Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five lists five of the most expensive basketball games that collectors can buy.
For the serious collector, retro video games can be an expensive hobby. There are some rare titles that don’t come cheap, and among them, you’ll find a few basketball games. Because licensing and likeness rights make remakes and re-releases highly unlikely when it comes to hoops games, anyone who wants to own a legal copy of these rarities will have to search high and low, and pay a hefty price. One exception is Street Hoop for Neo Geo. While original copies can still demand a large sum, it has since been re-released digitally on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Such is the benefit of a game that doesn’t feature any licensed players. Of course, the most widely released NBA games usually aren’t expensive to track down and acquire, unless they’re in mint condition. Annual sports games aren’t big money-makers on the second hand market, so with the exception of PC releases of NBA 2K being removed from Steam, older basketball games are readily available (and affordable). As I said though, there are a few rare hoops titles that are difficult to find, and quite expensive to obtain when you do locate a copy. I fancy myself a collector of basketball video games, but I’d need to be much wealthier to consider picking up these expensive titles.
1. NBA Elite 11
Let’s begin with one of the most obvious examples: NBA Elite 11. I’m guessing that most people are at least vaguely familiar with the story behind the game, but it’s worth recapping all the same. In 2010, EA Sports planned to rebrand the long-running NBA Live series as NBA Elite, at the same time introducing new tech and a new direction. It can be assumed that this was a knee-jerk response to the series’ decline in sales, as NBA Live 09 finished behind NBA 2K9 in copies sold. Although NBA Live 10 was better-received, sales didn’t improve, and EA sought big changes. The demo drew harsh criticism however, leading to a delay and finally full cancellation of the game.
Unlike other NBA Live games that have been cancelled, NBA Elite 11 was actually finished and ready to ship. The delay was infamously announced five days before the release date, and with its eventual cancellation, never officially hit store shelves. A few copies did make it out into the wild though, and they’ve been in circulation ever since. As a rare and unreleased game, copies of NBA Elite 11 are very expensive despite its lack of quality. A decade ago, you wouldn’t pay less than a few hundred US dollars for a copy, but these days, you’re easily looking at several thousand. In 2017, five copies – three of them factory sealed – were listed for $30,000 USD.
2. Lakers vs Celtics for SEGA Mega Drive
Around the same time, a PAL copy of Lakers vs Celtics for the SEGA Mega Drive – one of thirteen that have surfaced – was found in England. While the SEGA Genesis version was released and readily available in the US, the PAL version was cancelled due to in an ability to secure international licensing rights. Much like NBA Elite 11, copies of the game had been completed and were ready to hit store shelves, and those thirteen out of a total of 192 cartridges found their way into the hands of the public. Once again, the rarity that comes with being an unreleased game has made the PAL version of Lakers vs Celtics a very expensive collector’s item when a copy is found.
Indeed, the copy that surfaced back in 2017 was attracting bids of over £8000 (around $9,900 USD). While obviously a far more primitive game, Lakers vs Celtics is held in much higher regard than NBA Elite 11, and the story behind the rare and expensive unreleased PAL version is far more positive (and arguably more interesting) than NBA Elite 11 being a complete bust. Obviously there aren’t too many copies of either game in broad circulation, and even if more of those 192 carts that left EA do surface, I expect they’ll continue to fetch a very high price. You’re better off buying the NTSC version and an NTSC-to-PAL cartridge converter, if you’re hunting for this classic.
3. College Hoops 2K8
A game doesn’t have to be unreleased in order to become an expensive collectable. As college basketball titles have now been discontinued for over a decade, the few that do find their way into the second hand market often carry hefty price tags. I recently picked up NCAA March Madness 08, NCAA Basketball 09, and NCAA Basketball 10 at fairly reasonable prices, but back in 2013, the third game in particular was able to fetch considerably more than what it originally retailed for. EA’s series may have become cheaper to collect in the years since, but the rival College Hoops series by 2K Sports is proving to be far more expensive to obtain; at least in my experience.
They’re not demanding thousands of dollars like NBA Elite 11 or the PAL version of Lakers vs Celtics, but all the copies of College Hoops 2K8 for PlayStation 3 that I’ve seen on eBay are quite expensive. I’m talking at least around $180 AUD (around $120 USD), not including postage. That’s not exactly “down payment on a car” expensive, but compared to the prices of most second hand basketball games that were in fairly wide circulation, it is noticeably pricier. It speaks to how popular and well-regarded College Hoops 2K8 was, and how eager people are to cash in on a defunct series. For now, I’m going to keep shopping around, and wait for a good deal to present itself.
4. NBA Jam Arcade (Board or Full Cabinet)
Collecting games for PC and console is an expensive hobby as it is, but if you’re really keen on building the ultimate gaming room, you might consider buying pinball and/or arcade machines. For the retro basketball gamer, there’s obviously one arcade game that stands out: NBA Jam, or perhaps its sequel, NBA Jam Tournament Edition. If you want that classic in your den or rumpus room, be forewarned that it won’t come cheap. The board alone will set you back a few hundred dollars: the cheapest one I’ve seen on eBay that’s fully functional was around $450 AUD (about $300 USD). If it’s a full, working cabinet you’re after, then prices begin in the vicinity of $2,000 AUD.
Needless to say, they aren’t that common, and the cheaper cabinets also tend to be in need of some repairs. They’re something that only the most serious collectors with deep pockets, or perhaps entertainment establishments, will pursue. On the bright side, there are several home ports of NBA Jam that capture the fun of the original arcade version, and they’re neither expensive nor difficult to find. It would be really cool to own an NBA Jam arcade cabinet, though. However, given the expense of the boards and cabinets, as well as those of its sequels such as NBA Hangtime, I’d suggest that emulation is how most gamers will experience the arcade version in their home.
5. NCAA College Basketball 2K3 for Gamecube
We’re back to college basketball games, and a rare one at that. If you weren’t aware that NCAA College Basketball 2K3 was a rare and expensive retro hoops title, don’t worry; I didn’t know myself until I was doing research for this article! As I noted in the title, it’s the Gamecube version of NCAA College Basketball 2K3 that’s rare. It’s the only game in the series that was released for the Gamecube, and that version was the worst selling of all platforms it came out on. As such, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox releases are neither uncommon nor expensive, but the Gamecube version has become a collectable that will set you back a considerable amount of money if you seek it out.
How much? Well, looking at the copies that are currently available on eBay, even more than College Hoops 2K8 for PlayStation 3! Used copies are listed at around $400 AUD ($265 USD), while a sealed, mint condition copy has a price tag of over $3,000 AUD ($2,030 USD); and that’s not including postage! In 2012, the price was observed to be dropping, though a 2013 article reports new copies as being listed at (and possibly even selling for) around $20,000 USD. The Gamecube is region locked, so it would also require additional means for collectors outside the United States to be able to play it. Personally, I’ll keep hunting for a deal on College Hoops 2K8 on PS3.
Would you seek out any of these games if money weren’t an object? Are there any other rare or expensive hoops titles that you can think of, and would like to own? Do you have a rarity in your collection? Have your say in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.