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 poses five questions regarding historical teams for both the community and developers to consider.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the historical content in NBA 2K is one of the series’ biggest triumphs. Sure, it isn’t perfect, as missing players and inaccurate ratings and data do impact the experience of playing with and against historical teams. Still, NBA 2K has managed to break new ground as far as including retro content. Older games may have included a handful of playable Legends, with NBA Starting Five 2005 even featuring a small selection of classic squads. However, as far as overall depth and scope is concerned, the NBA 2K series has done it the best.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t critique the historical teams and content in NBA 2K, and suggest feasible improvements. In determining how this content could be better, we need to ask some important questions. There are different approaches and standards that can be applied here, and while it’s unlikely that gamers will ever be in complete agreement, I believe there might be more common ground here than we think. Additionally, some of these questions may be pertinent to modders who are working on their own historical roster projects. So, with that in mind, what are some of the most pressing questions to consider regarding historical teams in NBA 2K?
1. Should All-Decade/All-Time Teams Have Duplicates?
One of the interesting differences between historical content in NBA Live and NBA 2K over the years is how they’ve handled All-Decade teams. In NBA Live, there were no duplicate players. All-time greats who could’ve conceivably been included in more than one squad given the span of their career and prime were simply assigned to the decade that felt most appropriate, or added the most balance between squads. In NBA 2K, All-Decade teams have featured younger and older versions of players. On top of that, players who swapped conferences during their prime also had duplicates. For example, NBA 2K10’s East and West 90s All-Stars each have a Shaquille O’Neal.
NBA 2K’s All-Time teams likewise feature duplicates of stars whose prime was spent with more than one franchise. As far as community rosters featuring such teams, the approach is at the discretion of the creator. So, should duplicates be allowed? I think it should be judged on a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking, I’d suggest that it is acceptable for All-Time squads. With All-Decade teams, it depends on whether there are East and West squads. If so, it can take up a roster spot of a deserving player, and thus lack variety. There’s value in both approaches, and All-Time teams without any duplicates is a challenging concept. However, I’d say that duplicates are usually fine.
2. How Many Missing Players Should Disqualify A Classic Team?
I wouldn’t want to see NBA 2K become too strict when it comes to questions like this. On one hand, part of me would like to say that since quality beats quantity, a team that cannot field a viable lineup without fictional placeholders isn’t ideal for inclusion. Realistically, that rules out too many of the classic teams currently in NBA 2K! I’ll say that a good rule of thumb is the ability to include at least nine to ten players. Ten would be ideal, allowing for a sub at every position. Naturally, a full roster would be great whenever it’s feasible, and 2K should strive for that. As long as we don’t have too many John Smiths that are rated higher than real bench players, it’s a viable team.
In fact, the more pressing question is “who is missing”, rather than “how many players are missing”. If 2K can’t include at least four accurate starters for a classic team, then it’s questionable as to whether it should be added to the roster. I’m tempted to set the bar at all five starters, but there’s precedent for four, and it can work. Obviously, if the star player and main attraction can’t be licensed – think Charles Barkley or Reggie Miller – then it goes without saying that there’s little point featuring such a team. The bottom line is that classic teams should be appealing and fun to play with. You might be able to get away with a thinner roster, but not if the biggest names are absent.
3. When Should Classic Teams Be Removed?
None of us enjoy seeing content disappear from basketball games, but just as it’s fair to question whether a retro team should be added, it makes sense to consider whether a squad should remain. Once again, there’s a precedent here, as a number of classic teams have ended up on the chopping block after a few years. Licensing rights are obviously a primary factor here, just as they are when considering adding a new team. Thus, the question becomes “if this team were being added for the first time, would it be worth it with the players that have been licensed”. It’d be a shame to lose access to those players of course, so ideally a replacement classic team could be assembled.
That brings us to the other reason to consider removing a classic team: replacing it with a better choice. Certain historical teams have been grandfathered in, owing to the fact they were originally added for the first Jordan Challenge or NBA’s Greatest. This has led to redundancy, as well as teams that aren’t as historically significant as viable alternatives would be. Whether it’s replacing the 1994 Rockets with the 1995 squad, switching the 1998 Spurs for the 1999 Championship team, or making sure that every team has an opponent from the same season, it’s worth considering the removal of certain squads. It would keep the selection fresh, with the most interesting choices.
4. Do Current Players Belong On All-Time Teams?
Yes and no. Considering that there are active players who are undoubtedly among the best to ever play for their respective teams, the All-Time squads shouldn’t just be for retirees. With that being said, I’d recommend that developers and modders alike be judicious as far as including current stars on the All-Time teams, unless their tenure and/or performance truly makes them a top player in franchise history. I don’t think the criteria should be too rigid here, especially if there are spots to fill on the All-Time teams, and there’s no better choice among the licensed retired stars. At the same time, I would like to see preference given to retired players who aren’t available elsewhere.
