To mark the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, we’re taking a look back at every game in the series with retrospectives and other fun content! This also includes re-running some features from our 20th Anniversary celebrations, with a few revisions. Whether you’re a long-time basketball gamer who grew up with NBA Live and are keen on taking a trip down memory lane, or you’re new to the series and want to learn about its history, we hope that you enjoy celebrating the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live here at the NLSC! Today, it’s a retrospective of NBA Live 2000.
NBA Live 2000 has long been considered one of the best games in the NBA Live series. It’s the crowning achievement of the original development team, a great all-around release that long-time basketball gamers are rightfully nostalgic for. Looking back on it today of course, its flaws are more apparent, and certain aspects naturally don’t hold up as well given how far basketball games have come since the late 90s. Nevertheless, I would say that it’s still worthy of the acclaim it receives, and it stands as a great example of how the NBA Live series used to innovate. Let’s take a look back and see why many gamers still consider NBA Live 2000 to be a classic.
First of all, there’s the graphics. NBA Live 99 made NBA Live 98 look quite primitive within just one year, only for NBA Live 2000 to blow it away. When the PC version is maxed out, the players’ faces in particular are outstanding for the time. The player models are still generic and the jerseys look “painted on”, but the faces, courts, and arenas are all very impressive. It speaks volumes that I’ve shared screenshots of the vanilla game on our Instagram, and been asked which mods I’m using. This increase in quality came with a demand for higher specs: a 4 MB video card as opposed to the 2 MB card NBA Live 99 recommended! Sounds incredibly small today, doesn’t it?
The NBA on TNT branding is gone, though the overlays and general presentation are still very reminiscent of a TNT broadcast from the 2000 season. In fact, if you go back and watch the 2000 All-Star Weekend and then take a look at NBA Live 2000’s in-game presentation, you’ll immediately recognise the influence. The game still boasts several replay angles (including the free cam option), and the menus in the PC version remain user-friendly and easy to navigate, with renderings of random players appearing in the background. The cumbersome substitution method from NBA Live 99 does return, though; I’d forgotten that that wasn’t a one time thing in the series.
If there’s an area where the visuals don’t hold up as well, it’s some of the animations. Dribbling moves are fine, jumpshots are alright, defensive animations are mostly good, and player celebrations aren’t really a problem. A couple of the layups and dunks do look a little awkward though, especially the dunks. On the other hand, there are others that still look quite decent. Players also jump higher than they should, so screenshots of great moments are often spoiled by defenders getting their heads above the rim, or indeed, clipping right through it. It’s a game released in 1999 though, so you have to make some allowances for stuff like that. It hardly ruins the experience.
Don Poier returns on commentary, and this time, he’s joined by Reggie Theus. In his review way back in the day, Lutz quipped that Theus must have had a plane to catch when they recorded his dialogue, and it remains the best summary of his performance. While having a second voice does enhance the commentary, Theus only chimes in occasionally, and his lines do get extremely repetitive. Still, his remarks were a welcome addition to Poier’s upbeat play-by-play, and an improvement over only having one voice in NBA Live 99. Crowd reactions are also great, with excited responses and player-specific chants really adding to the overall atmosphere.
Another enhancement to the presentation and atmosphere in NBA Live 2000 was the addition of a referee, visibly signalling calls on the sidelines and tossing players the ball. There was a downside to this however, as the referee also needed to collect dead balls and run into position, which slows down the gameplay. This is especially true during free throws, which still bring the gameplay to a grinding halt. I find it more frustrating when I revisit the game now, seeing as how modern games allow us to skip more of these scenes. At the time though, the novelty of actually seeing the referee out on the court and interacting with the players generally outweighed any annoyance.
Older basketball gamers will often recall NBA Live 2000 having great gameplay, and that’s not just nostalgia talking. I will say that after playing NBA Live 98 and NBA Live 99 again, NBA Live 2000 isn’t quite as big of a leap as I remembered it, but it does still improve upon its predecessors in several ways. There’s more smoothness and fluidity with the controls, the pace isn’t too unrealistic on twelve minute quarters (though it still picks up too much in the second half), and overall, there’s a decent amount of realism. If you run plays, player movement isn’t too bad, but it’s sometimes a bit stilted otherwise. Strategy is good for the era, but there’s still a long way to go.
