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Dating back to 1999, no Phoenix Suns player had ever graced the cover of an NBA 2K game. On Friday, with the release of NBA 2K23, Devin Booker officially ends the streak.
Of course, this has been in the works for a long time — not only because the cover photoshoot was all the way back in late February, but because the young Suns star has been fighting for this exact type of league-wide recognition and respect since he first arrived in Phoenix.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Booker told the NBA 2K crew. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about. Obviously, played the game since forever, however long I can remember, so to finally have the chance to grace the cover and put my touch on it, man, it’s a dream come true.”
So how did this all come about? Ronnie Singh, known more commonly as Ronnie 2K, told PHNX Sports at NBA Summer League that the selection process for their cover athlete depends on whether they set up their marketing strategy for the game first and then assign an athlete to it, or vice-versa. In Booker’s case, he fit right in with 2K23‘s theme.
“Usually, we look for guys with upward trajectory, really believe in what he’s got going on in his career, and obviously with Book, that speaks for itself,” Ronnie 2K said. “But I will also say, like, this is the ‘Year of Greatness’ for us. So we put [Michael Jordan] on the other cover, we had the relationship with Sue [Bird] and Diana [Taurasi] on the WNBA cover. So Devin seemed like the perfect fit to kind of keep that theme going. And he has been so involved. He is the greatest NBA player of our game now.”
Booker has frequently mentioned being a 2K cover athlete as something that’s near or at the very top of his bucket list. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, the young Suns star participated in a televised 2K tournament between NBA players on ESPN. He wound up beating his own teammate, Deandre Ayton, to win the whole tourney.
In a season where Booker would earn his third All-Star selection, be named to the All-NBA First Team, finish fourth in MVP voting and lead the Suns to a league-best 64 wins, Booker’s dual status as a rising star and the best NBA player on the sticks made him a deserving choice of this year’s cover.
Suns coach Monty Williams said the team was on the road when Booker found out he’d be on the cover. Sharing the news was a special moment for him and Book’s loved ones.
“I felt like one of my family members had achieved something that they didn’t really know was on the horizon, but when it happened, they were so elated and wanted to share it with me,” Williams said via email. “I felt special that he told me about it.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the cover is perhaps the most unique in the franchise’s history. Even during the busyness of the season, Booker found the opening in his free time to participate in NBA 2K ‘s first-ever cover photoshoot.
“The universal reception was like, this is our best cover ever, and I think it is [due] to the effort and maximum desire that he had to do this and make it really personal,” Ronnie 2K said. “All the elements obviously with Phoenix and his calls to his career and stuff just makes that cover really beautiful, and getting involved with that was really cool.”
When Booker saw the finished cover for the first time back in March, Ronnie 2K said he could barely contain his excitement.
“Oh my God, I’ve never seen a visceral reaction like his, and obviously, I’ve done this for so many years,” he said. “He was just like, out of control. I think a lot of it’s, like, he’s been underrated, right? So maybe he was like a little bit taken aback for us to ask him to do it, even though obviously he’s one of the youngest guys to ever hit 10,000 points. He’s obviously had all of these accolades in his career, but he is so deserving.”
Melvin Booker, Devin’s father and one of his agents, predictably agrees with Ronnie 2K’s sentiment. He joked that despite not being an avid gamer, it might be time for him to buy a system just so he can play the new NBA 2K with his son on the cover.
“I don’t know what the past covers look like, but I’m gonna agree with you on that because it’s my son that’s on it: It’s the best cover they ever made, and I don’t think they will make one any better than that one,” he said with a laugh. “It’s gonna be a lot of guys getting max contracts, super-max contracts, but everybody can’t say they’ve been on the cover of NBA 2K, which is a prestigious honor today, because it’s not like it’s a magazine that releases every month or anything. This is a one-time release, and to see my son on the cover, it’s just a surreal moment, an amazing feeling.”
Despite a disappointing second-round playoff defeat, it’s been a tremendous summer otherwise for Devin Booker. He earned a super-max contract from the Suns, a contract extension with Nike, and the 2K cover dropped. Both Melvin Booker and Monty Williams know earning that honor is about more than just being on the cover of a video game.
“Devin has been working so hard for all these years and he’s never gotten a lot of respect in this game,” Booker’s father said. “To embrace the cover is almost like he’s finally getting his due as a player in this league and being mentioned among some of greats. And I think that’s why he wasn’t getting a lot of respect, because I just didn’t think people imagined putting Book’s name with the greats in the league. And now this is just one of the steps going forward that I think is gonna help his career and help his brand.”
“I’m unbelievably happy for Book just because I’ve seen the work that he puts in and the sacrifices that he’s made,” Williams added. “Not just to get the individual achievements, but to do it for the team, to do it for the city. To see him get a contract like that, to see him be the face of the video game, it’s a joy for me to be a fan and also to be a part of the process with him.”
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