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Best Sports Game of the Decade: #1 NBA 2K11

nba 2k11 sports game of decade

NBA 2K11

Best Sports Game of the Decade: #1 NBA 2K11

I can still remember where I was when I booted up NBA 2K11 and MJ appeared on my TV to ask me if I was ready for what was to come. I was more than ready, and I’m more than ready to talk about why the community and staff has voted to make NBA 2K11 our pick for best sports game of the decade.

NBA 2K11 MJ

“Are you ready?”

NBA 2K11 was a turning point for basketball video games. It was simultaneously the beginning of the end for the NBA Live series, and the start of the true rise of the NBA 2K series. It was the game where people seemed to realize that NBA 2K was not just out there to make the next yearly basketball game, but rather become a series that was a love letter to the NBA as a whole.

The Jordan Challenge mode is remembered by so many not just because it was the first 2K game MJ was appearing in since his (second) retirement, but because the mode brought with it so many other things that would become staples of the 2K series. Things like team-specific playbooks, the classic players we now expect every season, and signature animations for players really started to blossom with this game.

And the genius of it all was that the developers wrapped up so much of this content within a singular mode designed around the most iconic basketball player of all-time.

With NBA 2K16, I talked a lot about how feature-rich it was and how it felt like a culmination of things for the NBA 2K series. By that same logic then, NBA 2K11 feels like the creation of a timeline that culminated with 2K16. It’s when NBA 2K transcended basketball and became a title that pushed into all aspects of video games. It’s a title that had people talking about sports video games who normally would not give them a second thought. Jordan has that impact on people, and the Jordan Challenge was deserving of that attention as well.

For true fans of the sport, what was perhaps coolest about the whole mode was how specific it could be. You could do specific things like make those six infamous threes with MJ against the Trail Blazers, and you would actually see MJ do his shrug on the court. On top of that, you had game-specific commentary that would also call out events as well as talk about what the game meant at the time. There was even some film grain on the screen to make it really give off that ’90s or ’80s vibe that you would have had watching MJ ruin lives on NBC.

The Jordan Challenge still stands out because it tapped into nostalgia while also feeling like you were getting to play out something you had previously only been able to see on NBA TV or ESPN Classic. It felt like a new idea for sports games, and it brought with it the novel concept of reliving history in a manner we had never seen before in a sports video game. The gameplay of the mode could certainly be cheesy at times because you had to complete some tough goals with shortened quarter lengths, but it was easy to forgive things like that because it all felt so new and fresh.

nba 2k11 sports game of decade

After all, you just felt like you were using MJ. It went beyond just his signature jumper (something 2K had already been focused on with prior games) and carried into the other animations as well. You had Jordan in the post with signature animations. You had signature MJ finishes. You had his tongue out on drives. It was all there. And it was not just specific to MJ. You had signature plays for classic teams. You had guys like Kobe and LeBron also getting signature animations now, and so it felt more and more like you really were playing with the stars of today and yesterday all at once.

And, again, I can’t overstate the significance at the time of seeing not just MJ (and his many alternate versions in the game), but getting Ewing, Stockton, Malone, Bird, Magic and so on. All of these legends we take for granted in today’s 2K games, we really had not been able to use them to such a degree before NBA 2K11. It felt special, and it’s a feeling I probably won’t get again any time soon in a sports game.

NBA 2K11 was not great just because of the Jordan Challenge or the legends. Beyond the main event attraction, the game was just packed to the roof with stuff to do. The online play could be spotty at times, but I still remember having a blast in OS online leagues (shout out to the OS Vets as there’s still plenty of classic footage up on YouTube). The Association mode got some needed buffs to its AI trade logic, and every team felt a little different to use within that mode.

MyPlayer/MyCareer was probably the one key area where the game fell short. It just felt stagnant from 2K10 to 2K11. I also have to mention the press conferences for being truly awful. I think at the time some people liked them because it was something fresh we had been begging for in sports games. However, it was the start of a trend that continues to this day of 2K writing some of the worst and most cringe-worthy dialogue around as it relates to press conferences for your player.nba 2k11 sports game of decade

Regardless, the various presentation and gameplay improvements smoothed everything else out. There was a solid halftime show with Damon Bruce. There was a “pressbook” after the game where you cycled through tons of the best pictures from the game. There was a flashy player of the game video package that really popped. Plus, the commentary overall was really starting to hit its stride and make each game feel like a real broadcast.

