Recreating My NBA Live 2004 Dynasty

Kevin Garnett on the Chicago Bulls in NBA Live 2004

My NBA Live 2004 Dynasty with the Chicago Bulls remains one of my absolute favourite experiences with a basketball video game. I maintained a story thread (which you can check out here in our Hall of Fame), and played through the entire first season: every single regular season and Playoff game, on twelve minute quarters. I won the championship, then simulated through most of the second season, ultimately winning back-to-back titles.

In some respects, my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty is something of an oddity for me. I double-dipped with the PC and PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live that year, and because the PS2 version came out first, I ended up starting a Dynasty game on that platform. Even though I did spend a lot of time with the PC version of NBA Live 2004, I was so hooked on my PS2 Dynasty that it’s one of the rare times I spent as much time (if not slightly more) with the console version of NBA Live, at least when a PC version was also available.

Aside from winning 64 games and capturing the NBA championship in the first season, one of the most memorable aspects of my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty was my trade for Kevin Garnett, in a highly unlikely deal. Just for fun, and as part of our celebrations of the 20th Anniversary of NBA Live, I thought that I’d recreate my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty on the PC, and see what kind of results I got upon simulating the games. Let’s take a look!

Setting the Scene

Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Webber in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

I started the Dynasty with default rosters, relegating Kirk Hinrich and Jay Williams to the injured reserve, as in real life. Hinrich made his debut a few games into the season, and his solid play earned him minutes in the rotation. I considered making a few moves early on, including the real trade that the Bulls made for Antonio Davis, and a fictional deal in signing Tim Hardaway, but I resisted.

23 games into the season, I was 13-10, and thinking of making some trades. I considered trading Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall, and Roger Mason Jr. in a deal for Allen Iverson, but the Philadelphia 76ers weren’t interested. On the other hand, they were interested in a package of Rose, Marcus Fizer, and Mason Jr. for Iverson and Amal McCaskill; go figure. I also thought about trading for Kevin Garnett and put together a few different packages, including Rose, Fizer, and Mason Jr. for KG in a three for one swap. The Minnesota Timberwolves were interested in that – amazingly – and I ultimately pulled the trigger on it. I also did sign Hardaway as a free agent.

From there, it was kind of a rough start as I figured out my new lineup and rotation, leading to a bit of a losing streak. I originally ran with a starting five of Eddy Curry at centre, Tyson Chandler at power forward, Kevin Garnett at small forward, Jamal Crawford at shooting guard, and Scottie Pippen at point guard. Eventually, I moved KG to power forward, Pip back to small forward, started Kirk Hinrich and Crawford in the backcourt, kept Curry in the middle, and brought Chandler off the bench.

From then on, there were some bad losses here and there, but I started winning a lot more often, including some impressive blowouts. KG racked up triple doubles, 20-20 games, and I won 20 in a row. Before the season was done, KG had also tallied a few 30-20 games, a 50-20 game, and a 41 point, 25 rebound and 17 assist game. Needless to say, he won the regular season MVP, All-Star MVP, and Finals MVP awards. I ended up sweeping my way through the entire Playoffs to net the Bulls their seventh Larry O’Brien trophy, defeating Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings in the Finals.

So, that’s how that first season went down, all those years ago. But can I pull off those trades again, and how will I fare when I simulate all the games?

Trying to make history repeat itself

Training Results in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

As I did all those years ago, I started a new Dynasty game with the Chicago Bulls, using the default rosters. Since I only experienced one injury that lasted more than one game during the course of the season – a day-to-day injury with Donyell Marshall, though I elected to sit him anyway – I decided that I’d turn Simulation Injuries off, so as to try to replicate the results as closely as possible.

After going through Training Camp and watching the cutscenes, I was reminded of the training session bug that actually reduced player ratings if less than 20% of the training time was assigned to any area. Thankfully, it’s an issue that was resolved in NBA Live 2005, and it didn’t pop up again in any other NBA Live games that used the same training system.

