Bringing a real-life athlete into a video game isn't easy. We learn that every year when Electronic Arts and 2K Games re-up on their yearly sports franchises like NBA 2K and Madden NFL. Mainly, the problem has to do with expectations. When we see LeBron James or Russell Wilson or Kevin Durant in a video game, we expect that we'll be able to do LeBron James or Russell Wilson or Kevin Durant things with them. This wasn't always the case.
Before we had the stunning graphics and gameplay mechanics that currently grace our consoles and computers, things were worse. Sports video games were stale, repetitive, often suffered from licensing issues, and typically offered the driest, most milquetoast version of a game possible.
In order to mitigate the technological limitations of the time, and to differentiate their product, game developers and publishers sought out athletes to endorse their games. We're not speaking strictly in terms of cover athletes, though. The role had the potential to be bigger. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Shaquille O'Neal were enlisted to serve in a variety of different roles across the expanding video game industry. As a result, we got titles both good (Barkley Shut Up and Jam!) and bad (Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City).
As we were looking back on these games, we decided to figure out who fared the best and who fared the worst during this strange and now-bygone era of sports gaming. We decided to rank The Greatest NBA Players in Video Game History not for the sake of figuring out the best characters in NBA 2K12 or NBA Street V3, but so that we could see who made an actual impact on the history of gaming.