Quality of life changes really helped moved things along in 2K11 as well. With gameplay, it was the first year we got pick and roll on LB/L1 rather than on the B/circle button. We also got a fake pass button for the first time, which resulted in another avenue of creativity. These two items alone really started to open up the pick and roll and make everything flow a lot easier. In tandem with more signature animations and more team-specific plays, the idea of there really being 30 teams in the NBA started to take hold.

The list goes on and on for why NBA 2K11 was so great, but the point is that MJ and NBA 2K11 continue to be a perfect fusion because it was the best player from one era meeting up with the best sports video game of its era. I will always think about the greatness of both because they’re linked via my experiences with NBA 2K11. So with no hesitation at all, it’s easy to say one last time that NBA 2K11 is the best basketball video game of the decade and our pick as the best sports video game of the decade.

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  1. agreed.
    the best NBA 2k of the decade vote plus top sports game of the decade, has me revisiting all the NBA 2k games.
    Every NBA 2k game from 11 on have been solid and unique in its own right. all are on my PC. all are good. some of the NBA 2k's took me an entire yearly cycle or two to appreciate them. for instance, I was not a fan of 2k18 , but now I find it to be actually a good title.
    NBA2k despite all the complaints by folks, just knows how to do basketball.
    had so many great things. the gameplay, also competitively in online League, felt great. and does anyone Still remember the community Homepage where you could See live Tickers of League games?
    I remember going to pick up 2k11 at the mall. It was late & the guy at the counter was clearly ready to go home. Just scowled at everyone. I hand him the game and he asks “you buying this for yourself or someone else?” I said it was for me & I saw it had old teams on it. His face brightens up and he goes “Man the minute I go get home I’m playing with the Bad Boys!” He looked absolutely thrilled.
    2k11 may not have played the best but it definitely rejuvenated my interest in video game basketball games.
    Sent from my iPhone using Operation Sports
    I just busted this game out for a couple of hours. I would sincerely argue this game plays smarter than the current NBA 2K games. No glaring AI issues, adaptive AI, awesome presentation, Amazing off-line mode’s to play and a killer soundtrack. What really is there not to like? It’s still the foundation game for this amazing sports franchise !
    GisherJohn24
    I just busted this game out for a couple of hours. I would sincerely argue this game plays smarter than the current NBA 2K games. No glaring AI issues, adaptive AI, awesome presentation, Amazing off-line mode’s to play and a killer soundtrack. What really is there not to like? It’s still the foundation game for this amazing sports franchise !

    I'm pretty sure either the hop step or the spin move into dunk were OP as all get out this year. But I mean, I still generally agree with the premise here. I don't know if it plays smarter or not, but I still think it's a very playable game.
    I'll never forget this game. I grew up in a household with very tight parents. I didn't have a PS3/360 like most of my friends. I was playing PS2 versions of 2k7-2k9 and had 2k10 on PSP. I graduated high school just a few months before 2k11 was released and I had saved up all my graduation money and was finally able to buy a PS3 before this game released.
    I couldn't wait for this game and was constantly refreshing this site for more news. I was nineteen years old and just getting some sense of independence. This game really represents that portion of my life in hindsight.
    ChaseB
    I'm pretty sure either the hop step or the spin move into dunk were OP as all get out this year. But I mean, I still generally agree with the premise here. I don't know if it plays smarter or not, but I still think it's a very playable game.

    The spin dunk was definitely OP. As I stated in other threads, it happened before NBA 2K gained popularity with the mainstream crowd and serious NBA 2K YouTube content creators. I probably played 500+ online games, and I can count on one hand how many people I played against who used the exploit.
    EDIT: Just watched my rant video from that time period, lol. I was heated after a game against the Heat.
    Was it 2k11 or 2k12 where online games disconnect as soon as someone started a dunk or layup Animation from the free throw line on fastbreaks?
    jk31
    Was it 2k11 or 2k12 where online games disconnect as soon as someone started a dunk or layup Animation from the free throw line on fastbreaks?

    Haha whaaaat, I do not remember that.
    ksuttonjr76
    The spin dunk was definitely OP. As I stated in other threads, it happened before NBA 2K gained popularity with the mainstream crowd and serious NBA 2K YouTube content creators. I probably played 500+ online games, and I can count on one hand how many people I played against who used the exploit.
    EDIT: Just watched my rant video from that time period, lol. I was heated after a game against the Heat.

    I never got to experience the exploit cause I didn’t know how to do a spin dunk lol

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