Just a day in advance of the most exciting NBA playoffs in recent memory, 2K Sports announced a welcome innovation to its annual basketball series. When NBA 2K16 drops on October 3, the game’s perennial My Career mode will be written and directed by iconic director and long-time New York Knicks sideline disruption, Spike Lee. The man known for his culturally divisive films is set to add some dramatic flair to the game’s often lacking story mode.
2K Sports has long struggled to include narrative elements into its NBA titles. The first true story mode was only released in NBA 2K14, and while the extra dose of immersion was applauded by fans, no one fooled themselves into thinking the cliche-ridden story of a baller’s rise from the playground to superstardom was anything but rote. Last year’s NBA 2K15 spiced things up by drafting actual NBA players to voice their on-screen counterparts (as opposed to 14‘s reliance on subtitles). The story itself, though … not so great.
Which brings us to Lee’s involvement. For him, the project seems a perfect marriage of his dual passions of basketball and storytelling. As he told reporter Mark Wilson, “They brought me in for a reason: they want something new. They really wanted to expand on a narrative aspect of it. And I do storytelling. That’s why they came to me.”
For Lee, the game couldn’t be coming at a better time in his career. His last few stabs at writing and directing original work, 2014’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and 2012’s Red Hook Summer, have been met with universally lukewarm receptions. Seriously, the nicest thing people said about the Kickstarter-funded Jesus was that it was incomprehensible. The jury is still out on the director’s latest joint, Chiraq, a story about the growing violence in the Windy City that’s due next year, but to date the film has been mired in controversy thanks mainly to its title, which evokes a connection between Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago and war-torn Iraq. In other words, a crowd-pleasing story set in a video game could be just the ticket to revive Lee’s career (or at least insulate him against the inevitable backlash Chiraq will see upon release).
Fans of the Visual Concepts’ 2K series need not worry that Lee will infuse My Career with his trademark social commentary. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to think too much.) This’ll be more Inside Man than He Got Game. For 2K16, Lee just wants to focus on the narrative, not excoriate the NBA. “That’s not the purpose, really,” the director says. “I mean, we do touch upon some stuff, but it’s different—there was no agenda in this, just tell a good story.”
2K’s announcement should be nothing but fantastic news for pretty much anyone who’s not Phil Jackson. First, whether you agree with him or not, Spike Lee is an insanely talented storyteller. He’s able to present both sides of an argument fairly and honestly on a level that few filmmakers can even touch. For the most part, even his “simple” stories are masterfully constructed exercises in the narrative form, and you can bet that he won’t be phoning it in just because this is a video game. Even if you’re not a fan of basketball games, Spike Lee’s involvement with a video game narrative can only increase the medium’s standing in the artistic community (especially if the story mode is actually good). It’s a soothing balm on the wound left by other high-profile director’s failed attempts at forays into the digital landscape (we miss you, Silent Hills!).
While the details of the story mode are being kept strictly under wraps at this point, basketball fans and story aficionados alike now have more reason than ever to get excited for NBA 2K16.