The biggest gameplay problems were mainly legacy issues. Dunks and layups still don’t trigger as often as they should, leading to the same awkward leaners. Steals were toned down a bit, but there were too many blocks, especially by players who shouldn’t be swatting shots with any kind of frequency. Rebounding was better, though there were still a few too many flat-footed boards. It’s also impossible to start backing down an opponent out of the triple threat position, as you can’t pivot and then put the ball on the floor; you need to move first to start dribbling, and then start backing down. It’s awkward, restricting the post game and making it tough to chain moves together.
The AI can also be cheap – indeed, very cheap at times – on Superstar difficulty. You’ll find yourself missing far too many shots around the basket, and even poor defenders will stick to you like glue. Post play, which is already basic and affected by the aforementioned issue with backing down, is virtually impossible. Of course, today’s games have similar quirks on the highest difficulty settings. Getting the AI to play smarter, rather than simply gaining superhuman skill, is something that EA Sports and Visual Concepts are both still figuring out. It’s just that these days, we have more advanced controls and sophisticated gameplay mechanics to work with.
Although it’s tough to play physical defense in NBA Live 2000, I still really love the blocks, even if they are a bit too frequent. In addition to big swats, there are also softer deflections, which can be scooped up for an outlet pass. Foul calls can be rather inconsistent and there aren’t enough free throws, but it’s nice seeing shots go awry when players are hacked on jumpshots. And-one opportunities also feel rewarding, especially when they happen on big poster dunks. Jumpshots are more risky than they should be as there’s still no shot meter or feedback, but they were starting to become a more viable offensive weapon in NBA Live 2000, if you timed their release properly.
Ultimately, my take on NBA Live 2000’s gameplay is that it’s still fun to go back and play, and like its immediate predecessors, it’s respectably sim for its era. I do notice a few issues that our collective nostalgia often glosses over, though. As I said before, while NBA Live 2000 was an improvement on NBA Live 98 and NBA Live 99, it wasn’t quite as big of a jump as I’ve sometimes remembered it being. However, I still think it’s fair to say that NBA Live 2000’s gameplay was enjoyable, with a satisfactory level of realism. It was the best on-court experience that the series had produced at that point in time, and I recall having countless fun sessions with it when it was new.
Without a doubt, the most exciting enhancement in NBA Live 2000 was the addition of Franchise Mode. After getting a taste of multiseason play in NBA Live 99, we finally had a fully featured team management experience. Players had salaries, albeit in the form of a simplified “points” system since the NBA wouldn’t allow real dollar amounts. The salary cap came into play when making trade offers – which teams would reject, sometimes citing a reason – as well as signing and re-signing players. Players improved, declined, and even retired as they got older. Generated rookies were available to select in the Draft, and we could play through a total of 25 seasons.
These days, all of that probably doesn’t seem like much to get excited about, as they’re basic staples of franchise/GM modes that are now much deeper. Back in NBA Live 2000 though, it was the first time we were seeing features like that, in a mode that we’d wanted to see in the game for at least a few years. I can’t over-emphasise how exciting it was to finally be able to live out our GM fantasies as we played (or simmed) season after season, experiencing the offseason in between. For many of us who played the game all those years ago, it tipped off our obsession with franchise gaming. It obviously also paved the way for other experiences, such as career modes.
Franchise Mode was the big new feature that NBA Live games needed, and one that basketball gamers welcomed with open arms. It represented continued innovation and a commitment to packing as much into one release as possible, from enhancements to gameplay and graphics to brand new modes. Franchise Mode in NBA Live 2000 is also relatively bug-free, which is no easy feat. The only real problems are the lack of certain features that would be added in later games, which is nitpicking given that the mode was brand new. Few modes have had as impressive of a debut as Franchise, and I played it religiously back then, both solo and with my cousin in the school holidays.
