The Clippers' Blake Griffin, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant… (NBA 2K Sports )
As if Kobe Bryant needed another reminder, it's becoming more apparent he's no longer at the forefront of the NBA's hype machine.
Sure, Bryant boasts the top selling jersey interntationally. His presence in China proves unmatched. Out here in Los Angeles, Bryant still remains king.
But there are other signs suggesting he's no longer commanding the spotlight. Most of the excitement in L.A. last season centered on the dunks the Clippers threw down and less on the aging Lakers. With the purple-and-gold bowing out in the Western Conference semifinals, all eyes were on LeBron James and Kevin Durant battling for league supremacy. And only three years after Bryant appeared on the cover of the NBA 2K video game, it is now embracing up-and-coming albeit less accomplished NBA stars. "NBA 2K13" will feature the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Oklahoma City's Durant and Chicago's Derrick Rose on the cover, The Times has learned.
"Kobe is a great, great friend of the NBA 2K franchise, but each year we continue to evolve and we want to do different things," 2K Sports vice president of marketing Jason Argent told The Times in a phone interview. "This year, it's focused more on the young guys. But Kobe is always part of our family. We think very highly of him and what he's done."
Argent said his views mirror those of Lakers fans concerning Bryant, who finished as the league's second-highest scorer in the 2011-12 campaign after having an innovative procedure last off-season on his surgically repaired right knee and left ankle. Still, there's no escaping the reality that Bryant's willpower alone couldn't carry the Lakers deep into the postseason. He shot 43% from the field, his lowest since his second season in the league. According to 82games.com, Bryant made only 32.7% of his shots in the last five minutes of the game.
It remains to be seen how all that will translate into the overall player rankings for "NBA 2K13," which Argent said will be announced at an undisclosed time before the game's release dates for XBox and Playstation consoles (Oct. 2) and Nintendo Wii (at some point during the Christmas season). But one thing is clear: Bryant will have less reason to gripe than LeBron James, who isn't on the game's cover after leading the Miami Heat to his first NBA championship.
"LeBron is no slouch, obviously," Argent said. "He's always a part of the conversation with this kind of new dynasty. But we think these new guys are the legends in the making. That takes nothing away from LeBron. We're just focusing on the new guys on the cover this year."
The NBA 2K video game took the opposite approach in last year's version. Cognizant of the possibility of a lockout-affected season, "NBA 2K12" paid homage to the league's past greats. It featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on three separate covers. The game highlighted 15 NBA legends, including the Lakers' Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. It also allowed users to match up historic teams with current ones.
"Being crowned as one of the 'NBA 2K13' cover athletes is a huge honor and something I always dreamt about," Durant said in a statement. "It's definitely humbling to grace the cover after the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird."
Argent said the push to focus this season on the next crop of "legends in the making" reflected the company's desire to continuously evolve.
"We've always been fan of the sport and the bigger picture," he said. "Everyone would agree there's this new excitement around the league with some of the younger guys. We just wanted to support that with what we're doing from a gaming standpoint."
To do that, 2K Sports launched a Twitter campaign, asking users to tweet the hashtag #UncoverNBA2K, which would then unlock clues on who would appear on the cover. That included presenting roses to suggest Rose would appear. It featured a tarantula in reference to the Thunder star's nickname, "Durantula." And a large bird atop the cover symbolized Griffin's high-flying dunks.
"There’s so much young talent around the NBA, so it’s very exciting to be chosen for NBA 2K's 'New Dynasty' alongside Kevin and Derrick,” the Clippers forward said in a statement. "The NBA 2K series has always been my first choice when I want to get a game in."
Argent said Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook was "part of the conversation" on who to feature on the cover, but he described Griffin, Durant and Rose as the "cream of the crop."
Each has won Rookie of the Year honors and appeared in this year's All-Star game. Griffin helped the Clippers to their first playoff appearance since 2006 and won the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest. Durant notched his third consecutive scoring title this season. And Rose won the 2010-11 regular-season MVP.
"It's a dream come true to be one of the cover athletes for 'NBA 2K13,'" Rose said in a statement. "I've worked closely with 2K Sports since 'NBA 2K10,' and I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan as the latest Chicago Bull to be featured on the cover."