The 15 legends of 'NBA 2K12'

August, 18, 2011
08/18/11
4:53
PM ET
By Jon Robinson
NBA 2K122K SportsOscar Robertson is just one of 15 legends playable in "NBA 2K12."

John Stockton's short shorts just got even shorter. That's right, when 2K Sports artists were rendering the exact look of the legends in "NBA 2K12," a few adjustments were made to make the game feel even more authentic. But 2K Sports didn't stop with John's virtual thread count as they not only went out and made uniform adjustments, they actually recreated matchups from the 1960s complete in black and white and factored in all of the actual rules changes depending on the year, not to mention all of the sweet signature animations and shot packages that they added to capture every move in Pistol Pete's arsenal.

NBA 2K12
2K SportsSweet pass.

So it's no wonder that, even with the NBA locked out, "NBA 2K12" is my most anticipated sports video game this year. And why not? After selling over five million copies of "NBA 2K11" becasue of the nostalgia (and hang time) of Air Jordan, 2K Sports is going all out to top themselves by adding 15 legends into the game this year, each against their most memorable opponents as gamers try to relive the magic that was the "Showtime" Lakers against and the Boston Celtics, and the "Bad Boy" Pistons against the Chicago Bulls (complete with hard fouls).

"Our goal was to pick the 15 greatest and most influential players in NBA history and represent them in our game," said "2K12" producer Erick Boenisch. And although the list of 15 players 2K Sports came up with is sure to spark some serious disagreement and possible outrage (especially among Charles Barkley fans), Boenisch says the back-and-forth discussion was just as fierce inside the 2K offices. "There was a tremendous amount of debate," he said with a laugh. "We have some strong-headed people on our team and there was a lot of arguing over why this guy is there while this guy isn't. And this is something we expect the fans to do as well. It's not a cut and dry list. It's subjective, it's opinionated, but as the developer of the game, we felt like we put together the strongest list we could. We're all huge basketball heads here, and we want our fans to experience these classic teams and learn more about the great history of the NBA."

Then again, the way the NBA's Greatest mode is setup in the game, you can almost think of the 15 legends as 30 legendary teams as each legend not only has his actual teammates from the time period, but they are playing a rival from that same year, so although Dominique Wilkins is not among the 15 legends, he is in the game thanks to the matchup created when Larry Bird and the Celtics take on the 1985-86 Hawks.

But it's not just about the stars, as 2K went to great lengths to fill out the actual benches for these teams, having 10-12 of the real NBA players for every historic team and keeping the number of generic replacements to a minimum.

"Last year, we were only about five deep on some of our classic teams, so it was important for us to go back and add as many of the rotation and bench players that we could," Boenisch said. "So this year we got guys like Kevin Duckworth and Ed Nealy to help fill out your teams and you're going to have way more of the real players than what you played with last year."

Another big difference in "NBA 2K12" is the fact that you're not reliving or trying to recreate any historic game or actual moment that took place. You also don't have any specific goals like score 63 points or dish out 20 assists like last year's game because the developers thought the goals from the Jordan Challenge of "2K11" really changed the way you approached each contest. So this year, you have one goal: win. It's that simple. Win and you unlock both teams to play as in Exhibition. "This is about showcasing the players rather than highlighting one moment in their careers," Boenisch said. "So we went through each player's career and picked the time where we thought this player was at his peak or a team we thought was the most entertaining this player was on. We then pitted them against their rival, or in some cases, we put them against a team that we thought would just be fun for the user to play."

NBA 2K122K SportsLarry Bird can beat you from anywhere on the court.

In terms of how the events are presented, expect a grittier look to the older games (remember the pre-HD days?) as the producers tried to capture the classic style of every time period through a variation of lenses. The three-man announcing team of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and newcomer Steve Kerr also approach each matchup differently, more like they just pulled a tape out of the vault than are calling a game live. They know about each player's entire career, not just this one point in time, and comment about the teams and legends in a way that represents the entire history of the subject. So when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is playing, they not only talk about him on the Lakers, they talk about what he did in Milwaukee, how he retired and even what he's been up to since retiring from the game.

Said Boenisch: "It's about each player's career and how they helped shape the NBA landscape."

And more importantly, how the past is now helping reshape the future of sports video games.

NBA 2K12
2K SportsVintage Kareem.

The Legend: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The Game: The 1986-87 Lakers vs. The 1986-87 Celtics

Why he's in the game: Beyond the coolness of the goggles and skyhook, Kareem helped change the NBA with his scoring touch and finesse from the center position. "Before Kareem, the center was all about being big and strong, but Kareem was quick and agile," Boenisch said. "He's a six-time league MVP, multi-time champion, and the leagues all-time leading scorer. Besides, it's the "Showtime" Lakers. How can you argue with that?"

