Like Madden NFL 23 did with its Face of the Franchise career, NBA 2K23’s MyCareer mode is just going to cut straight to the chase: You get drafted, directly to the NBA team of your choice, and everything begins with your pro career. As if both sports series this year are answering longtime gripes about grinding out tutorial-level games to get drafted by the same terrible team, there’s no college preamble to NBA 2K23, no up-from-nothing tale reaching back to high school.
The similarities end right there, however. In a preview discussion with games media last week, executive producer Erick Boenisch could barely contain a chortle as he described this year’s backstory: Everyone hates you.
“Everyone in The City,” the hub world that MyCareer shares with other modes, “and all the pundits, everyone wanted [your team] to draft this player named Shep. Shep Owens,” Boenisch said, adding another name to MyCareer’s pantheon of frenemy NPCs. “So instantly, you get on stage, and [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver’s got to shake your hand and the entire audience is booing. They don’t like you right from the jump.
“They wanted Shep; Shep is the college star, he’s the flashy guy, he’s the athletic guy, he’s the charismatic guy,” Boenisch continued. “And you’ll find that as soon as you go out into The City, the people of The City wanted Shep, too.”
There will be Shep murals on the walls of The City’s buildings; people will be wearing Shep’s clothing labels, too. “So, the major part of the narrative this year is overcoming that adversity of how everyone reacts to you, and winning over the citizens of The City,” Boenisch said.
I gotta admit, I kind of like this angle, and Visual Concepts’ writers and producers have earned my trust that they can pull it off. NBA 2K’s career story has, far and away, been the best-written and best-acted narrative among the console sports simulations. It’s taken risks, as in NBA 2K19 sending a washout from China to the G-League to rebuild his career (alienating the real-life city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the process). NBA 2K20 eschewed collegiate licensing because the developers wanted to tell the story of a college player quitting his program on principle when an injured friend loses his scholarship.
NBA 2K22’s story arc was more traditional, but it still let me pick a social media fight with the team that drafted me, record a diss track calling out The Game, and get dressed down on TV almost weekly by angry grandpa Kendrick Perkins. So, given this setup, I expect NBA 2K23’s MyCareer to play with equal parts tongue-in-cheek, Better Off Dead-style humor and prove-them-all-wrong motivation.
Boenisch said players will have several main and side-quest channels to win over the doubting public. Obviously, playing well in your NBA career is vitally important. But the side hustles players dabbled with in NBA 2K22 — forays into fashion design, music promotion, and endorsements — return for NBA 2K23, too. (The fashion mogul angle is “much improved from last year,” Boenisch promised, for those preemptively rolling their eyes.)
“There’s a [new] business section you can focus on; you can do all of them, you can do none of them,” Boenisch said. But eventually they culminate in a finale in The City’s park, where all of the people your player meets along the way come together, either to participate in a street ball tournament or cheer from the sidelines. This somewhat echoes last year’s City Slam missions and storyline, where the player tries out for The City’s four factional teams, overcoming a series of five challenges for each to win everyone over.
“This is hands down our biggest MyCareer story that we’ve ever done in the past; it’s insanely large,” Boenisch vowed. “We had a different actor in mo-cap every day for, like, six months. It’s crazy.” Celebrity cameos this year include the hip-hop singer-songwriter and producer J. Cole, along with his Dreamville Records label. In addition, Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett and seven-time all-star Tracy McGrady show up to mentor the player, representing different professional paths the player can choose. Kendrick Perkins’ player-hating ball returns, with ESPN’s J.J. Redick and cover star Devin Booker in tow as analysts.
Mostly, Boenisch’s call with reporters and influencers was to reassure fans that, despite the tremendous nostalgia and hype for the return of The Jordan Challenge, and the first ever historical franchise mode, MyNBA Eras, Visual Concepts did not put its most-played mode on the back burner.
“This is where our crowd goes; everyone plays MyCareer,” Boenisch said. “Some people branch out to MyNBA [the franchise mode], some branch out to MyTeam [the ultimate team mode], but, ultimately, everyone plays MyCareer. And we’ve invested in it appropriately.”