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College basketball star makes NBA 2K debut on Friday

Paolo Banchero of Duke is the first to appear in a video game under new NCAA rules

Video game likeness of Paolo Banchero, flexing triumphantly and wearing a blue jersey that says POWER WITHIN.
Duke’s Paolo Banchero, as he will appear in NBA 2K22’s MyTeam mode beginning on Friday.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Duke basketball star Paolo Banchero will be featured in NBA 2K22’s next multiplayer season, which kicks off on Friday. It’s the first time an active college athlete has appeared, under their own name and with their permission, in an American sports video game.

Banchero, of Seattle, will join Rui Hachimura, a 2019 first-round pick from Gonzaga, and two-time NBA 2K cover star Kevin Durant, on an “anime-style journey” through season 5, 2K Sports said in a statement. That includes another 40 tiers of rewards in the MyCareer single-player/multiplayer suite, plus new unlocks in The W, the first-ever single-player career mode for the WNBA.

Projected by many as the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft, Banchero signed a so-called NIL (name, image, and likeness) deal with 2K Sports in early September, which was announced the same day that NBA 2K22 launched. That endorsement, plus another the 6-foot, 10-inch forward announced on Monday, is permissible under new rules the NCAA put into effect last summer.

The regulations, which allow athletes to be compensated for the use of the name, image, and/or likeness, without forfeiting their eligibility, followed years of litigation and reform efforts brought along by video games.

The former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, along with two former college quarterbacks, sued EA Sports and the NCAA in 2009, alleging the unauthorized use of his likeness in the publisher’s defunct college basketball series. Nearly five years later, Electronic Arts canceled its popular NCAA Football series and reached a $40 million settlement — increasing to $60 million with the NCAA’s participation later — with the class action plaintiffs from the three suits.

A year ago, EA Sports announced it had reached a new agreement with the licensing authority for all of the NCAA’s colleges, and had begun development on a rebooted College Football series. In July, after the NCAA’s new rules took effect, EA Sports said it was closely watching developments regarding athletes’ names, images, and likenesses, and had plans “to explore the possibility of including players” in the new game.

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