(Courtesy 2K Sports)

In the heart of what figures to be a protracted lockout, what’s a company to do with the cover of its simulation game?

(Courtesy 2K Sports)

Go straight to three superstar throwbacks.

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson will grace three different covers for the video game “NBA 2K12.”

Adam Larson is the artist behind the images of each athlete and, with Jordan proving this week that he can still dunk at 48 and eight years removed from his NBA playing career, it’s fair to say Larson exercised a little artistic license.

(Courtesy 2K Sports)

It’s a funny twist of fate that a labor issue would lead to a retired Jordan’s likeness being used on a video game cover. Throughout most of his career, Air Jordan refused to take part in the NBA players’ general licensing agreement. That meant that if Topps trading cards or EA sports games wanted to use his likeness, they had to negotiate separately with him. Even casual gamers of a certain age will remember years of NBA video games featuring a mysterious, unnamed, dominant shooting guard who resembled Jordan in every way and was on the Bulls roster.

But in retirement, Jordan has developed a stronger relationship with the gaming industry. He appeared on the cover of NBA 2K11.

Jason Argent, vice president of marketing for 2K Sports, said the three covers for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions will be shipped in equal numbers to each retail outlet within the United States. All other versions and outlets outside the U.S. will get the Jordan cover only. It will be available on Oct. 4 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation2, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP and Windows PC.