On the subject of game modes, NBA Live 2000 retained the Practice Mode from NBA Live 99, with the shootaround still taking place on an outdoor street court. EA Sports expanded on the idea by adding a second player to the mix, as a new One-on-One mode also made its debut. It offered gameplay options such as winner’s outs or loser’s outs, and different winning scores up to 21. We could even toggle between playing at night or during the day! The Three-Point Shootout returned, unchanged but nevertheless as fun and functional as before. Online multiplayer was also supported via modem play, and offered both five-on-five and one-on-one action.
To date, NBA Live 2000 is the last game in the series to offer in-game saves. Users could also save replays, and while they can be shared with other users, there’s no in-game function to export them as video files (that would come next year). Not only were in-game saves a convenience for gamers playing on longer quarter lengths, but once again they facilitated the creation of scenarios that others could download and play. They weren’t the most common type of content compared to roster patches and other updates, but I do recall a few people creating scenarios such as the final seconds of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, and other memorable games and moments.
NBA Live 2000 was the first game in the series to officially feature historical players, by way of the Decade All-Stars (alternatively referred to as All-Decade teams) and a pool of Legends that could be added to the current rosters. The roster of Legends was headed up by Michael Jordan, who was also making his first official appearance in NBA Live, two seasons after his second retirement from the NBA. MJ actually ended up sharing the cover with Tim Duncan by way of an insert, which proclaimed “Jordan is back!” A couple of noteworthy names weren’t included, such as Clyde Drexler and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the roster of Legends was still impressive and a big deal.
The aforementioned One-on-One mode was also branded with Michael Jordan’s name, and he was one of the default players selected (cover player Tim Duncan being the other). In fact, defeating MJ in a one-on-one game was the method of unlocking him for use in the Nintendo 64 version, which didn’t feature any other Legends. In the PlayStation version, Legends could be unlocked using codes, while all Legends were unlocked out of the box in the PC version. As for the current rosters, due to different release and roster cut-off dates, certain players are missing from some versions of NBA Live 2000 and not others; not an uncommon occurrence back then.
As I’ve previously covered in Wayback Wednesday, the PC version also introduced Face in the Game, a means of using a photo to add a proper face to a created player. A distant forerunner to face scanning in modern games, it worked quite well, and was another feature that contributed to the PC release being the definitive version in most aspects. NBA Live 2000 retained the basic staples of roster customisation (including custom teams), though it did have a limit on the ratings points that could be assigned in Create-a-Player, preventing the creation of maxed out players. It was a fair idea in theory, but when creating historical or special rosters, it tended to be a nuisance.
The modding community here at the NLSC had been firmly established by the release of NBA Live 2000, and in the game’s heyday, all kinds of mods were being created, including packs of high quality faces for missing players, detailed current roster updates, historical rosters, superhero faces, real and fictional updates for courts and jerseys, new gear for the Practice and One-on-One modes, and a considerable number of shoe patches. It’s a shame that most of those releases have gone missing over the years, as the NBA Live modding community was really on fire in those days. That being said, we were still seeing releases for NBA Live 2000 as recently as 2016!
Despite some of the flaws that nostalgia tends to gloss over, and the fact that gaming tech has come a long way since then, I believe we’re right to still hold NBA Live 2000 in very high regard. Although some of the legacy issues were definitely an annoyance at the time, they are somewhat exacerbated upon going back and playing the game now, after experiencing far more advanced basketball titles. Putting NBA Live 2000 in historical context, it was another highly successful step forward. Gameplay was similar to NBA Live 99, but there were improvements, and graphical enhancements along with the addition of Franchise and Legends made it a truly outstanding release.
Is NBA Live 2000 still the pinnacle of the NBA Live series? I’d say not. There are aspects that haven’t aged well, and concepts that future games have done better. In fact, some of those improvements would come within the next few years. However, it absolutely remains one of the high points of the series, and simply a fantastic effort by the original development team. It was the culmination of years of innovation and hard work to remain the best NBA sim on the market. Competition was looming with the newly established NBA 2K series, but for the moment, NBA Live 2000 allowed NBA Live to reign supreme as the sim title of choice for most hoop heads.