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Fire (or the state of being On Fire) is a gameplay mechanism/powerup featured in and commonly associated with the NBA Jam series of basketball video games (as well as the Midway-produced NBA Hangtime), though it has also been featured in more subtle forms in sim-orientated titles. The concept is derived from the common expression that a person performing well at a sport or task is "on fire" and to a lesser extent the expression "hot hand" in regards to a basketball player who is shooting the ball well, taking them quite literally with the basketball being engulfed in flames when an on fire player touches it and allowing them to scorch the nets on a made basket. It also enhances a player's abilities while active.

In NBA Jam, a player catching fire is heralded in the commentary with an emphatic call of "He's on fire!", a phrase that has become synonymous with the series.

Becoming On Fire

To become on fire (or "catch fire"), a player simply needs to make three consecutive shots without their teammate or the opponent scoring a basket. It is possible to preserve a consecutive shot streak by goaltending a opponent's shot attempt; while the basket will count towards the score, the game will not consider the player's streak interrupted. This is a handy trick to make use of when two consecutive shots have been made and in some NBA Jam games the CPU teammate has been known to intentionally goaltend shots in such situations to make use of this exception.

After a player has caught fire, the benefits last until the opponent makes a basket or the player on fire makes four consecutive baskets. It is therefore possible to conserve fire by alternating shots with teammate. It is also possible to get both team members on fire at the same time and so long as neither makes four consecutive shots without the other scoring, they can each maintain the powerup so long as the opponent does not score. If the opponent scores then both players will lose fire but if fire is lost through making four consecutive baskets then the other player retains their fire until they make four consecutive shots or the opponent scores.

Benefits of Fire

Fire grants the following powerups to a player:

  • Increased shooting ability
  • Unlimited turbo
  • Ability to goaltend shots without a violation

The visual effects of being on fire - the signature flaming ball and the ability to burn the nets on a made shot or dunk in the hands of the player who is on fire - are also generally considered to add to the fun of the NBA Jam games.

Team Fire

NBA Hangtime included the ability to achieve team fire. This could be accomplished by performing three team-up moves (either an alley-oop or double dunk) without the opponent scoring. If achieved, team fire would last for 25 seconds and would not be affected by the opponent making a basket. During this period, both players on the team would receive the benefits of being on fire until the 25 seconds are up.

Team Fire made its return in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition by EA Sports.

Fire in other basketball games

Early games in the NBA Live series also made use of a similar concept. If a player made three consecutive shots, blocks, steals or rebounds, the game would recognise an offensive or defensive hot streak and their abilities would be slightly boosted until the opponent next scored. This state was represented by the Player Indicator fading in and out. The boost was not be as significant as the one experienced in the arcade-style NBA Jam but still represented a player having a lot of momentum and performing well.

NBA Jam by EA Sports

Fire returns as an element of EA Sports' NBA Jam and its digital download follow-up, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, granting players the same bonuses as in the original series.