I’ve never been a big online basketball gamer, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always played them alone. Back in high school, my cousin – also a huge basketball fan and hoops gamer – would come to stay with us every school holidays. Whenever we weren’t watching basketball, or out in the backyard emulating the moves of our favourite players, we were playing basketball video games. NBA Live and NBA Jam were our titles of choice, and as the years rolled by and my collection grew, we had a few different versions of NBA Live to choose from. At one point, we started replaying the 1995 season in NBA Live 95 PC, with the Houston Rockets.
We always used to play co-op, because we preferred being on the same team and trying to win as many games as we could, together. Of course, when it’s two human users vs. the CPU, you need to find ways to keep things fresh, challenging, and interesting. In our NBA Live 95 season, we did that in the usual manner: making a few trades, aiming for certain statistical marks and records, and trying to blow out the CPU by the largest margin possible.
Oh, and Larry Bird made a comeback for our Houston Rockets, part of the way through the season.
Yes, that’s right. With the help of Brien’s editor for NBA Live 95 PC, we decided that Larry Legend would make a triumphant return to the NBA, in a bid for one last championship. And so, we “cut” rookie centre Zan Tabak – by which I mean, we overwrote him – to make way for Bird, who immediately became our starting small forward.
Why did we choose Tabak? Well, first of all, he was expendable. With Hakeem Olajuwon on the roster, and a couple of other players who could give us some decent minutes in the middle when The Dream needed a break, we could certainly get by without him. Second, while Bird and Tabak aren’t exactly dead ringers for one another, Tabak was a white guy with blonde hair. As you can see from the screenshot above, he was also wearing a Rockets jersey in his portrait. As such, it suited us to have his portrait pop up in lieu of a real photograph of Bird.
We did adjust Larry Bird’s ratings to account for his age at the time, and the injuries that he’d suffered towards the end of his career, but he was still effective for us. And for a while, it was fun to have him around. It was something out the ordinary, it added to the “story” we were creating for ourselves as we played through the season, and so it kept things fresh. For a time, at any rate.
After a while, the novelty started wearing off. Maybe we had too much respect for Larry Bird’s legacy, maybe it was because it was too off-the-wall. Maybe it was because we were getting ready to put NBA Live 95 aside, as much as we held the game in high regard. Whatever the reason, we did start to grow tired of having Bird around, and so the story became that he had decided to retire once more, effective immediately.
The main reason I wanted to share this story as part of our 20th Anniversary of NBA Live celebrations – aside from being something memorable I once did with NBA Live, of course – is so that I can share this image.
You see, back when I was running the NBA Live Domain, I maintained story sections for some of the seasons that my cousin and I were playing, not unlike the story threads we have in the Forum today. We made that image for a “press release” article for our NBA Live 95 story section, although truth be told, I think we mostly made it because we found it so funny.
In case it isn’t obvious, that remarkable piece of photo editing was done in MS Paint. We actually sourced both the Houston Rockets’ logo and the photograph of Larry Bird from Microsoft Complete NBA Basketball (’95-’95 Edition), a digital NBA almanac/encyclopedia that Microsoft published on CD-ROM. With photos, videos, articles, stats, and so on, it was basically the NBA version of Microsoft Encarta ’95. For the sake of comparison, here’s the original:
For the record, I did know how to change the Rockets logo to greyscale to match the photo, but my cousin and I both thought it was much funnier that way. To this day, I stand by that comedic choice.
Incidentally, I once used a small version of that image as my avatar in the NLSC Forum, prompting some amusement, but also questions as to whether it was me in the photograph. The latter surprised me somewhat, seeing as how Larry Bird is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, and somewhat famous to say the least. Then again, I’ve been asked the same question when I’ve had Drew Carey and Conan O’Brien avatars. I guess some folks aren’t NBA history buffs, or big TV watchers.
At any rate, Larry Bird’s comeback in NBA Live 95 was brief, but for a handful of games at least, it brought my cousin and I some fun and amusement in one of our favourite basketball video games. Many years later, I’d go on to do something similar in my NBA Live 06 Dynasty, when I brought Shawn Kemp back with the Chicago Bulls. That particular stunt worked out a lot better. As much as I value a realistic experience, there’s also a lot of enjoyment to be had in doing something a little different, even something a little silly at times.
And if it can leave us with an amazing MS Paint job like the one above…well, that’s just icing on the cake. In fact, let’s enjoy it one more time.
Man, that’s ridiculous.
Stay tuned for more 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content!