Once I’d completed training camp and was presented with a magazine touting the Los Angeles Lakers as the frontrunners for the championship (not a terrible prediction: that was the year they went out and got Karl Malone and Gary Payton to play alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant), I was ready to start the season. Before I got to simulating however, I changed a couple of players’ primary positions, re-ordered my roster, and made sure that Kirk Hinrich and Jay Williams were on the injured reserve. I’d be bringing Hinrich into the active lineup after the first five games.

I won the season opener against the Washington Wizards 110-109; originally, I lost that game 101-99. After five games however, I was 2-3, matching my record at that point in the original Dynasty. It was time for Captain Kirk to make his NBA debut, and after inserting him into the rotation and simulating through to the twenty-third game of the season, I had a record of 14-9: one win better than the 13-10 record I’d had the first time around.

So far, give or take the individual game results and scores, the simulation had been pretty close to what went down when I was actually playing the games. But now we were at the point of the season where I had to trade for Garnett. Would the Timberwolves still be willing to give up KG for Rose, Fizer, and Mason Jr.?

Trade Rejected in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

As it turned out, no, they certainly were not.

This obviously threw a wrench into my plans. I simulated a little further, extending my record out to 18-9 in the process. I continued to make the same offer that had been accepted all those years ago, but to no avail. I then tried switching Rose’s primary position to small forward, and Fizer’s primary position to power forward. This increased their interest in acquiring Rose but still, no luck.

Since I’d been keeping incremental saves, I decided that I’d sim through to the end of the season and see what would’ve happened if I’d never acquired KG. But first, I waived Roger Mason Jr., and signed Tim Hardaway to a minimum contract.

I simulated through to the end of the season, somehow ending with a record of 48-34. This was actually my second sim through after failing to acquire KG; NBA Live 2004 can be a bit temperamental in Windows 7 64-bit, and unfortunately the game crashed after simulating through to a 38-44 finish. I did save the simulation in which I won 48 games and finished as the third seed in the East, but the game continued to crash whenever I tried to advance past the Award Winners screen to the Playoffs.

After a few more attempts, including one that caused my PC to completely lock up, I decided to switch to PS2. Incidentally, KG did win the MVP award in that simulation, while still playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Attempts on the PS2 version

Acquiring Kevin Garnett in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

I traded in my original copy of NBA Live 2004 for PlayStation 2 many years ago, and the original save is, unfortunately, long gone. However, not too long ago, I picked up the PS2 version of NBA Live 2004 and a few other older titles off eBay, fleshing out my collection on PC, PS2, and Xbox 360 at some bargain prices. If I couldn’t finish this project on PC, I figured I’d give it a try on PS2.

I fired up NBA Live 2004 on PS2, prepared a couple of rosters outside of Dynasty Mode (edited positions but otherwise default rosters, and one with the KG trade already made). I started a Dynasty without KG on the Bulls, and ran through the same steps as before, with the same settings. The only difference this time was my training camp assignments. I assigned 25% to each category, ensuring no decline (but by the same token, virtually no chance of improvement) to anyone’s ratings.

After a false start (I forgot to activate Hinrich) in which I once again went 2-3 through the first five games, I had a 4-1 start in the subsequent simulation. My fortune quickly changed however, as I found myself 7-16 after 23 games. It was time to try trading for The Big Ticket. Once again, my offer of Rose, Fizer, and Mason Jr. was rejected. Changing Rose and Fizer’s positions didn’t improve my luck, so I decided to try something a little different: a package of Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall, and Jay Williams. This time, the Timberwolves accepted my proposal. I then went ahead and signed Tim Hardaway.

Unfortunately, Garnett wasn’t quite enough to make a difference after such a poor start. Despite a strong run in February, the simulation saw me struggle to a 35-47 record, 12th in the Eastern Conference. Nevertheless, KG won the MVP award, averaging 22.8 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2 bpg, and 1.6 spg. Amusingly – and somewhat insultingly – the Timberwolves won the championship! They defeated the Knicks 4-3 in the NBA Finals, a highly unlikely result to say the least.

