BROOKLYN, NY — Before becoming an NBA All-Star, Donovan Mitchell used to play NBA 2K all the time. Ahead of the 2023 regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers star took a trip to his native New York to bask in the hype and anticipation of NBA 2K24, which will be released this Friday.

At ArtsDistrict in Brooklyn, NBA 2K hosted a launch event for the newest installation of the franchise. The 25th anniversary of the game honors Kobe Bryant, who was chosen as the cover athlete and has two editions of NBA 2K24 named for him. The event gave stars like Mitchell a glamorous, glitzy journey back to their roots, celebrating the game that feeds into countless kids' love for basketball.

“Me and my friends used to play probably nonstop, all night, when I'm over at a friend's house or whatnot,” Mitchell said before heading into the event. “Used to create players back in the day. A bunch of times, I played with Rudy Gay, who was my teammate, so I talked about his 2K jump shot all the time. I think that was probably one of my favorite players to play with, so be able to have him on the team two years ago [with the Utah Jazz], that was pretty dope.”

The list of guests at the launch party featured names from across the landscapes of sports, music and pop culture. NBA players like Scottie Barnes, Tim Hardaway Jr., Cam Thomas, Darius Bazley and Dennis Smith Jr., came through, as did NFL players like Sauce Gardner, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Dexter Lawrence, Xavier McKinney and Darius Slayton. Musicians like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Dave East and Nav also made appearances. And, of course, Ronnie2K, the digital marketing director and de facto face of the video game franchise, was there.

Mitchell was one of three featured athletes to attend the 7:00 P.M. launch event, along with Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham and Sabrina Ionescu, the All-Star guard from the New York Liberty and cover athlete for the 2K24 WNBA edition opposite her late idol and mentor. Each of them walked along the red carpet at the entrance to the event, posed for pictures and fielded questions (mostly) about their thoughts on the game.

“It's been amazing to just represent the WNBA and representing myself and the New York Liberty, but understanding that it's a lot bigger than me,” Ionescu said. “Obviously going to be super excited to see who comes next in representing our league.”

When Ionescu was asked about the game, she didn’t say much, insisting that she hasn’t had much time to dive in with the WNBA playoffs right around the corner. She did, however, say that a benefit of playing with the Liberty on 2K is that they have a ton of scorers and that she would like to see her teammate, Breanna Stewart, grace the cover next year. When asked what song she would choose to add to the game, she said she was “a big country fan” and said she would add a Luke Combs song, though she didn’t name a specific one.

When asked to name a player who they used to dominate with in 2K, Mitchell named Terrence Ross and Gerald Green and Cunningham named J.R. Smith during his New York Knicks days. High-flying dunkers who can shoot from deep often make for dangerous scorers in the 2K realm, even if their overall ratings are meager. Mitchell said that he liked playing with the Knicks teams Smith played on with Carmelo Anthony, as well as the Big 3-era Miami Heat. Cunningham said that Jalen Duren is the teammate of his that is most underrated by 2K.

The entrance to the launch event included the red carpet for high-profile guests to walk on and two massive displays of the Kobe Bryant and Black Mamba edition covers. On the wall facing the entrance was a display of Ionescu's cover and the 25th Anniversary Edition, which depicts a ring molded after an NBA championship ring with 2K logos and other details. A walkway lit by purple/pink lights and decorated with 2K logos and the slogan “see you on the court” brought guests into the party.

In recent years, NBA 2K has invested in its MyCareer mode — where players customize their own hooper and play out a career in the league — by making the environment of the virtual player's world, the Neighborhood, an area with pristine details and lots to explore. Rather than have the options in the mode be a menu, its many features are laid out across a city landscape. The launch party took on the same goal.

The main event floor featured a stage right in front. The walls were plastered with video projections of the 2K versions of Ionescu, Mitchell, Cunningham and other players like Tyrese Haliburton, Jordan Poole and Josh Giddey performing moves with the ball. One corner of the room included an overhand with vintage jackets and jerseys as an area for photo ops.

The outside portion of the venue featured a tent distributing custom T-shirts, a pop-up barbershop, a shoe-cleaning station, numerous food and beverage options, photo backdrops with props and a basketball hoop where guests could take turns getting some shots up. Inside included a mock deli called the Brotherhood Deli, sponsored by the NBPA. On top of being an area for t-shirt printing, it displayed pretend products named with puns of NBA players.

To the left of the main floor was an area with over a dozen gaming setups for attendees to try out the new game. Mitchell and Cunningham both played some 2K24 on a Twitch stream of the event, with the Cavs star throwing down a nasty dunk with his teammate, Darius Garland, after a clean dribble sequence. While you may not typically see Garland throwing down dunks with that authority in real life, the smoothness with which he goes from move to move should make gameplay much improved.

One of the biggest selling points of NBA 2K24 is its ProPLAY technology, which captures footage from real-life games and inputs it into the matchups on the virtual hardwood to enhance the game's realism and feel. Players' jump shots and movements should be better represented, and from playing the new game, it showed.

Against a random event attendee, I played as the Chicago Bulls in a game against the Charlotte Hornets. My opponent took the win in the matchup of the Ball brothers by a score of 83-78 despite some clutch shots from Zach LaVine, who ended with 35 points, which kept me within a bucket until the final seconds. LaMelo's 26 points and Terry Rozier's 21 led the way for Charlotte.

While some of the typical frustrations from 2K were still there — such as the forced charging animation despite the defender not setting up for a charge and the occasional misread from the AI defender that resulted in an open player — the game flowed much cleaner and felt better to play.

On one play, LaVine moved up from the corner to the wing, squared up to the hoop as he caught the ball and fired from deep in a continuous, smooth motion. Late in the game on inbounds, as I scrambled to get him open, he faced the basket even as he was moving back behind the arc, making it much easier to launch a shot. On a layup contested by Mark Williams, he contorted his body away from the outstretched arms of the Hornets center in a manner that looked natural.

The night ended around 10:30 with an appearance on stage from Lil Uzi Vert, one of the artists featured on the 2K24 soundtrack. They performed just three songs — x2, XO Tour Llif3 and Just Wanna Rock — to close out the event. The Philadelphia native gave a shoutout to Bryant, who also spent time growing up in Philly, and the 25th anniversary of NBA 2K games.

The launch party for NBA 2K24 set the stage for another year of hype entering the newest version of the game. Seeing stars from all walks of entertainment life, check. Next up for NBA 2K: seeing a new batch of players on the digital court.