Today, 2K Games announce the next iteration of their basketball behemoth—NBA 2K22—will be released on September 10, 2021. Alongside this, they’ll also be dropping an extra special version of the Legends Edition—a 75th Anniversary Edition—and to mark this momentous occasion, they have drafted in the skills of legendary painter Charly Palmer to bring his own unique flavour to the cover art.

In 1996, Palmer created the poster art for The Olympics in Atlanta, where he has resided for over thirty years. Last year, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests following the police killing of George Floyd, Palmer was selected by TIME magazine to design its July 2020 cover, as part of the America Must Change issue. His work has long dealt with themes surrounding social justice and civil rights and this commission from NBA 2K represents basketball’s overall commitment to these causes. Palmer’s work features a heavy use of flowers, a Black figure or a silhouette, with nods to the stars and stripes. Iconic pieces such as ‘Black Flowers’ and his TIME cover wrestle with the violent history and relationship Black Americans have with the state.

While his 2K22 cover ventures away from his usual themes, Palmer recognises how significant the role of the player-activist is: “When you think about Tommie Smith and John Carlos when they took their stance at The Olympics in 1968, they lost their careers because of it. Now, people respect the voice of the athlete because they’re not just entertainers, they’re human beings with opinions and voices and that’s shifting.” Last year saw a lot of players take to the streets and their communities to tackle racial injustice as well as encouraging fans to vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. All of this was reflected in 2K20 and 2K21 during the loading screens, with video clips pointing to the efforts players had made.

NBA 2K has proven itself to be more than just entertainment, and commissioning Palmer to design this year’s cover speaks to the worldview and unifying message that the game is all about. The beauty of NBA 2K lies in its ability to make you shout and curse at your TV, knowing full well that you’re playing either an AI or a kid halfway across the world who’s spent years honing his skills on the game. Nowadays, it’s often the platform where reputations of the league’s emerging stars are nurtured due to rivalries among gamers. New rivalries are being forged this season, too, with it being the first Finals without LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kawhi Leonard since 2010, and part of the excitement of NBA 2K22 is seeing how contenders are ranked against each other—will the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks now become the teams to beat?

NBA 2K and the wider world of basketball has always been culturally innovative, completely changing the way both fans and players interact with each other and the game. Last year’s NBA 2K tournament, featuring players during the NBA pause, was reflective of just how much the stars themselves value the game. Palmer’s commission not only represents a celebration of the NBA’s 75th anniversary, it also shines a light on NBA 2K22’s lasting influence and its role as a conduit between fan and league.

We caught up with Charly Palmer over Zoom to discuss his latest masterpiece.