This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content.
The 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend is almost upon us. While not everyone is a fan of the midseason classic, I’ve always enjoyed watching the pickup atmosphere of the Rising Stars game (in all its various formats), the drama of the Three-Point Shootout, the creativity of the Slam Dunk Contest, and the stars going head to head in the All-Star Game itself (though it’s sadly no longer as competitive as it used to be). I know that I’m not alone in my enjoyment of the All-Star Weekend’s main attractions, and for many years, a lot of us wished that those events were playable in basketball video games. Then, along came NBA Live 2005.
In featuring the All-Star Weekend, NBA Live 2005 boasted one of the most significant additions in the history of the series – not to mention basketball gaming in general – and the mode was a lot of fun to play back in the day. It’s well worth reminiscing about, so let’s take a look back…way back…
Before NBA Live 2005, basketball gamers did get a taste of the All-Star experience. The East and West All-Stars were playable as far back as Lakers vs. Celtics, Jordan vs. Bird featured a Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout, and the shootout was also added in NBA Live 98. While they were enjoyable enough, they were definitely lacking in depth. Beyond accurate jerseys and courts, there was very little in the way of special presentation when playing with the All-Star teams. Jordan vs. Bird’s dunk contest had a limited amount of slams, and the three-point shootout lost its allure after a while.
That all changed with NBA Live 2005, when the full All-Star Weekend was finally implemented, both as a component of Dynasty and Season, and a standalone mode. The Three-Point Shootout, missing since NBA Live 2000, made its return. A Slam Dunk Contest, long rumoured to be a hidden unlockable, was finally added. The All-Star Game was given special presentation and unique controls via the lob off the backboard, a feature that it shared with the newly added Rising Stars Challenge. Best of all, not only were there a lot of bells and whistles, but the modes were actually fun to play.
Let’s start with the Three-Point Shootout. There’s not a lot that you can do with the mode as it’s a fairly straightforward concept, but it’s fair to say that it was better than ever upon its return. We now had the ability to change the rules of the event, and had a couple of camera angles to choose from. More significantly, several players had signature shooting forms, which was a first for the NBA Live series. Unfortunately those forms weren’t utilised during regular gameplay, and they also disappeared in NBA Live 06, but when we first experienced them in NBA Live 2005, it was a big deal.
The All-Star Game and Rising Stars Challenge were also reasonably straightforward; after all, they’re ultimately just five-on-five basketball at the end of the day. The ability to throw a self-lob off the backboard (performed with the left stick button) changed things up a little of course, and since players like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were popularising the move in real All-Star games, adding it was a no-brainer. As for the presentation, while it may look dated now, it was a welcome improvement at the time, with full player introductions, custom overlays, and special commentary.
Speaking of the commentary, while Marv Albert and Mike Fratello had the call during the games, the Three-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest featured Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith. While the game wasn’t actually TNT licensed, this did reflect the network’s approach to covering the All-Star Weekend. The Czar would be replaced by Steve Kerr in NBA Live 06, while The Jet was replaced by Greg Anthony in NBA Live 07, after lending his voice to NBA 2K6. Notably, Smith made exclusive reference to NBA 2K6 during the real 2006 Slam Dunk Contest, despite the fact he was also featured in NBA Live 06.
Personally, I don’t think any game before or since has represented the Slam Dunk Contest as well as NBA Live did. The approach of stringing together different gathers (one foot, two feet, etc), with midair tricks was intuitive. Lobs (performed with the right stick), modifier buttons, and movement of the left stick helped create a huge variety of dunks, which could be mastered in Slam Dunk School. Some dunks weren’t exactly sim, but it was an acceptable stretching of reality. The rules could be customised, except for the 24 second timer. Apart from that, about the only thing that was lacking was the ability to jump over obstacles.
You needed to be proficient at performing an array of the most spectacular dunks, since repeating a dunk would result in a lower score. If you wanted to take home the crown, knowing how to perform a few “guaranteed 50s” was essential. The double-between-the-legs and honey dip off the lob were my bread and butter. I’ve only been able to pull off a 720 and 540 a couple of times; they definitely take a lot of practice, but you’re also looking at a perfect score if you make them. A variety of simple dunks that garner low scores should only be used if you simply need a completed dunk to advance, and want to save your best for the next round.
As the years passed, minimal changes were made to the All-Star Weekend. That being said, the overlays, jerseys, and courts were updated each year, and a couple of new dunk animations were added to the Slam Dunk Contest in NBA Live 06 and beyond. While it would have been nice to see a little more done with the mode in subsequent releases, it was already very solid and fun as-is. Having recently played through the All-Star Weekend in NBA 2K17’s MyCAREER, I found myself greatly missing the approach NBA Live took back in the day, even putting aside the unfortunate glitch that I encountered.
All-Star Weekend’s presence as a standalone mode in addition to being an element of Dynasty and Season Mode was very welcome. While it was awesome to have the NBA’s midseason classic represented in those modes, most gamers would probably like to play those events at any time, whenever the mood strikes. With a standalone mode, that’s obviously very easily accomplished, without needing to sim through a season. If nothing else, it provides the ability to practice those events in a competitive setting, in order to master the mechanics and learn the best strategies.
Not surprisingly, the All-Star Weekend was a huge selling point for NBA Live 2005, and was featured prominently in the game’s intro video. As I noted earlier, for years there had been rumours of an unlockable dunk contest in NBA Live. While an examination of game code and assets can easily confirm those rumours to be false, the addition of All-Star Weekend in NBA Live 2005 and the subsequent marketing demonstrates why that approach would have been illogical. There’s no way that a much-desired mode and strong selling point would be tucked away as hidden content that was difficult and time consuming to unlock.
We haven’t seen the full All-Star Weekend since NBA Live 09, and frankly, it’s overdue to return. While there are key improvements that must be made to the existing modes and gameplay in recent NBA Live releases, a returning All-Star Weekend mode would be a very welcome extra. As it stands, it remains one of the best and most innovative things that NBA Live has done, a beloved staple of the series introduced during one of its most successful eras. Whether you’re updating the game with current players, or playing with older rosters, it’s still fun to dust off one of those NBA Live titles for a quick round of All-Star action.