Pippen retired in the offseason (in my Dynasty, he stuck around for one more year), and I failed to move up in the Lottery, but I re-signed KG (now 99 Overall), Crawford and Tim Bug. I also drafted a shooting guard called Matt Sadler with the ninth pick (he was projected to go fifth overall) and a centre called Anan Gardin with the 38th pick. I also signed Horace Grant and Grant Long to fill out the roster. Somehow, I didn’t feel much closer to a championship. I decided to run a simulation, just to see how things would go. I went 34-48, last in the East…pretty respectable, given that I started 0-12. KG made it back-to-back MVPs, but I bet he regretted re-signing.

At least the Timberwolves didn’t win the championship. Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings downed Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets in seven games to finally get over the hump, finally earning the crown they never did in real life.

Here’s one I prepared earlier

Kevin Garnett wins the MVP award in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

Firing up the rosters in which I’d already made the trade, I started a new Dynasty game, and simulated through the entire season with Garnett and Hardaway on the roster. Same settings, same approach to training camp.

Imagine my surprise when I had a losing record through November! I hovered around .500 for most of the first half of the season, and was 25-29 at the trade deadline. I finished the season 42-40, locking up the sixth seed in the East. Not surprisingly, KG had a great stat line and once again was named MVP; about the only consistent result in all of these simulations. Less surprisingly, the Philadelphia 76ers eliminated me in the first round in five games. The NBA Finals saw another seven game series, with the Kings defeating the Boston Celtics. C-Webb was the Finals MVP.

During the offseason, Pip and Hardaway both retired, while KG was still eager to re-sign for seven years. This time, however, Jamal Crawford had no interest in re-signing, instead trying his luck on the open market. Too bad for him, since another nasty NBA Live 2004 bug reared its head, and he went unsigned…as did the 95 Overall Kobe Bryant, who opted not to re-sign with the Lakers. I snapped up both of them for the minimum, along with Vlade Divac, Mike James, and Stromile Swift. After cutting Corie Blount and my two generated rookies, I signed Bryon Russell, Anfernee Hardaway, and Quentin Richardson.

Still, the sim engine didn’t much care for the duo of KG and Kobe, as I continued to maintain a record around .500 for most of the season. However, a couple of strong runs in February and April saw me finish the year 47-35, fourth best in the East. KG didn’t win MVP for once, though he and Kobe were All-Defensive Second Team, and Kobe was also All-NBA Second Team. I swept the Orlando Magic in the first round, defeated the Nets in the second round, and then swept the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Appropriately enough, I faced the Sacramento Kings in the NBA Finals. That’s where my luck ran out however, as the Kings won in six games after taking a 3-1 series lead. Well, it wasn’t quite back-to-back championships, but at least I got to the Finals.

Back to the PC

Philadelphia 76ers are Champions in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

Remembering that I’d also installed NBA Live 2004 in a Windows XP virtual machine that I’d set up in VMWare, I decided to fire it up, copy across the saves from my earlier attempt, and give it one more try.

There were no crashes under VMWare, and I was able to advance to the Playoffs. It was all for nothing though, as the sixth seeded Sixers swept me in the first round, and the Los Angeles Lakers went on to defeat the New Jersey Nets 4-1 in a rematch of the 2002 NBA Finals. After signing Brent Barry in the offseason and drafting a couple of promising prospects, I simulated to a 49-33 record the next season (best in the East), blew a 3-0 lead to the Miami Heat in the first round, and watched as the Sacramento Kings beat the New York Knicks in five games for another virtual title.

Returning to my save after 23 games, I once again tried trading for KG. The original offer of Rose, Fizer, and Mason Jr. was once again rejected, but replacing Mason Jr. with Jay Williams did work, as it had on PS2. Close enough, especially as I had Williams sit out the entire 2004 season anyway. After releasing Roger Mason Jr. and signing Tim Hardaway, I basically had the roster from my original Dynasty, minus the inactive Williams. It was time for one last run.