The Legend: Larry Bird

The Game: The 1985-86 Celtics vs. The 1985-86 Hawks

Why he's in the game: Larry "Legend" is one of the greatest clutch shooters and competitors of all time, and in "NBA 2K12," Bird is deadly from long range. "He's also rocking the mustache and wild hair from '86," Boenisch said. "And in this matchup, you're getting Bird against Dominique Wilkins and a fun Hawks team."

The Legend: Wilt Chamberlain

The Game: The 1971-72 Lakers vs. The 1971-72 Knicks

NBA 2K122K SportsDo you have what it takes to score 100 points as Wilt in "NBA 2K12"?

Why he's in the game: "This is definitely one of the more entertaining matchups in the game as these two teams battled in the NBA Finals that year, and Wilt's Laker team is arguably one of the best ever," says Boenisch. But watch out for these Knicks as you'll even see a young Phil Jackson trying to take you to the rim. As for Wilt, he's an absolute beast in the game, and arguably the most dominant big man to ever take the 2K court.

The Legend: Julius Erving

The Game: The 1984-85 76ers vs. The 1984-85 Bucks

Why he's in the game: Think LeBron and Kobe are sick video game characters? "The King" and "Mamba" are nothing compared to "The Doctor." "Dr. J pioneered the above-the-rim scoring with athleticism, and that's reflect in our game," Boenisch said. "You'll be able to do that sick baseline dunk of his. He plays above his ratings and you can pretty much do whatever you want when he's under your control."

NBA 2K12
2K SportsEwing is a force.

The Legend: Patrick Ewing

The Game: The 1994-95 Knicks vs. The 1994-95 Magic

Why he's in the game: According to 2K Sports, Ewing was the last of the legends to sign on for this feature, and what a great addition he is. Not only do you get the Ewing squad complete with the likes of John Starks and Charles Oakley, you get them going up against a young Magic team that features Shaq and Penny. Said Boenisch: "Patrick Ewing is one of the most offensively talented centers of the modern era, and his matchup is one of my favorites, if not my favorite matchup in the game. This game is one of the most challenging because as Patrick Ewing, you're going up against Shaq the entire time. It's also one of the matchups I think people are going to play over and over again." My advice: foul Nick Anderson.

The Legend: Magic Johnson

The Game: The 1990-91 Lakers vs. The 1990-91 Blazers

Why he's in the game: "No player was better at making the players around him better," Boenisch said. "He's the ultimate teammate and the general of the 'Showtime' Lakers. He's also the first guy I brought up when we started discussing this feature." Fun matchup against a Blazer team that features the likes of Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler and even Danny Ainge. Talk about classic 1990s basketball.

NBA 2K122K SportsMagic Johnson was the first name that came up when 2K was designing this mode.

The Legend: Michael Jordan

The Game: The 1992-93 Bulls vs. The 1992-93 Hornets

Why he's in the game: Think "NBA 2K11" captured everything you needed to know about Jordan? Think again, as 2K Sports added even more of the signature shots, dunks and dribbles of His Airness into "2K12." "We chronicled so much of Michael last year, that this year it was all about making it a fun match-up," Boenisch said. And with a Hornets squad featuring everyone from Alonzo Mourning and "Grandmama" Larry Johnson to Muggsy Bogues and Kendall Gill, expect some of the best action of any of the NBA's Greatest games.

NBA 2K122K SportsMichael Jordan worked with the "NBA 2K12" design team to make sure his character felt "real."

The Legend: Karl Malone

The Game: The 1997-98 Jazz vs. The 1997-98 Spurs

NBA 2K12
2K SportsThe Mailman delivers.

Why he's in the game: "Karl Malone is one of the greatest power forwards of all time," Boenisch said. "He was big, he was strong, he was incredibly durable, and he's easily the best pick-and-roll power forward of all time. We couldn't put this list out without including Karl Malone." The matchup pits Malone against Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the Spurs in what's really a changing-of-the-guard game.

The Legend: Scottie Pippen

The Game: The 1995-96 Bulls vs. The 1995-96 Sonics

Why he's in the game: Having Scottie Pippen as a legend is sure to anger a lot of fans, especially since Pippen is already featured in the game thanks to the Jordan challenge. But Boenisch justified the pick: "Scottie Pippen stands on his own. He is arguably one of the best small forwards of all time, one of the best defensive small forwards of all time, and his accomplishments stand on their own. We had no hesitation in naming him to our 15." Then again, even if you're upset about Pippen making the cut, you can't be mad at the matchup as it brings you Jordan, Pippen and the Bulls against one of the greatest video game teams of all time: Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf and the Sonics.

