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Zion Williamson, Pelicans, NBA 2K21

Should Zion Williamson be on the cover of NBA 2K21?

New Orleans rookie sensation Zion Williamson has been selected as the newest athlete to grace the NBA 2K21 cover. It makes a lot of sense, given how the 19-year-old is currently one of the biggest names in the NBA and how his reach extends to a global audience.

However, more than a few fans were left troubled by 2K’s decision to choose Williamson. For some, there are a handful of guys who deserve to be on the cover over the young phenom. This now begs the question: does Zion Williamson really deserve to be on the cover of NBA 2K21?

For starters, Williamson was over the moon about his selection. According to the first overall pick, this is a dream come true for him:

“Realizing that I am going to be on the cover of NBA 2K21 was one of those moments that I am still processing,” said Williamson over a Zoom chat with Sports Illustrated. “I dreamed about being on the cover and for 2K to give me this honor, it means a lot because I have always played 2K with teammates and all my friends growing up. 2K has always been there with me. Looking at each cover and thinking maybe one day I could possibly be on the cover of one of these and for it to actually happen is a lot to process.”

Any player would be honored to be on the cover of one of the most popular games in the world right now, so Williamson’s delight is anything but surprisingly. Nevertheless, we still need to entertain the thought of other stars being snubbed on the cover in favor of Zion.

Before anything else, we need to lay out the premise. The 2K franchise has chosen Williamson to be the cover of the game for next-gen consoles. Specifically, these are the consoles expected to hit the market for the holidays, such as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Naturally, the game developers wanted to opt for a next-generation superstar for the cover, and in their minds, there is no bigger next-gen star than Williamson.

NBA 2K21 will be featuring three different covers. Portland Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is the cover for current-gen consoles. Williamson will be the cover for next-gen consoles, and a third will be on the Legend Edition. This is expected to be Kobe Bryant.

Now, back to Zion. The question remains: is he the best next-gen star in the NBA today?

Where does that put the likes of Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies, who is currently the front-runner for this season’s Rookie of the Year race. Or how about the likes of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, a legitimate MVP candidate, or Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young? If you want to throw in a few “older” guys in the mix, then Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz have to be in the conversation as well, right?

Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Trae Young, NBA

The biggest argument going against Zion here is the fact that he has only played in 19 games thus far. Add in the eight regular-season games that the Pelicans are slated to play in the Florida bubble, and that brings his tally to 27. That’s about a third of his rookie campaign.

The Pelicans are three and a half games outside the playoff picture in the West, and while they have a chance of making the postseason, they are likely looking at a first-round exit against the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers.

All in all, Zion just hasn’t played enough games this season. He may have taken the league by storm once he finally made his debut (that 17-point fourth quarter outburst against the San Antonio Spurs in his first NBA game ever was incredible), but still, you cannot fault the naysayers who believe it isn’t Williamson’s time yet — to be on the cover of an NBA 2K game, at least.

Then again, we need to go full circle and go back to our initial statement about Zion’s reach. While he may have not yet proven enough in the NBA, his star power is undeniable. The last time we saw this type of hype — from his high school days all the way to his memorable single year at Duke — on a single player was in the early 2000s during the emergence of a kid from Akron, Ohio named LeBron James.

At the end of the day, NBA 2K tends to lean in the direction of the most marketable player to grace their cover. This is a basic marketing principle, with the primary objective of generating more sales. At this point, Zion Williamson might not be the most deserving guy to serve as the game’s new poster boy, but he might just be the star that brings in the most profit.