah, you’re great, but we also expect you to continue to be great and play for championships and all that.

For you personally, you kind of get a lot of unfair slander, because people think you have all say, and just make every decision for the game. How do you kind of deal with that over the years?
Well, I know that I work with like 400+ of the most amazing people in the video game industry, people that are trying to take this game to a whole another level and I am one of them. So like I focus on what I can focus on. And that’s to help with telling the story about how we’re becoming this cultural icon and how we’re pushing the envelope on that. And you know, as far as trolls, I just don’t really let any of that stuff bug me because I I know what I do. The people that I work with me know what I do.  Any mentions about servers and who fixes the game, that’s not my role at 2K But you know I just think it’s great, because those people love the game enough that they’re involved in that conversation and want us to get better.

You guys just released the MyCareer trailer. Some people might say they just want to play basketball as the storylines are a lot for them. What do you guys envision for My Career in the next years or so, because you guys have pretty much hit every type of storyline I feel like at this point?
I disagree with that, you know, like every year I’m like, How are we going to do bigger? How are we going to do better? How are we going to tell stories? And there are just so many stories evolving around basketball. There’s a lot of entry points, and that’s what the great thing about it. In the game of basketball there’s a lot of ways to make it to the league. So I actually don’t agree with that. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what career could be and how we continue to evolve that. our desire is to be as authentic to the game as as long as possible. So I’m sure we’re going to find another storyline that we connect with and want to tell that story and allow it to capture the imagination of the people that they are.

Finally, ProAm was a twist from Crew Mode back in the day. Is there like any changes ProAm wise, even it was like being in an arena like crew was back in the day, kind of twisting things up on that side of things?
I don’t want to break information because I’m not sure when this interview is going live. I’ll say our ProAm community is a very important one to us. Five-on-five competitive play is where those relationships are fostered. So it’s always something that we’re thinking about and continuing to evolve. There is a ton of customization there that like makes the ProAm community really thrilled. We’re just gonna keep like leaning into that and and continuing to grow and evolve that. I really think it’s kind of like the future that five-on-five basketball, allowing us to kind of simulate what role each person plays on a court and working with other people.