Monday Tip-Off: My 25 Favourite Basketball Video Games

Monday Tip-Off: My 25 Favourite Basketball Video Games

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with a countdown of my Top 25 favourite basketball video games, in celebration of another milestone here at the NLSC.

On Saturday, I celebrated my 22nd year of running the NLSC. It’s been a long ride with plenty of ups and downs, but I’m still very glad that I accepted the gig when Tim moved on to work at EA Sports, and that I stuck it out through some rough patches to enjoy the good times. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to rank my Top 25 favourite basketball video games. This being my 22nd Anniversary as webmaster/admin of the NLSC, I was originally going to pick my Top 22 games. Top 25 has a better ring to it though, and it also serves as a belated 25th Anniversary celebration for the site itself!

Before we get to the countdown, let me emphasise once again that it is a Top 25 of my favourite basketball video games; not the Top 25 best hoops titles. That’s a different list, and if I were being more objective, there are games I’m listing here that wouldn’t make the cut. Because I haven’t spent as much time with certain NBA 2K, College Hoops, or NCAA Basketball/March Madness titles, I don’t have as much of an affinity for them, though that may well change in the future. I haven’t “forgotten” about those great basketball video games, but they haven’t become one of my personal favourites (as yet, anyway). With that being said, here are my Top 25 virtual hardwood classics!

25. NBA 2K6 (Xbox 360)

Cover Player Shaquille O'Neal in NBA 2K6

Let’s begin with a title that has quite recently become one of my all-time favourite basketball video games. When NBA 2K6 was released, I was still very much an NBA Live fan – dare I say fanboy – and I was unimpressed by the PlayStation 2 version of 2K’s 2006 title. All these years later, I’ve come to really enjoy the Xbox 360 version! I revisited it due to the novelty of it featuring one of Charles Barkley’s rare appearances as a Legend, and got hooked on it. Sure, its dribbling controls are nowhere near as good as either version of NBA Live 06, but its gameplay is still fun and striving for realism. Its modes and historical content are also far ahead of NBA Live 06 on 360.

24. NBA Street Vol. 2

Michael Jordan Dunks in NBA Street Vol. 2

This is going to be one of the more controversial games on this list, at least as far as its ranking. Please understand that I do agree that NBA Street Vol. 2 is one of the best basketball video games ever released, and it is a favourite. However, I actually haven’t spent as much time with it as other games in the NBA Street series. I didn’t pick it up when it was new, but my cousin did, so I played it when he visited. I’ve also played it with Dee over Parsec, and do have the game in my collection. I can see it rocketing up the rankings of my personal favourites moving forward, but for now, I don’t have as many memories with it. I do love NBA Street Vol. 2 though, so it has to be on my list!

23. NBA Live 99

Dennis Rodman on the Lakers in NBA Live 99 PC

If I were ranking the most overlooked basketball video games, then NBA Live 99 would be a favourite to rank high on the list! I received the Nintendo 64 version for Christmas 1998, and despite outdated rosters due to the lockout, I enjoyed playing a true 3D NBA Live. At the time, our family PC couldn’t run anything beyond NBA Live 97, and the N64 was my only console, so it was still exciting. When we bought a new desktop, I added NBA Live 99 PC to my collection. It holds its own against its landmark successor, and I found great satisfaction in creating a 2002 season update for it. I revisited NBA Live 99 a fair bit in 2022, and always had a blast doing so.

22. NBA Street Homecourt

Stretch with the Gamebreaker in NBA Street Homecourt

My first glimpse at NBA Street Homecourt came during the NBA Live 07 community event, before it had been announced. That no doubt plays a major role in my nostalgia for it, not to mention the fact that it’s the best game I saw at that event! Beyond that exciting sneak peek however, I really did enjoy Homecourt. It has a lengthy campaign mode with some interesting twists, especially when players get frustrated with their lack of touches and quit your squad. I love the art style, details such as being able to select shirts and skins, and the authentic street courts. I’ve always been more of an NBA Jam fan than an NBA Street fan, but Homecourt has a great vibe and gameplay.

21. NBA Live 2001

Kevin Garnett Angry in NBA Live 2001

Shout out to Nate and Roger for encouraging me to give NBA Live 2001 another look in recent years! It’s a game that I’ve always had mixed feelings about, because it does have a few issues. Everything was rebuilt as the development team switched to a new programming language following the outstanding NBA Live 2000, and that did result in some clunkiness to the gameplay, as well as some features falling by the wayside. It’s still a really good game for its era though, holding its own when compared to its contemporaries. I actually enjoy it more now than I did at the time, though I did have a couple of Franchise games back then, and also had fun working on roster updates.

