The NBA 2K franchise has its first female cover star in Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker, who will grace the front of the popular video game’s 2K22 special edition in honor of the WNBA’s 25th anniversary.
Parker, a WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, will soon head to Tokyo as a studio analyst for NBC—but only after she makes her sixth WNBA All-Star appearance. She’s one of the most recognizable faces in women’s basketball. But what Parker has really done, as shown by her success on NBA on TNT, is establish a personal brand not confined to her gender. She’s a crossover star between men’s and women’s sports and between the court and the broadcast booth. Parker’s versatility is what makes her one of the WNBA’s most marketable assets and a strategic choice for the first female face of the 2K franchise as it looks to branch beyond its NBA origins.
“The WNBA has a loyal and growing fan base who wants to see their teams and players represented in basketball’s most iconic video game,” said Alfie Brody, 2K’s VP of global marketing strategy. “Representation is important and by featuring a female athlete on the cover, it signals that NBA 2K is for anyone.”
By anyone, Brody doesn’t only mean female basketball fans or fans of women’s basketball. There’s a market of female gamers—of which Parker is one herself—2K hopes this will help it appeal to as well.
“The female gaming community is huge,” Brody continued. “Coupled with the increasing popularity of the WNBA, we’re looking to create a community and product that is inclusive to all basketball fans.”
WNBA players weren’t included in the annual video game franchise, which premiered in 1999, until NBA 2K20 was released in 2019. It’s not lost on Parker how quickly this evolution from inclusion to cover star has happened—or what it means: There was a lag in the market’s response to the popularity of women’s basketball. The WNBA’s recent growth has been well-documented, with viewership bumps and increasing sponsor support coming amid a moment of momentum for women’s sports in general.
“Three years ago, we were put in the game,” Parker said in a phone interview. “[The reaction] speaks to how much it was needed. Everybody talks about the little girls, but it’s important for boys to be able to see women’s basketball in the video game, too. I always said I wanted to leave the game better than I came into it. To be part of this [2K] process… is doing just that.”
Parker’s cover joins 22-year-old Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić, who is featured on the game’s Standard Edition, as well as Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and retired stars Dirk Nowitzki and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who are on 2K’s NBA 75th Anniversary Edition.
In response to a question about the possibility of other female cover stars—particularly on the standard edition—Brody did not comment on specific plans but said, “anything is possible” in future years.
Gamestop will be the only retailer to carry Parker’s WNBA cover athlete edition of the game, which will be available in the U.S. and Canada. The video game franchise, which is sold internationally, tallied more than 90 million copies worldwide by the end of 2018, according to Take-Two Interactive, the holding company that owns the 2K publishing label.
Parker, meanwhile, sees her move from court to studio and now video game cover as a means to pave a road for the next generation of women’s hoops stars, and women in the sports industry more broadly. “My goal is to not be the only and I think that right around the corner as we continue to push the game forward,” she said.