NBA 2K11 is a basketball simulation game which strives to emulate the National Basketball Association. Players mostly play NBA basketball games with real or created players and teams. The game features several aesthetical details found in real televised NBA games, such as commentary from Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg, sideline reports from Doris Burke, halftime shows, replays, customizable camera angles, and other details.
Along with standard online and quick play game modes, several other game modes are present. Association mode allows the player to assume control of an entire NBA organization, simulating through NBA seasons, managing personnel, and participating in off-season activities, such as the draft and free agency. MyPlayer mode returns from NBA 2K10, in which the player creates their own basketball player. The player customizes the appearance, animations, and other aspects of their player, and plays through their basketball career, upgrading their attributes.
One of the game's most-touted features is the "Jordan Challenge" mode. The mode centers on Michael Jordan, and tasks the player with achieving ten of his most memorable accomplishments in his career, such as scoring 69 points in a game. Completing the challenges unlocks a selection of shoes worn by Jordan throughout his career, which can then be used in several game modes. Another mode focusing on Jordan is present; similar to the MyPlayer mode, it allows the player to play through the entire career of Jordan, instead of a customizable player. The player can play with Jordan on any team, and will start as the rookie version before progressing through his career. Jordan's appearance changes as the player progresses in the mode.
Along with current NBA teams, such as the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic, NBA 2K11 introduces 18 classic NBA teams. The teams are used in the Jordan Challenge mode, but the player may use them in quick play. Some of the teams included are the 1985–86 Boston Celtics, the 1997–98 Utah Jazz, the 1991–92 Portland Trail Blazers, and several of Jordan's Chicago Bulls teams.