NBA 2K122K SportsIt's Scottie Pippen versus Shawn Kemp in a game that is sure to be played above the rim.

The Legend: Oscar Robertson

The Game: The 1970-71 Bucks vs. The 1970-71 Lakers

Why he's in the game: According to the "NBA 2K12" producers, Oscar Robertson was the most difficult character to recreate accurately in the game. "There's just not that much good video of him available," Boenisch said. "Pretty much everything people know about Oscar they get by just looking at the stats." So to bring The Big O's true style into the game, the 2K Sports crew had to dig around for any reference videos they could find, and the hours upon hours of research paid off, delivering a historic version of Robertson that makes him the best all-around player in the game. "He's the walking triple-double," Boenisch added, "and the game wouldn't be complete without him."

The Legend: Hakeem Olajuwon

The Game: The 1993-94 Rockets vs. The 1993-94 Nuggets

NBA 2K12
2K SportsDream Shake.

Why he's in the game: Any time you can add the "Dream Shake" into a video game, I'm all for it. "Hakeem is that silky-smooth center who was agile and smart," Boenisch said. "And Hakeem is so good in the game thanks to that 'Dream Shake' that we needed a match-up against a powerful defender. So if you want to win this challenge, you're going to have to do it against Dikembe Mutombo."

The Legend: Isiah Thomas

The Game: The 1988-89 Pistons vs. The 1988-89 Bulls

Why he's in the game: The Bad Boy Pistons against the Chicago Bulls. "This is the match-up that defined the NBA playoffs in the late '80s," Boenisch said. "You just knew at some point, the Bulls and the Pistons were going to go at it, things were going to get rough, and it was going to be amazing." Isiah leads a team that includes Joe Dumars, The Microwave, a tattoo-less Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer. "I love this challenge because of the attitude involved. And although you're not going to be punching anyone, you can do hard fouls," Boenisch added. If only I could remember Isiah for his brilliance on the court and not what he did to the Knicks.

The Legend: Bill Russell

The Game: The 1964-65 Celtics vs. The 1964-65 Lakers

NBA 2K12
2K SportsClassic look.

Why he's in the game: This is the oldest classic matchup in the game, complete with black and white graphics and announcers that sound like they're speaking into a tin can. "Russell is one of the most tenacious rebounders and defenders the league has ever seen," Boenisch said. "We researched him incredibly well in order to get all of his signature moves and that lanky look in there. We also made adjustments to the uniforms for these older teams, not only making the shorts shorter, but making the jerseys fit tighter and fitting them in the older style shoes. It really helps give you a different feel when you're playing."

The Legend: John Stockton

The Game: The 1997-98 Jazz vs. The 1997-98 Lakers

Why he's in the game: He is the NBA's all-time leader in both assists and steals, and was a point guard who brought his team to the playoffs every single year he played. I'm loving this matchup as it brings the Jazz up against Kobe Bryant and Shaq. Added Boenisch: "This will be an eye-opener for younger fans who are used to Kobe dominating every video game. This is a different Kobe. He's pretty raw."

The Legend: Jerry West

The Game: The 1970-71 Lakers vs. The 1970-71 Hawks

Why he's in the game: You can't make a legends mode and not include the logo. "Jerry West is one of the NBA's greatest clutch performers of all time," Boenisch said. "And when people look at his stats, they focus on his offense, but he was also an incredible defensive player. We really wanted to honor him and show people that before Magic, before Kobe, the Lakers were Jerry West's team." And playing against West, you have a Hawks teams led by "Pistol" Pete Maravich. "He'll be doing those sick, no-look passes and crazy shots all over the place. It was a no-brainer pick for us."

NBA 2K122K SportsJerry West is still Mr. Clutch in "NBA 2K12."

Bonus Teams: 1990-91 Warriors and 2001-02 Kings

Why they're in the game: Luckily for west coast ballers, the list of classic teams doesn't end with the 15 legends. If you pre-order "NBA 2K12," you'll also receive a code that unlocks these two awesome teams that are just made for running-and-gunning. On one side, you have my personal favorite team, the Run TMC Warriors, complete with Chris Mullin's buzz cut and quick release. On the other side, you have Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and the Kings in one of the more electrifying lineups in recent memory. "Chris Webber is one guy who might not be in our 15, but he's amazing to play with," Boenisch said. "Both these teams are tremendously fun and great additions to our game."

So what do you think NBA fans? Anyone you were hoping to play as not make the cut? Hit me up on Twitter @ESPN_JRob and let me know what you think of 2K's list of legends.

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