The NBA's most popular video game is honoring Kobe Bryant in a BIG way ... making him a cover athlete for the 2021 edition of the game.
Officials at NBA 2K made the announcement Thursday ... revealing two pieces of art -- one for current-gen consoles and one for next-gen consoles -- for cover options for the 2K21 game.
In a statement released by the company ... they say they wanted to pay tribute to the Lakers legend for the legacy he left after he tragically passed in a helicopter crash back in January.
"Kobe Bryant holds a special place in the heart of every basketball fan," the statement said. "Someone who truly left everything on the court, where his achievements range from legendary to seemingly impossible."
The game with Kobe on the cover has been dubbed the "Mamba Forever Edition" ... and officials say the version will come with special features, including unique Kobe gear for virtual avatars.
"The Mamba Forever Edition celebrates Kobe's lifelong pursuit of victory and legacy and immortalizes him with two unique custom covers honoring the span of his career," officials added.
"For the current generation version of the game, Kobe is shown wearing #8 -- from his days as a bold and brash rookie. In the next-generation cover art, he is shown wearing #24, the number he played his final game in: his iconic 60-point performance."
There are two other cover options for the 2021 version of the game ... one features Trailblazers star Damian Lillard, while the other has Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson.
The game is scheduled to be released in September.