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 players who remained active in basketball video games after their careers ended in real life.
The rosters in basketball video games are, quite obviously, affected by events that occur in the real NBA. With strange and unfortunate twists of fate, as well as other unusual circumstances, video game rosters can quickly become outdated, or contain other oddities. I discussed the unusual situation with Michael Redd in NBA Live 2003 in last week’s Wayback Wednesday, as it was a particularly rare curiosity. A more common phenomenon is the continued appearance of players in the active rosters of basketball games, a year or more after they’ve played their final game. That’s what I’m taking a look at today.
Keep in mind that I’m not talking about players who have simply remained playable in video games after their retirement. With all the historical content in Ultimate Team and MyTEAM, as well as the extensive roster of retro teams in NBA 2K, there are obviously a lot of retired players who are still in the games. I’m also not counting appearances on the previous season’s All-Star squads in the default rosters. This is a list of players who, for one reason or another, remained in the active rosters of video games after their careers came to an end in real life. These players facilitated a few “What If?” scenarios, and at times, made maintaining roster updates a little tricky.
1. Terrell Brandon
It probably isn’t entirely fair or accurate to say that the blockbuster three-team trade in 1997 that sent Shawn Kemp to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Terrell Brandon to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Vin Baker to the Seattle SuperSonics, derailed the careers of all three players. There were other factors including the lockout of 1999, injuries, and sadly, substance abuse. However, it definitely marked a turning point. Kemp and Baker made their final All-Star appearances the following year in 1998. Brandon never made another All-Star team, but he arguably remained the most consistent of the three throughout the rest of his career, which ended in 2002 due to injury.
Despite playing in his final NBA game on February 4th 2002, Brandon remained an active player in basketball video games as of NBA Live 2004. That’s due to the fact that he was still under contract, and didn’t officially retire until February 17th 2004, over two years after his final game. In the interim, he’d been traded to the Atlanta Hawks, purely for salary cap reasons. A fine point guard who could shoot, rack up assists, and defend, Terrell Brandon’s career may have ended prematurely in real life, but for a couple of years at least, the potential was there for him to make a triumphant comeback on the virtual hardwood.
2. Brad Daugherty
I’ve mentioned Brad Daugherty before when discussing a few roster oddities in basketball video games. Similar to Terrell Brandon, Daugherty remained on the inactive list for a couple of years after his final NBA game. The first pick in the 1986 Draft, and formerly the Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-time leader in points and rebounds, Daugherty sought to make a comeback after injuries forced him out of action in the 1994 season. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and Daugherty finally called it a day in 1996. He was still under contract though, which meant that he appeared on the Cavaliers’ roster in NBA Live 96, and the year before in NBA Live 95.
As I mentioned in my previous article, the PC version of NBA Live 96 was able to handle this without any problems. The rosters had been expanded to fourteen players with two inactive slots, so Daugherty could simply be taken out of the active lineup (and indeed, was by default). He was the third player off the bench in NBA Live 95 PC though, despite being inactive the entire year. Presumably, his inclusion was due to his status as a former All-Star, but as with Gerald Wilkins – also in the lineup as a key reserve despite missing the season – he perhaps shouldn’t have been included in the game’s roster. Since he was, his virtual career ended up lasting a little longer.
3. Larry Johnson
In the mid 90s, Larry “Grandmama” Johnson was a rising star in the NBA. Through 1995, he and fellow All-Star Alonzo Mourning were paired up in Charlotte. They made for a formidable duo in basketball video games – particularly NBA Jam – but the two had friction, so the pairing was short lived. Mourning was traded for Glen Rice in 1995, and Johnson himself departed the Hornets for the New York Knicks in the wild offseason of 1996. Although Johnson never made an All-Star team during the latter half of his career, he was a key player for the gritty Knicks teams of the late 90s, notably making some big plays on route to their Finals appearance in 1999.
