Video game

NBA 2K23 brings back The Jordan Challenge, a video game celebrating a Hall of Fame career

It seems hard to authentically ignite for a superstar so well known and whose career highlights are as familiar as Michael Jordan. But I urge sports fans to watch this trailer for NBA 2K23 and not get a lump in their throat, even though they know what’s coming – The Shot over Craig Ehlo, The Shrug at Marv Albert, The Flu Game, staggering off the field into Scottie Pippen’s arms .

The Jordan Challenge, the centerpiece of a landmark work in sports video gaming 12 years ago, returns to NBA 2K23 with a level of detail and presentation spared no expense that is, even from the preview installment shown to media on Monday, legitimately impressive. It’s not just the five additional moments the designers at Visual Concepts have brought to the mode, for a total of 15. It’s also the testimonials of personalities so closely associated with Jordan and his career – from Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson to Mike Fratello and Ahmad Rashad – and the genuine affection they rekindle for a player with no shortage of admirers.

“Over the past 12 years, we’ve had a whole new generation of NBA fans to tell these incredible stories to,” said executive producer Erick Boenisch, who worked alongside gameplay director Mike Wang on the first Jordan. Challenge in NBA 2K11, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. “This generation hasn’t necessarily had the chance to see Michael play live, to see him play on television, to see him play in person. So whatever they know about that person is from YouTube, word of mouth, or their parents. It’s truly a chance for us to tell the story of Michael Jordan to a whole new generation of NBA fans.

Not that the older generation of NBA fans doesn’t also swoon when they revisit Chicago Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Richfield Coliseum and the Great Western Forum with an atmosphere like it was yesterday. Developers Boenisch and Visual Concepts designed a set of broadcast filters and chyron graphics to mimic the feel of watching Jordan’s games on CRT televisions. They studied the arenas and even used the old sponsor logos on stadium advertisements. Virtual fans are dressed in authentic period clothing.

“Mike [Wang] and his team do all kinds of custom work for college basketball, for the WNBA,” in the NBA 2K series, Boenisch said, “and those are things that we just didn’t have the size of. company to accomplish at the time.

The Jordan Challenge for NBA 2K23 begins with one of his five new moments, the 1982 NCAA National Championship game between the North Carolina Jordan Tar Heels and the Georgetown Hoyas, featuring future and longtime rival Patrick Ewing. Tar Heel greats James Worthy and Sam Perkins will speak in their alma mater uniforms. So will Ewing and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, under the formidable gaze of Hoyas coach John Thompson.

“We’ve been trying to get North Carolina for several years now,” Boenisch said, referring to the college portion of NBA 2K’s MyCareer mode. “They always had their reasons for not wanting to do it. Introducing them, we said, “Here’s our vision for the game this year, Mike is in, Mike wants him,” and they were like, “OK, great. It looks good. Let’s do this.’ They were super excited to work with us to help tell the story of Michael Jordan.

NBA 2K23 will also have the voice of the PA announcer whose “FROMMMMMMM North CAR-O-LINA” announced Jordan’s presence in the Bulls’ starting lineup. It’s Ray Clay – whose introductions were personified by a voice actor in NBA 2K11. Clay has recorded an extensive audio library similar to what over 30 stadium PAs have done for NBA 2K22meaning teammates like Bill Cartwright and BJ Armstrong will get the authentic game-day treatment alongside opponents like Vinnie Johnson, Michael Cooper and Anthony Mason.

That’s not to say the Jordan Challenge is all window dressing and presentation. Gameplay director Wang said his team understands their responsibility to make NBA 2K23Moments of feel and play like basketball in the 1990s. The most obvious example of this is Detroit’s infamous “Jordan Rules”, which punished MJ every time he approached the basket and looked for to frustrate him with a constant rotation of Bad Boy defenders.

“We had to design a lot of different systems to make it all work,” Wang said. “When you play with Jordan (against Detroit), they will force him to his left, they will double him on the drives. Whether [Jordan] positions up they’ll come in doubles with power forward and center then if you can get past all the crazy defense they throw at him every time you go to the rim you get hammered hard, with crazy and hard faults. So if you put yourself in Jordan’s shoes, you’ll really feel it, like, ‘Man, he had to work so hard to overcome this challenge.’

The “Czar of the Telestrator,” Mike Fratello, with Steve Kerr and Marv Albert during an April 12, 2012 game between Miami and Chicago. Kerr, now head coach of the Golden State Warriors, was Jordan’s teammate from 1995 to 1998. All three appear in NBA 2K23.
Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Each of the 15 moments will be surrounded by interviews with teammates, opponents, broadcasters and other luminaries from the NBA’s most telegenic era. It’s not just the obvious stars, like his Olympic teammate Chris Mullin or the always talkative Shaquille O’Neal. Boenisch reached out to NBC Sports broadcast partners Marv Albert and “The Telestrator Czar” Mike Fratello, as well as sideline reporter and longtime Jordan friend Ahmad Rashad, to complete the picture.

“We bought [Fratello] and he just started telling stories,” Boenisch said. “And we had done our research, we had prepared the scripts, but we had really never heard of this stuff before. It’s new. He added a vibe to the Jordan Challenge that I just didn’t expect. Just amazing. He really brought energy to the broadcast, and you’ll feel it when you play the game.”

I can already feel it. I vividly remember where I was for The Shot: watching on the couch with my dad, his editor, and the sportswriter, all Carolina alums. I remember watching Jordan’s layup against the Lakers at a graduation party after my senior year of high school. I remember seeing The Shrug on a black and white TV on my bedroom dresser. I remember Karl Malone’s utterly stoic expression as a sick man robbed him of his best hope of a championship ring. It was the theater of bravery in real time; it must be this good in a video game.

“It was a labor of love,” Wang said. “We have a lot of old bosses on our team, a lot of our team, a lot of people who got into this industry because of Michael Jordan. So being able to do that was great fun for us too.

The Jordan Challenge will be available in all editions of NBA 2K23, launching September 8 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X.