20. NBA Street

Joe The Show in NBA Street

While it may not be the best game in its series, the original NBA Street is where it all began, and in impressive fashion. It did what so many arcade basketball games failed to do: replicate the fun of NBA Jam, while doing something different and original. As I said before, I’m more of a Jam gamer than a Street gamer, but the first NBA Street was a fresh experience at a time when NBA Jam was faltering under Acclaim. It was fun playing through the campaign mode with Michael Jordan joining my squad, and developing an appreciation for streetball. I think NBA Street Vol. 2 is going to rank higher for me in the future, but at present, I have more nostalgia for the original game.

19. NBA Live 2002

Chris Webber Dunks in NBA Live 2002

One of the most controversial releases in our community owing to the lack of a PC release, NBA Live 2002 is nevertheless a game that I’m quite nostalgic for. It does help that it’s connected to a memorable time in my life, namely my final two years of high school. My Sacramento Kings Franchise was a refuge from the pressures of school and drudgery of teenage angst, and one of my favourite basketball gaming experiences even though I didn’t finish the season. It has similar issues to NBA Live 2001, but I grew fond of it despite its flaws. Revisiting it ahead of my 20 year high school reunion last year definitely solidified it as one of my all-time favourites.

18. NBA Live 2003

Darius Miles in NBA Live 2003

Throughout the years, I’ve gone back and forth on NBA Live 2003. When it was new, I called it my favourite game, because it seemed like the trendy thing to do. In the years since, I’ve criticised it harshly, and it did lean too far into being a sim-arcade hybrid. After much thought and many revisits, I’ve come to reconcile my views on it, to the point where I can now say it’s one of my favourite basketball video games. It’s not my ideal style of gameplay for NBA Live, but it can be a ton of fun when you’re not taking it too seriously, or caring about realistic statistics. It also revolutionised player control with Freestyle, and it’ll always be special for that monumental leap.

17. NBA 2K11

MJ with The Shrug in NBA 2K11

No doubt this seems like a bewilderingly low ranking for what many gamers still call the best basketball game ever made. I mean, Snoop Dogg’s theme even says it is! In a more objective ranking, I would place NBA 2K11 higher, but when it was released, I was still struggling to adapt to the 2K style of gameplay; particularly Isomotion. It wasn’t until I went back to NBA 2K11 with fresh eyes and more experience with the series that I could truly appreciate its greatness, and complete the original Jordan Challenge. To that end, I did really warm up to it, and now consider it a favourite. With my retro gaming habits, I can see myself ranking it higher in the years to come.

16. NBA 2K16

Stephen Curry Celebrates in NBA 2K16

For the first few months after it was released, I neglected NBA 2K16. I was trying to give NBA Live 16 a chance, and I still had some lingering sourness towards the brand because of some cheap shots that NBA 2K developers had taken at NBA Live. When Kenny invited Arcane and I to play some 2K Pro-Am in NBA 2K16 however, I was intrigued. I’d had some fun with Online Team Play in NBA Live 08 back in the day, and NBA 2K13 had sold me on MyCAREER. I ended up loving the experience, and it shaped my basketball gaming habits for the next few years. I’ve also been impressed by the traditional gameplay in NBA 2K16 upon revisiting it, and I remain a big fan.

15. NBA Live 10

Cover Player Dwight Howard Dunks in NBA Live 10

Even though I was impressed by NBA Live 10 at the time, I also gave up on it after the second patch, feeling that the game had been ruined. I think I must’ve just had a couple of bad sessions – or maybe I was still miffed that it hadn’t come out on PC – because when I revisited NBA Live 10 a couple of years ago, it was far better than I remembered. It hooked me in for months, inspiring several Wayback Wednesday features, and establishing itself as one of my favourite basketball video games to play over Parsec. A couple of shortcomings in Dynasty hurt the quality of the single player experience, but it’s a blast as a co-op or competitive game, with Fantasy or real teams.

14. NBA Hangtime

Hakeem Olajuwon Soars in NBA Hangtime

I’ll admit that when I was a kid, I didn’t pay enough attention to who was developing and publishing games. For a long time, I thought that Acclaim created NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat, rather than developing the home ports! As such, I wasn’t aware of the situation wherein Acclaim ended up acquiring the NBA Jam name from Midway. It was Midway’s NBA Hangtime that I played rather than NBA Jam Extreme though, and I see it as the true successor to the NBA Jam lineage. It’s the game I got along with my N64 for my 13th birthday, and I had so many fun sessions playing both solo and with friends. It’s one of the best arcade hoops games, with awesome 90s music.