There wouldn’t be a twenty game winning streak this time around. Instead, I finished with a record of 44-38, four wins less than I’d managed in one of my simulations without Garnett! Mind you, that was good for fourth in an Eastern Conference topped by the 47-win Orlando Magic. KG won the MVP – of course – and was named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team. I lost to the fifth seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round, and they went on to lose the NBA Finals to the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games.

I signed Bonzi Wells, Lindsey Hunter, and Morris Peterson in the offseason, and accepted an offer of Dahntay Jones for Corie Blount in February. A 30-13 start was followed by a 19-20 finish for a record of 49-33: second best in the East, losing the tiebreaker with the Knicks. Garnett picked up his usual collection of honours, and then the New Orleans Hornets – still in the East in the 2004 season – upset me in seven games in the first round. Allen Iverson and the 76ers bested Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in five games to win the 2005 Championship. Or should I say, Glenn Robinson and the 76ers; The Big Dog was the Finals MVP.

Final Thoughts

Kevin Garnett on the Chicago Bulls in NBA Live 2004

So, when it’s all said and done, my recreations of my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty fell a little short of the original. There wasn’t a twenty game winning streak, and no 64-18 record. I didn’t storm my way through the Playoff to win the 2004 NBA Championship. Without my intervention during the postseason, there was no title in 2005, either. And there was no way the CPU was accepting the trade offer that somehow worked all those years ago, though substituting Williams for Mason Jr. did eventually get the job done when I tried that.

All in all, it was a lot of fun trying to recreate one of my favourite basketball gaming experiences. Although the games have come a long way since, I certainly felt nostalgic as I browsed through NBA Live 2004’s menus, and of course, watched the Dynasty cutscenes. I remembered why I had so much fun playing that NBA Live 2004 Dynasty, and how excited I was to discover the revamped mode for the first time. It was fun seeing some of the simulations run close to what originally happened – albeit briefly – and try to replicate my trade for KG.

On that note, my inability to get the original deal done certainly gave me an even greater appreciation for my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty. Whatever circumstances led to the AI accepting that offer, it was something special, and unique: a combination of how I’d been playing with my players, the way the Timberwolves’ season had gone down, and sheer random chance and good fortune.

It also demonstrates the impact of actually playing the games, rather than leaving yourself at the mercy of the simulation engine. Flaws in the NBA Live 2004 sim engine aside, things were always going to turn out better with the fate of my team in my hands. It was a rewarding experience to play through the entire first season, on full length quarters, and experience all those exciting wins, tough losses, and big performances I managed to achieve with KG. Again, it’s absolutely one of my favourite and most memorable experiences with a basketball video game.

To me, that NBA Live 2004 Dynasty also represents how special sports games can be. While there are many video game franchises that achieve the status of being widely beloved classics, good sports games don’t become legendary quite so easily. They’re not always rated well by video game journalists, often derided for merely being yearly expansion packs with minimal updates. And to be fair, there’s some truth to that.

Kevin Garnett is named All-NBA First Team in NBA Live 2004's Dynasty Mode

When you have an experience like the one that I did with my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty however, when a sports title comes along that you happily and enthusiastically sink hours into, it’s just as special as other video game memories and accomplishments. Those virtual championships certainly offered a sense of accomplishment that’s right up there with finishing a great RPG or adventure game, or completing a really tough platformer after countless attempts.

I’ve had a lot of fun with basketball games over the years. My NBA Live 06 Dynasty is another experience that I really, really enjoyed. I was hooked on MyCAREER in NBA 2K13, winning a championship in my rookie season in memorable fashion. But my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty will always be up there, and attempting to recreate it has only made me appreciate it even more. I really loved revisiting it, and I hope that you enjoyed reading about the journey, too. I can only hope that future releases can provide me with experiences that feel just as satisfying.

Stay tuned for more 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content!

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