NBA 2K24, the latest entry in the long-running basketball video game franchise, is getting a little more Hollywood with the addition of virtual celebrities watching players dunk, dribble and dish out dimes in the game.
Not only does 2K24 have every player in the NBA, WNBA and a slew of all-time players like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and many more, celebrities like music producer Diplo, internet comedian Druski and businessman and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will now appear in the game, cheering players on.
“We scan them the same way that the NBA players get scanned,” explains Ronnie Singh, the digital marketing director of 2K Games, but better known as Ronnie 2K in the video game world.
Singh himself also appears in NBA 2K24, and to the millions of players worldwide he’s almost as well known as names like Kobe, MJ or Shaq. Standing at 6’3′, Singh sees eye-to-eye with many NBA players themselves, and fans look up to him as their go-to ambassador for all things culture, music and brand partnerships in the 2K world. He helps curate the iconic 2K playlist, which features many of hip-hop’s biggest names and up-and-comers, integrates some of the biggest fashion and apparel brands into the game and throws lavish 2K parties and activations, like a Times Square launch for 2K24.
Creating the lifelike 2K avatars involves a full-body scan of each NBA player to digitally recreate every bit of their movement in the game, from how they dribble down the court to how they celebrate a clutch 3-pointer. Their real-life stats then translate to a player rating on a scale of 1-100, with superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry getting a 96 and recent NBA champ Nikola Jokic leading with a 98.
The player ratings are always source of heated debate, but the celebrity scans were a much easier process, Singh says. At a time when 3D body-scanning and AI recreation are contentious points in Hollywood’s strikes, 2K24 had “zero pushback” in putting the celebs in the game.
“It’s a digital reference of them. They have a say on what their final iteration is, but we get zero pushback because it’s literally supposed to be a representation of what they are,” Singh says. “I get funny things, like Druski’s like, ‘Oh, since the scan, I lost 40 pounds. Can we update it?’ It’s always in fun, and it’s such an opportunity for them to be in their favorite basketball game. They’re a part of our community and we love giving the opportunities to the people in our fanbase.”
Ahead of Friday’s launch, Singh rolled up to Times Square with a squad of celebs, including rappers Swae Lee and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, tennis star Frances Tiafoe and Detroit Pistons No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham. In honor of the franchise’s 25th anniversary, they played the world’s largest game of 2K on a massive billboard, and Cunningham was named the first Times Square champion.
Ahead of the game’s release, Singh and Cunningham attended a launch event at ArtsDistrict Brooklyn with Cleveland Cavaliers player Donovan Mitchell and 2K24 cover star and WNBA player Sabrina Ionescu. The night was a mix of sports, gaming and hip-hop stars, with the guest list including rappers Lil Yachty, Swae Lee, Jeleel, New York Jets player Sauce Gardner and a performance by Lil Uzi Vert. With his 2K rating a team-high 84 going into his third year, Cunningham sees it as a launching pad.
“It’s alright, it’s whatever,” he says of his rating. “I look forward to bumping it up, so it’s a good starting spot. I get to see the improvement throughout the year.”