13. World League Basketball

Favourite Basketball Games: World League Basketball (SNES)

Basketball gamers in the United States and Canada will know this game as NCAA Basketball on Super Nintendo. Japanese gamers received Super Dunk Shot for the Super Famicom; a hilarious knockoff NBA game. The version we received in PAL regions was World League Basketball, featuring a fictional global basketball league. This 1992 release was ahead of its time, with a 3D environment, control over the different dunks you could perform, and even in-game saves! I enjoyed the fantasy aspect of having fictional players, and the Chicago Breeze inspired the name of my MyTEAM and LUT squads. For me, it’s right up there with the big name classics.

12. NBA Live 2005

Vince Carter Flexes in the Dunk Contest (NBA Live 2005)

At this point in the countdown, I had to make some difficult decisions, and leaving NBA Live 2005 out of the top ten was one of them. It had fantastic gameplay, better graphics than NBA Live 2004, added a couple of new wrinkles to Dynasty, and at long last, introduced All-Star Weekend mode with the series’ first dunk contest. It’s one of the best sim basketball games that I’ve played, and definitely a favourite. I did stop playing it though, and I can’t recall why. It has some issues with fast break logic that NBA Live 06 cleaned up, but I do still really enjoy it. If we’re just talking about NBA Live then it’s easily top ten, but there are some other games I enjoyed more.

11. NBA 2K19

Trophies in MyCOURT (NBA 2K19 MyCAREER)

Coming off the heels of NBA 2K18 – a game that seemed to make the wrong design choice at every turn – NBA 2K19 was a pleasing return to form. It’s not my favourite game in the series – obviously – but I played two full seasons of MyCAREER on twelve minute quarters, and succeeded in making it to the Hall of Fame for the first time. Unfortunately, a change to team Pro-Am meant that most of my forays online were in The Rec, but MyCAREER was still a blast. I wish I’d spent more time with MyLEAGUE and especially MyTEAM, since I snagged some great cards. It’s a very tough omission from my top ten, but it’s right there on the cusp at the eleventh spot.

10. NBA Live 2000

MIchael Jordan Dunks in NBA Live 2000

In early 2000, our family’s venerable 486 PC – BIOS updated for Y2K and all – finally gave up the ghost. We replaced it with a shiny new Pentium III, and this meant that I could play the PC versions of the latest NBA Live games! I celebrated by picking up NBA Live 2000, and I was not disappointed. Franchise was the multi-season mode that I’d been dreaming of, and even though he was (as it turns out, temporarily) retired by then, it was exciting to finally have Michael Jordan in the game. My cousin and I played through a 28-game season and won a championship, celebrating our victory with some midnight popcorn. NBA Live 2000 was beloved, and I share the sentiment.

9. NBA 2K13

Finals MVP in NBA 2K13 MyCAREER

As a number of rough (and cancelled) NBA Live games shook my confidence in the series, I became far more open to making the jump to NBA 2K. When right stick dribbling controls were finally adopted in NBA 2K13, the last barrier came crashing down! I could finally get into NBA 2K’s gameplay in a way that I hadn’t before, and truly appreciate its dedication to authenticity and realistic gameplay. It was also the year that I got into MyCAREER, and my rise from raw prospect to NBA Finals MVP with the Denver Nuggets is one of my most treasured virtual hardwood memories. Sure, dunks are virtually impossible to block, but I also had a lot of fun thanks to that!

8. NBA Live 95

Favourite Basketball Games: NBA Live 95 SNES

The game that introduced me to sim basketball has to be in my all-time top ten! I’m combining the PC and Super Nintendo releases here, as I have a tremendous amount of nostalgia for both. I played the SNES version first, and it was a frequent video store rental. It’s also where I won my first virtual championship, playing through a 26 game season with the Bulls on three minute quarters. On PC, my cousin and I later replayed the 1995 season with the Houston Rockets, making many memories that we still talk about today. The first game to carry the NBA Live name was a huge step forward for basketball gaming, and I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the virtual hardwood.

7. NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Favourite Basketball Games: NBA Jam Tournament Edition PC

There’s such a fine line between all of the titles that rank in the top ten of my favourite basketball video games! I spent countless hours with all of them, and quite a few were at one point the frontrunner for my all-time favourite hoops title. That’s certainly true of NBA Jam Tournament Edition. The PC version was actually one of the very first basketball games I owned, and when my cousin stayed with us during the school holidays, it was a staple for us. I’ve spent almost as much time with the SNES release as well, and I still remember the “dunk from anywhere” cheat all these years later (Left, Right, A, B, B, A). It’s been surpassed, but I’ll play NBA Jam TE anytime!

