NBA Live 14: The Return of the EA curse?

For years there has been the tag of the “EA curse”. Athletes who are featured on the covers of EA’s various sports games would somehow inexplicably fall on hard times. Injuries, poor seasons, or personal problems, something negative would always come the way of an EA cover athlete. For EA’s basketball franchise NBA live this tradition is heavily disputed. Some believe it holds true while others disregarded its merit altogether, but fans always seem to worry whenever a new cover is announced.  So I decided to have a look at the history of NBA live cover athletes to see if we should be worried for this year’s featured athlete, Kyrie Irving.

The Return of NBA Live

There hasn’t been much talk about the NBA Live curse in recent years simply because EA hasn’t released a basketball game since 2009. EA realized that their games weren’t competing well with the rival 2K franchise and decided to pull the plug after NBA Live 10. Fast forward a few years and 2K has become the king of basketball simulations (not just because they were the only player in the game but because they made better games). However, with the announcement of a new generation of video game consoles, EA jointly announced that they would be throwing their hats back into the ring after a 3 year hiatus with NBA Live 14 , completely redesigned and ready to reclaim the throne they once possessed. It’s a new beginning for EA, so it made sense that they would want their cover athlete to be a rising new star as well, and they got exactly that in Kyrie aka Uncle Drew (check the Pepsi Max ads if you don’t get it). Drafted in 2011 with the first overall pick, Kyrie was an immediate sensation in the NBA, winning the Rookie of the Year award and becoming an allstar in only his second season. This was definitely a match that made sense for both sides but I couldn’t help but wonder if history would repeat itself and hurt another promising young talent. 

The History of NBA Live Cover Athletes

First off, let’s look at who’s graced the covers so far.

1997 Mitch Richmond
1998 Tim Hardaway
1999 Antoine Walker
2000 Tim Duncan
2001 Kevin Garnett
2002 Steve Francis
2003 Jason Kidd
2004 Vince Carter
2005 Carmelo Anthony
2006 Dwyane Wade
2007 Tracy McGrady
2008 Gilbert Arenas
2009 Tony Parker
2010 Dwight Howard
NBA live walker

Shimmy ’99

While the majority are future hall of famers, there are definitely some gaping holes of talent in this list (Antoine Walker, seriously?). Just from recent memory, I can tell that a few of the players had sharp declines at the end of their career (Francis and Arenas) but for the purpose of this investigation, I’m going to look at each player’s performance in the season immediately after being featured on a cover. I plan to assess a player based on health/injury, season success, and on-the-court performance. The specific statistics that I will be looking at are Regular Season Games Missed (health/injury), Playoff Games Played (season success), Points per Game, Assists per Game, Rebounds per Game, Steals per Game, Blocks per Game (court performance), and Awards won (season success). Each statistic will be the difference between the season after and before a player is featured on the cover (for example, a PGP of -2 means that an athlete played in 2 less playoff games than the previous season). Here are the averages of all the NBA Live cover athletes…

4.1 -2.4 0.1 0.3 -0.2 -0.1 -0.1 0.3

Games missed and Playoffs Games Played are the only significant changes in the whole bunch, and they’re both negative. Players on average miss 4 more games during the season and play in 2 less playoff games, so injuries and season success seem to be affected by the so called curse. But is this enough to be worried yet? In the overall scheme of things, missing 4 games from an 82 game season is not much. Neither is 2 playoff games when a series is a best of 7. In fact, some players had better seasons after being on the cover (Dwyane Wade upped his scoring and won the championship on his year).

The Real Curse?

It’s impossible to talk about the return of NBA Live without mentioning 2K. These are 2 rival franchises, and the only two players in a fairly lucrative market. But there has never been a suggested notion of a 2K curse. Is it possible that only NBA Live cover athletes share this haunting fate? Well let’s see how the 2K cover athletes faired.

Before we get into the numbers, let’s first look at last year’s cover in a qualitative sense. Last year’s cover was a 3 player feature with Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Durant. Durant, who made the NBA finals a year ago, dropped out of the playoffs early this year after Russell Westbrook, the other half of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo, went down with a season ending injury. Blake Griffin, who was expected to carry his team further than last year, bowed out in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the same team they defeated the previous year, the Memphis Grizzlies. And Derrick Rose, well, he didn’t play a single game all season.

Not a great start for 2K, but how do the averages stack up?

NBA Live 4.1 -2.4 0.1 0.3 -0.2 -0.1 -0.1 0.3
NBA 2K 4.2 -2.8 -1.1 0.1 -0.6 -0.2 -0.2 -0.2

Across the board, 2K averages are worse off than NBA Live’s, with the biggest deviation being a drop in points per game. It goes to show that maybe we shouldn’t be worried about Kyrie Irving, but LeBron James, the cover athlete for 2K14. There have already been speculations that the Miami Heat won’t three-peat this year as champs, and anything less than a championship would be a disappointment for LeBron. Is it possible for both these players to have disappointing seasons? It’s a 50/50 toss between who would have a more disappointing year; In only 2 years, Kyrie has a history of injuries and could easily experience another setback, and LeBron is attempting to do what only 3 teams have ever done before, make it to the finals 4 straight times. But a statistical look 3 years forward shows that while an immediate decline may await cover athletes, by no means does it affect their career path. So while both Kyrie and LeBron may have disappointing seasons this year, I guess in the long run this is a curse we don’t have to worry too much about.

Still, it is concerning…

  1. because I’m still putting together my rankings for fantasy drafting.
  2. because even if you’re not a Cav’s fan, Kyrie is one hell of a player to watch…

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