Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five franchise and season games over the years that I wish I’d been able to finish.
As I’ve said in a previous article, completion is what you make it in basketball video games. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to finish a season in franchise and career modes, collect every card in team building modes, or unlock all of the Trophies or Achievements, just to feel a sense of completion and closure. If you’ve enjoyed a basketball video game and felt like you got your money’s worth, that’s what matters at the end of the day. Of course, there is something special about playing through an entire season from start to finish, hence my kick with NBA 2K14 MyCAREER.
I’ve finished seasons in a number of basketball video games over the years, and they’ve become some of my most treasured virtual hardwood memories. It’s always felt incredibly rewarding, as I prefer to play every game on twelve minute quarters. Due to that preference though, there are some franchise and season games that I didn’t play through to their conclusion, having run out of time before the release of a new title. With that in mind, they’d make excellent retro gaming opportunities, which I’m obviously quite open to. Unfortunately their save files are long gone, meaning that these old franchise and season mode games can never be revisited and finished.
1. Sacramento Kings Franchise in NBA Live 2002
It’s late 2001. I’ve just taken over running the NLSC, and I’m entering my final year of high school. I’m still very much involved with basketball gaming on PC, helming the current roster updates for NBA Live 2001. However, I also now have a PlayStation 2, which means that I’m able to play NBA Live 2002! It has its quirks and moments that aren’t as realistic as us sim heads would like, but I still enjoy it. It’s a distraction from education that I’ve grown apathetic towards, as well as the lingering bitterness after my grandmother’s passing following a battle with cancer. It’s helping me to retain my interest in the NBA, as new names begin to replace the stars I grew up watching.
I start a Franchise with the Sacramento Kings. Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers are the top dogs with a huge following, but for those of us who aren’t Lakers fans, the Kings are the cool team. As I continue to play throughout 2002 and the infamous Western Conference Finals series goes down, I’m even more determined to coronate the virtual Kings as NBA Champions. However, school gets in the way. Life gets in the way. I choose not to simulate the second half of the season, and so I don’t finish it before NBA Live 2003 comes out. Sure, I later re-created that franchise and did find some semblance of closure, but I do wish that I’d finished the original season, or still had it.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves Franchise in NBA Live 2003
Speaking of NBA Live 2003, when that game came out, I opted to begin a Franchise with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Garnett was and is one of my favourite non-Bulls players, and he was certainly a beast in video games. I played around half of the first season in that Franchise, and it was an interesting experience. I remember really enjoying experimenting with my starting five, particularly trying out different options at point guard. Adjusting my lineup and rotations, and giving players an opportunity to start, has always been one of my favourite parts of Franchise play. I enjoy looking at the stats, and seeing a number of different players tallying starts through the year.
Unless you’re simulating the entire Franchise however, you also need to be enjoying the experience between the lines. NBA Live 2003 is an important release and one that I’ve come to appreciate more over the years, but at the time, its overall pace, massive swats, and other unrealistic elements – not to mention the love-them-or-hate-them Courtside Comedy Cutscenes – weren’t to my tastes. The novelty of figuring out my point guard rotation of Terrell Brandon, Rod Strickland, and Igor Rakocevic, didn’t make up for my frustration with the gameplay. All these years later though, I wish I’d given it more of a chance, or at least kept the save file to dust off and play with now.
3. Chicago Bulls 1997-1998 Season in NBA Live 96
Yes, you read that correctly! NBA Live 96 PC was my entry into modding the NBA Live series, and with the NLSC’s founders moving on to newer titles that I couldn’t yet run on the family PC, I aimed to fill a niche with current roster updates for the game. It gave me a taste for roster making, and while there are some inaccuracies looking back, I’m still proud of my early roster projects. Because I couldn’t play any of the newer games on PC, the 1998 season rosters were for my own benefit as well. I began a season with the Chicago Bulls, playing out my version of what turned out to be The Last Dance. Sadly, I didn’t see mine through to the same satisfying ending.
What stings is that I went all out with it. Not only did I update the rosters, but I also made some changes to the schedule so that the season opener was against the Celtics. I even intentionally lost that game as the real Bulls had! I kept Scottie Pippen inactive for half the season. I made trades as they happened. I had Karl Malone miss a game due to suspension, as he did that year. I had a 100-point game with MJ. I even took my NBA Live 96 disc and the file on vacation, playing a game on my former sister-in-law’s parents’ PC! After all that – and reaching the Playoffs – I went no further, and eventually lost the save file. Definitely one of my biggest basketball gaming regrets!
4. New York Knicks Franchise in NBA Live 2001
Although they’ve remained my favourite team well beyond the glory days of the 90s, in the aftermath of the champion Bulls being put out to pasture, Chicago weren’t a lot of fun to play with in video games. I tried, but it was more enjoyable to take control of other teams. This was particularly true in Franchise mode, since they had higher-rated players, setting me up to wheel and deal with smaller trades and blockbusters alike. The Knicks were in notably better shape than Chicago, and despite being a bitter rival of the Windy City – I remember fellow Bulls fan HAWK23 being appalled that I was using them! – New York offered a far more appealing Franchise mode scenario.
Because it’s been over 20(!) years and I don’t have that Franchise save anymore, I can’t remember my full lineup after I was done making trades. I also only played a handful of games, which didn’t help that roster to stick in my mind. I do remember that I acquired Chris Webber and Jason Kidd however, and those deals were the key to the experience I’d set up for myself. Similar to NBA Live 2003 though, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with NBA Live 2001 when it was new. I’ve likewise developed more of an appreciation for it since then, but at the time, I put it aside to return to NBA Live 2000, and other older games that I liked better. In hindsight, I missed out on some fun.
5. Houston Rockets Season in NBA Live 95
Out of all the Franchise and Season games I’m recalling here today, this is the one that I most wish I’d finished, or at the very least, still had. Despite NBA Live 95 PC being a few years old by the time I finally got my hands on it, my cousin and I made a point of beginning a Season with the Houston Rockets. We alternated between a few hoops titles whenever he came to stay with us during the school holidays, and we fancied the idea of replaying the 1995 campaign. What a season that was! Larry Bird made a brief comeback with us. We staged our own All-Star Game with custom lineups. We even turned off fouls for a game, leading us to get 95 steals with Hakeem Olajuwon!
Our enthusiasm carried us into the second half of the season, but the fact that we could only play it together for a couple of weeks at a time every ten weeks, on top of alternating with other basketball games, slowed our progress. It didn’t feel right to play it alone or simulate any games, even though that would’ve helped us get to the postseason much quicker. Indeed, looking back, we probably should’ve just started a standalone Playoffs rather than an entire Season. It was still incredibly fun of course, and all those hours playing NBA Live 95 and other games with my cousin are very fond memories. I’ll always have that, but I regret not backing up that save file.
Do you have any memorable franchise, season, or career mode saves that you wish you’d finished? How do you measure your satisfaction and sense of completion on the virtual hardwood? 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.