Unfortunately, LJ suffered from chronic back problems throughout the final few years of his career. Although he continued to play in a majority of the regular season games and was active for the Knicks in the Playoffs, his production steadily declined, and he retired at age 31 following the 2001 season. His announcement came on October 10th, a month after the rosters for NBA Live 2002 had been finalised. As such, he’s still available on the Knicks’ roster in the game. Although he played ten noteworthy years in the NBA, his injuries mean that there is still an element of “What If?” with Larry Johnson’s career. In NBA Live 2002, we could play out those scenarios.
4. Jay Williams
Years before Chicago Bulls fans suffered through the heartbreak of Derrick Rose’s ACL tear, we saw the future crash and burn with Jay Williams’ motorcycle accident. Williams’ numbers in his only season in the league are hardly eye-popping, but he did appear to have a promising future, playing quite well when he was actually receiving consistent minutes. The severe injuries he suffered from his motorcycle accident on June 19th 2003 put him out of action indefinitely, however, and despite a couple of comeback attempts, he never played another NBA game. The Bulls took Kirk Hinrich in the 2003 Draft, and ultimately parted ways with Williams, paying out his contract.
Williams wouldn’t be cut until February 17th 2004, which meant that he was included in NBA Live 2004. Naturally, he was on the inactive list in the default roster, but as with the other players on this list, the opportunity was there to play out a “What If?” scenario, and see how things might have gone down if not for his injuries. Funnily enough, I chose not to do that when I played through my memorable NBA Live 2004 Dynasty. Although I broke from reality to acquire Kevin Garnett in exchange for Jalen Rose, Marcus Fizer, and Roger Mason Jr., I elected to keep Williams inactive for the entire first season. As in real life, it meant more minutes for Captain Kirk.
5. Chris Bosh
The most recent example of all the players on the list, Chris Bosh’s career officially came to an end this past offseason. Ongoing health issues, specifically continued blood clotting, forced Bosh to sit out the latter half of the 2015 and 2016 seasons, as well as the entire 2017 campaign. With his condition ruled a career-ending illness, Bosh and the Heat officially parted ways on July 4th. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for a star player who appeared to have several good years left in his career, but the medical ruling was obviously made with his health and best interests at heart. Having made guest appearances on TNT, it seems that broadcasting may be in his future.
Of course, Chris Bosh’s virtual counterpart doesn’t need to suffer from the same setback. Even though his career is definitely over and Bosh technically isn’t a free agent, he hasn’t yet been removed from NBA 2K18’s active rosters. He’s still in NBA Live 18’s free agent pool as well, and is available to sign in Franchise mode. His ratings in both games are still quite high, so if you have the cap room and would like to bring him back, it’s definitely feasible. There’s always a chance he’ll be removed in future roster updates though, so if you want to make it happen, I’d suggest doing it sooner rather than later.
Bonus: 5 Players in NBA Live 2003 Alone
At the risk of throwing away a potential follow-up article, I do want to mention that NBA Live 2003 alone provides us with five examples of players who were still available in the active roster after calling it a day. Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Vinny Del Negro, Mookie Blaylock, and Johnny Newman are all active in NBA Live 2003, either on an NBA roster or in the free agent pool, even though the 2002 season turned out to be their last. I’d originally considered a couple of those players for inclusion in the main list, but as the examples from NBA Live 2003 piled up, I felt that it would be better to mention them together as a single bonus example.
Their various circumstances are interesting, especially given NBA Live 2003’s roster cut-off date of October 1st, 2002. At the time, Olajuwon was still mulling retirement following a back injury, though Ewing had announced his retirement on September 18th. Del Negro had retired following a trade to the Orlando Magic early on in the 2002 season. I’m guessing that Blaylock and Newman hadn’t officially retired by the cut-off, leading to their inclusion with the thought that they may stick around for at least one more season. Aside from any “What If?” scenarios gamers cared to play out, their presence also came in handy when creating retro rosters for NBA Live 2003 PC.
Can you recall any other examples of players who remained on the active roster in basketball video games after playing their final game in real life? Let me know in the comments section 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.