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 is a list of jerseys appearing only once in basketball video games.
We’re accustomed to seeing a wide variety of jerseys in the 5v5 sim titles. Ever since the introduction of retro uniforms and the jersey selection screen, we expect to have plenty of choices to outfit the team we’re controlling on the virtual hardwood. The variety has fluctuated throughout the years, and recently, NBA Live and NBA 2K have taken very different approaches. NBA Live only includes the selection of current jerseys and specific throwbacks that will be worn during a season, whereas NBA 2K – in part thanks to its bevy of retro content – features a more comprehensive selection.
Of course, there are some jerseys that you won’t find among the retro uniforms in the recent NBA 2K titles. A few teams have gaps in their selection of historical primary uniforms, but there are also some alternate and special jerseys that can’t be found. This isn’t necessarily surprising though, especially when some of those jerseys have only ever appeared in games once over the years. Indeed, to the best of my research, the jerseys I’m listing here have only ever appeared in one game. Note that I’m talking about official appearances, which excludes mods and unused files. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the rarest uniforms on the virtual hardwood!
1. Dallas Mavericks “Trash Bag” Jerseys in NBA Live 2004
Let’s tip things off with one of the most notorious alternate jerseys in the history of the NBA: the Dallas Mavericks’ so-called “trash bag” jerseys. Debuting in the 2004 season, the Mavs wore them in precisely one game. They donned the new silver alternates for their season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, a game in which they were defeated soundly despite the absence of Kobe Bryant. That probably didn’t help their reputation, but the main problem was their appearance. Under the lights of an NBA arena, particularly after players had sweated in them, their colour changed and they appeared very shiny, leading them to be compared to trash/garbage bags.
Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban made the decision to pull them immediately, never to be worn again. Over the years, they’ve become a running joke, and frequently top lists discussing the worst jerseys in NBA history. It’s been noted that the material did them no favours though, and that in regular lighting, they don’t look half bad. They look fine in NBA Live 2004 as well, and indeed, that’s the only place you’ll find them on the virtual hardwood. Oddly, they’re not available in ESPN NBA Basketball, released that same year. Because of their unpopularity and the fact that they were immediately pulled, no future games have featured the trash bag jerseys among their throwbacks.
2. Europe Live Jerseys in NBA Live 07
It’s easy to forget just how strong the NBA Live brand was. These days, it’s the NBA 2K series that’s sponsoring events, co-promoting an official eSports league with the NBA, and the name people associate with basketball gaming. While NBA 2K was still gaining market share in the mid-2000s however, NBA Live was the top-selling and best-known (though not necessarily the most highly regarded) brand in 5v5 hoops games. In fact, EA Sports was the brand presenting the preseason games in Europe from 2006 through 2010, with the event being dubbed Europe Live. Every year, a few teams travelled to Europe for camps and exhibition games against local pro teams.
The Europe Live events were treated as a big deal, to the point where the NBA teams participating in the games had special Europe Live versions of their jerseys. That first year they were available in NBA Live 07, and since EA Sports sponsored the event, they were naturally NBA Live exclusives. Interestingly, they were only included in the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox versions; not the Xbox 360 release. In that regard, it spotlights how the series scaled back its content upon making the jump to the seventh generation of consoles. Furthermore, no future NBA Live games featured the jerseys from subsequent tours, making the inclusion of Europe Live uniforms a once-off.
3. OKC Valentine’s Day Jersey in NBA Live 10
Given the changes to the New Orleans Pelicans’ lineage – with Charlotte getting the Hornets name back, New Orleans is now retroactively considered to be the 30th team who joined the NBA as an expansion club in 2002 – it’s easy to overlook that for a couple of seasons, they played in Oklahoma City. Following Hurricane Katrina, the team temporarily relocated operations to OKC, and was known as the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets. Although they continued to wear jerseys bearing the New Orleans name, they did have a couple of special Oklahoma City uniforms. These jerseys made it into contemporary games, and stuck around through NBA Live 08.
There’s one jersey that’s very rare, and as far as I can tell from my research, has only ever appeared in one video game. That is the red Oklahoma City jersey the Hornets wore on Valentine’s Day 2007; uniforms that the players signed and later auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the American Heart Association. It was certainly an appropriate gesture, but what about the uniform’s presence in basketball games? You can find it among the retros in NBA Live 10, released a little over two years after that game was played. NBA Live 10 did several cool things, from The Hangar to bringing back retro jerseys, and the inclusion of such a rare uniform was another great detail.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder Placeholder Jerseys in NBA Live 09
Speaking of Oklahoma City, they would eventually get a team of their own, though not without a truckload of controversy (and to that end, most folks in Seattle would probably dispute the “team of their own” part). Nevertheless, the Sonics moved to Oklahoma, and with Seattle keeping the moniker, ownership had to come up with some new branding. They of course settled on the Thunder, which I’d say most people have grown used to, but it’s also been widely mocked since it was revealed. Given the hasty move, EA Sports didn’t include the new branding in NBA Live 09. The Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version received free DLC, but PlayStation 2 users were out luck.
Instead, they were stuck with the placeholder Oklahoma City logo that had been used during Summer League play, and some generic black and white jerseys. As I’ve noted in a Wayback Wednesday feature and other articles, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because the Thunder name wasn’t popular, the generic branding allowed gamers to use their imagination, and pretend they had a different name. Meanwhile, those generic jerseys only appear in NBA Live 09. NBA 2K9 launched with updated Thunder branding, leaving us to wonder why EA Sports used the placeholders; especially when pre-release screenshots actually showed the correct ones in-game.
5. Nets & Heat Nickname Jerseys in NBA Live 14
As I noted in my retrospective of the game for the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, NBA Live 14 had some good ideas and concepts, but the gameplay was rough and it was lacking in depth and content. The developers did what they could with patches post-launch, including a major update that made the game slightly more playable. On top of that, the developers tried to push through some appealing content, such as an historical BIG Moments challenge featuring Magic Johnson. NBA Live 14 also received an update that added the nickname jerseys worn by the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat during a game played on January 10th, 2014, a day after the event.
Notably, NBA 2K14 didn’t receive such an update. Although it didn’t exactly close the gap between the two titles, it was impressive that NBA Live managed to replicate a detail that NBA 2K did not. There was a drawback, however. The update affected the regular jerseys for the Heat and Nets, rather than adding a separate jersey with player nicknames on the back. This meant that we were stuck with the nickname jerseys in all modes, and against other teams. It somewhat took the shine off the update, and of course if you’ve lost or deleted that update for NBA Live 14, you can’t get it back now that the servers are offline. Still, they remain jerseys appearing only once in a game.
Can you recall any other jerseys that only appeared once, be it in a single game, or confined to a single season’s worth of titles? Let me know 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.