6. NBA Live 96 (PC)

Shawn Kemp Dunks in NBA Live 96 PC

This may be a surprisingly high ranking for NBA Live 96 PC, given that it’s very similar to its immediate predecessor, and far surpassed by several other games in my top ten. I love it though, in no small part because it’s the first PC NBA Live that I owned. From creating boot disks to repairing a scratched CD-ROM, I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to enjoy NBA Live 96 PC! It’s fun on the virtual hardwood too, with more camera angles and better graphics, a few new moves, expanded rosters, and deeper playcalling. It’s also the game that led me to discover the NLSC and modding. Other games are better, but very few of them are as special to me as NBA Live 96 PC is.

5. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

Derrick Rose On Fire in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

It’s the best NBA Jam game ever made. I said that in a Friday Five article, I reiterated that point of view in my Wayback Wednesday retrospective, and I stand by it now! It has outstanding gameplay that’s faithful to the NBA Jam style, enhanced by the Real AI tech. Road Trip is the best campaign mode that you’ll find in an arcade basketball video game. There are tons of unlockables, it received roster updates, and of course, Tim Kitzrow is on the call. I’d say the only knock against it is that it doesn’t have 1990s rosters like the originals, but thanks to all the Legends, it kind of does! NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is the pinnacle of arcade hoops, and one of my favourite games.

4. NBA 2K14 (PlayStation 4)

NBA Finals in NBA 2K14 MyCAREER

Over the past few years, NBA 2K14 for PS4 has gone from a release I didn’t think much of, to one of my all-time favourite basketball video games. It’s tough to rank it this low considering I’m in my sixth year in MyCAREER and love frequently firing up the game to this day. There’s stiff competition this high in the countdown though, not only due to the quality of other games, but the fond memories that I’ve made with them. However, there’s no way that I could leave NBA 2K14 PS4 out of the top five! It’s a beautiful game that feels great on the sticks, has engaging modes, and holds up extremely well a decade later. I gave it a second chance, and I’m very glad that I did!

3. NBA Live 2004

Cover Player Vince Carter in NBA Live 2004

It isn’t every year that a new basketball game turns out to be everything you wanted it to be. For me, NBA Live 2004 is just about as close as it gets. After my dissatisfaction with NBA Live 2003’s style of gameplay, NBA Live 2004 won me over. Not only did it correct course out of the box, but it added sliders so that we could finally customise the experience. Speaking of customisation, it was the heyday of NBA Live modding, which made the game even better. Franchise became Dynasty, with more depth and for the only time in the series, cutscenes. My Dynasty with the Bulls is one of my fondest basketball gaming memories, in a title that got almost everything right.

2. NBA 2K17

Championship in NBA 2K17 MyCAREER

I know that I’m not alone when I say that NBA 2K17 is one of the best, if not the best, releases in the NBA 2K series. I’ve spent thousands of hours with the game, playing through an entire season of MyCAREER on twelve minute quarters, and 500 games of 2K Pro-Am. In the years following the server shutdown, I’ve gone back and played with current and classic teams, and wouldn’t be against starting a MyLEAGUE. It has some of the best player movement, AI, strategy, shooting, and overall mechanics in the series, looks fantastic, and is a joy to revisit. I came very close to putting it at the top spot, but there is one game that edges it. Still, NBA 2K17 is an absolute favourite.

1. NBA Live 06 (PC)

Ben Gordon in NBA Live 06

There can be only one number one, and for me, that’s still NBA Live 06 PC. As much fun as I continue to have with NBA 2K17 and NBA 2K14 PS4, NBA Live 06 PC was special. To me, it’s the pinnacle of the NBA Live series across the board. Gameplay was superb, with a brand new mechanic in Freestyle Superstars that could also be disabled if you preferred. Dynasty continued to deepen, and it was full of content from retro jerseys to All-Star Weekend. It was extremely moddable, and I enjoyed making rosters for it as much as playing through multiple years in my Bulls Dynasty. It’s the best NBA Live with the fewest issues, and still my favourite basketball game.

And that’s my Top 25 favourite basketball video games, at least as it stands today! I hope that you enjoyed the countdown, and can relate to my enthusiasm for these great titles. With the way that I revisit hoops games and am open to giving them a second chance, this ranking may indeed change in the years to come. What’s certain is that I’ve had a great time playing a number of basketball games over the years, and I’m far from done! Running the NLSC has been a big part of that, and I thank you for all of your support since 2001. There’s plenty more fun to be had with the virtual hardwood, and I hope that you’ll stick around to enjoy that journey with me and the community.

Honourable Mentions

Favourite Basketball Games - Honourable Mentions

  • NBA Live 09 (Xbox 360)
  • NCAA Basketball 10
  • NBA Jam (2010)
  • NBA Live 06 (Xbox 360)
  • NBA Live 98 (PC)
  • NBA 2K15
  • NBA 2K14 (PC)
  • NBA Live 97 (PC)
  • NBA 2K12
  • College Hoops 2K8
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