The only athletes who can match LeBron James' 'NBA 2K' dominance are in other sports

Jack Baer
·4 min read

It’s officially “NBA 2K” rating season, and with it comes the news that LeBron James remains the King.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar was revealed to have a 98 rating in “NBA 2K21” on Thursday, making him the No. 1-rated player in the game. No surprise given that James is coming off his fourth NBA championship and a second-place MVP vote.

Coming up behind James are Giannis Antetokounmpo at a 97 and James Harden at a 96. Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are also confirmed to be a 95.

If this all feels familiar, it’s because James has been the top player in every game in the NBA 2K series since “NBA 2K10.” Just look at this collection of very high numbers:

Again, none of this should be surprising for a man who has been the top player in basketball for a decade. Any slippage due to age or friction as he changes teams is covered by the inertia of his status as the clear face of basketball. Even when James only played 55 games and the Lakers missed the playoffs last year, he was still a 97.

No player in the game comes close to even James’ more recent excellence, like his last five years of being a 96 or better. Harden was a 90 four years ago, while Durant was a 93 that same year (which may have had more to do with making sure his Golden State Warriors didn’t break the game).

To find James’ virtual equivalents in that respect, you pretty much have to go to different sports.

Who matches LeBron James’ video game dominance?

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James plays against the Miami Heat during the second half in Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LeBron James is atop the "NBA 2K" world again. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

So, a 96 or higher in five straight years. It takes a lot to stay in elite territory for even half a decade, and most of the players we found who meet that criteria are in the “Madden NFL” series, which is natural given the sheer size of the NFL player pool.

Specifically, there were five. Each number here represents a rating in the last five games released (the first being “Madden 21,” the second being “Madden 20,” etc.)

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald: 99, 99, 99, 99, 98

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt: 98, 97, 98, 98, 99

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones: 97, 98, 98, 98, 96

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller: 97, 97, 99, 99, 99

Aaron Donald is a scary man.

In MLB, there is one name and one name only, and he still requires an asterisk. Mike Trout has been the top player in “MLB: The Show” for years, but low ratings for players across the board in the 2018 version of the game meant he fell below a 96. But it’s still in line with the nature of what we’re looking for.

Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout: 99, 99, 93*, 99, 99

The Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid seemed to be the natural answer for the NHL, but EA’s “NHL” series only made him the top player in the game four years ago, not five. In “NHL 17,” he was an 88.

“FIFA” likewise has two very natural answers in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the game unfortunately does not rate players like the other sports. Still, they seem worth mentioning with the Trout precedent of a top ranking counting, with an asterisk denoting the top rating in the game.

Lionel Messi: 93*, 94*, 94*, 93, 93

Cristiano Ronaldo: 92, 93, 94*, 94*, 94*

Obviously, this club comes with some obvious caveats. We’re talking about five different games made by five different development teams and three different publishers. But these kind of video games are all interesting reflections of their sport, and it’s fun to think about just who matches up across some very large borders.

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