By Yousef Nasser
The mere sight of it took NBA players gathered for All-Star Weekend to a simpler time. The timeless, slick white box contained Madden 2004, a video game with a legacy that speaks for itself.
“That’s the greatest Madden game that came out,” Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine exclaimed.
“It’s one of the best video games of all time,” Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon declared.
Gracing the cover of Madden 2004 is then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. HIs digital avatar in the game is a force that’s virtually unmatched throughout the sports gaming world.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. His eyes lit up upon seeing the image of his childhood hero on the iconic video game.
“That’s the man,” Sexton said.
Vick’s legacy transcends the gridiron. His rocket arm and explosive speed made him very difficult to contain on the football field. In the video game, his skillset was simply unprecedented for its time. His video game character in Madden 2004 is considered by many to be the most unstoppable in the history of the series.
“Ever,” Gordon said.
“Easy call,” Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said.
The NBA 2K series has been the most popular basketball video game in the market for over a decade. While there are a few names who get mentioned as the greatest video game characters in the game’s history, the series does not seem to have a figure that resonates with players quite like Vick.
That is not to say that the game does not have dominant players. Golden State Warriors forward Eric Paschall says that while LeBron James once held the mantle as being NBA 2K’s most unstoppable player, Giannis Antetokounmpo currently holds that distinction.
“Giannis is a cheat code in the game,” Paschall said. “But he plays that way in real life.”
Brian Mazique is a sports video game journalist who writes for Forbes. According to Mazique, the length and the wingspan of the Antetokounmpo player model combined with his “crazy” rebounding, shot-blocking, defense, speed, and finishing ratings make Giannis “almost impossible” to stop in the game.
“Right now, this year, it’s absolutely Giannis,” Brian Mazique said. “The only weakness is giving him the three, but if you play with Giannis enough in the game, you start to get so good at the jump shot motion that you can kind of compensate for the ratings.”
Mazique says that Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George are considered two of the best players at playing NBA 2K. Gilgeous-Alexander echoed Mazique’s sentiments about Antetokounmpo’s status as the best video game player in the 2K series.
“He just dunks everything,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Of course, Antetokounmpo’s character in the video game is not the only player who inspires awe in current NBA players. Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke says that while there are a few guys who really could not be stopped in the game, LeBron James shines above the rest.
“Number one is easily Bron,” Clarke said. “All you had to do is drive to the basket and hold ‘X’ and he was dunking it. His jumper was also cash. He was easily the best player.”
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie both agree that Kobe Bryant in NBA 2K10 is the most unstoppable player in the history of the series.
“With Kobe in 2K10, I think he was about a 98 [rating].” Mitchell said. “He could do it all. Shoot, dunk on you. That was prime 2-4 going out there. Mid-range, threes, and had that killer instinct. He had that Mamba mentality. That’s what made him very special.”
Dinwiddie says that the most points that he can remember scoring with Bryant in NBA 2K10 is “only about 60.”
“I play on high difficulty.” Dinwiddie said. “It’s just my friend was really like, he sucked. That’s why I scored so much.”
Several NBA players shared stories about high scoring performances in NBA 2K with star players. Sexton said that his brother scored more than 80 points against him with Tracy McGrady.
“I couldn’t stop him,” Sexton said. “I could not stop him. It was crazy.”
LaVine says that when he was a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he adjusted the ratings on his own character to a 99, the highest possible rating, and went on a scoring tear of his own.
“I had like 80-something,” LaVine said. “I was excited about that.”
Gordon claims to have scored 115 points with Steve Nash in NBA Live 2005. Despite the feat, Gordon maintains that his favorite player to play with in NBA 2K was Derrick Rose.
“D-Rose, once he started making that three ball, it was pretty much over,” Gordon said. “He used his athleticism to get to the rim, and if you fell off, he would just pull up for the three.”
Clarke says that when he was growing up, there was a rule amongst his friends that no one could play with the James’ Miami Heat teams because they were “too good.” In recent years, the Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have been another team that has been considered by the NBA 2K community as unfair to play with. Gilgeous-Alexander, who says he scored over 60 points with Antetokounmpo against teammate Darius Bazley, suggests that an Antetokounmpo ban may be coming next.
“It’s gotten to that point,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Mazique acknowledges that while there are some special players in the history of the 2K series, including Bryant and James, he believes that Giannis Antetokounmpo is as close as anyone to being the Michael Vick of NBA 2K.
“I think the 2K20 version of Giannis is almost as dominant as anybody,” Mazique said. “Especially if you got it in the hands of somebody who really knows how to play the game, the 2K20 version of Giannis is up there.”