This is how players like Rex Chapman and Cedric Ceballos have become exclusive to MyTEAM, though I imagine in many cases that’s also by design. However, it doesn’t feel right when Jayson Tatum is being heralded as one of the top 15 players in the history of the Boston Celtics over legends like Sam Jones. I understanding wanting to mix past and present on the All-Time teams, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of fair historical rankings. On a similar note, there are some strange choices, including Stephen Jackson being on the All-Time Hornets ahead of the aforementioned Rex Chapman, despite Rex being their first ever pick, and Jax’s relatively short stint.
5. What Else Can Be Done With Historical Teams?
So, we have classic teams, All-Time Teams, and All-Decade teams. What else can be done with NBA 2K’s historical content? For a start, definitely keep the MyNBA Eras rosters accessible outside of the mode. After a false start when they were accidentally accessible via a debug menu, those rosters are available in Play Now as of the latest patch, as they should be. Beyond that, I’d love to see a Legends Pool similar to the one in NBA Live, so that copies of historical players could be added to teams without having to ruin any of the original squads. This could potentially be an extension of the Player DNA feature, creating a perfect clone of historical players for a custom roster.
There’s also the possibility of historical East and West teams from memorable All-Star games, all-time East and West squads, and the return of concepts such as Draft Class and shoe brand teams. If all of the necessary players are licensed, there could be a bevy of former Dream Teams/Team USA squads. There could be separate All-Time Thunder and All-Time SuperSonics teams. A custom/Create-a-Team feature would be great to have anyway, but centring it on assembling new and alternative classic teams could be fun. Most of all however, I’d like to see proper attention paid to retro player ratings, tendencies, animations, and so on. That lack of accuracy harms their appeal.
What’s your take on these questions? What else would you like to see out of the historical teams and content in NBA 2K? Let me know in the comments, 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.
A couple of thoughts…
For question #4, 2K should take a note from Basketball-Reference.com and select the 12 players with the highest all-time win shares for each team. This would put the focus on the top 2-3 players for each era, with only the older and/or the most outstanding of current players qualifying for all-time teams. The 13th and 14th players could then be key roll-players. The future Los Vegas team could be replaced with the top journeymen that didn’t spend enough time on any one team to qualify, until such team has enough history(5 years?, 10 years?)to field an all-time team.
Both Rex Chapman and Cedric Ceballos appear in their respective draft classes, as do other missing 80s and 90s players. In fact I was able to make the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns on PC with Charles, Frank Johnson and Negele Knight being the only created players. Heck, even Tim Kempton is in the 1986 draft and he was a 6th round pick who mostly kept the bench from floating up to the stands.
Good point about Ceballos and Chapman being available via Draft Classes. I still wish players like that were more readily accessible, though it would admittedly be tough when they don’t “outrank” the more worthy players on the All-Time Teams.
I feel like the 2004 Pistons shouldn’t be included in 2K without Rasheed Wallace. Take away Sheed and the roster is similar to the 2003 team. While they were one of the better teams in the East, I don’t think too many people would consider them classic. The acquisition of Sheed in 2004 immediately raised their level of play and made them a classic team.
Also, I really like your suggestion of classic All-Star teams, and thanks for reminding me of the Draft Class teams from the old 2K’s. I had totally forgot about those teams, but I now remember some of the fun I had using those teams playing by myself and against my friends.
I really want to agree with your point about the 2004 Pistons. It definitely feels empty without Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, and unworthy on including the remaining team at all. Somehow I can handle the exclusion of Mehmet Okur, being the completionist that I am. The only comfort I have are to either apply mods on PC to restore the missing players, or creating them on other consoles.
Missing starters are tougher to overlook for sure. If a classic team at least has their starting five, you can put their best/most prominent lineup on the floor right out of the box. It still stings to be missing key bench players, but if you’re playing a quick game, you might not even make a lot of substitutions anyway. Of course, one could argue that Hall of Fame Sixth Men are almost as conspicuous by their absence as missing starters/
Sheed’s absence from the 2004 Pistons (and 2000 Blazers) really does stick out like a sore thumb! I’m hesitant to say remove them at this point since it’s handy to have them in there for modding purposes, but it’s not ideal to include a team that’s missing such a prominent player.
Can’t go wrong with some extra teams! Even if it’s just re-using existing assets and not really adding any new players, they’re fun scenarios for Play Now games that don’t require any work to set up. I’m all for bonus content, done well.
Just posted in the forum about this but since there’s a bit of chatter here I thought I’d make it a reply here instead…
Wondering if anyone might have some suggestions… are there years of Live or 2K that offered actual classic teams in the rosters? It would be great if they were also great games like Live 2005. I suppose there’s really nothing better than “NBA’s Greatest” for what I’m asking because you get the teams, the play by play, the presentation, etc, and of course I know we have UBR and other community mods. But I just wanted to see if I’ve missed some amazing NBA Live or earlier 2K that has classic teams. I know 2K23 even has some but it’s not thorough.
NBA 2K didn’t officially have retro NBA teams until the first Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11. NBA Live never officially had them, but there are remnants of historical teams in NBA Live 08’s roster files, hinting that they were originally planned but the licensing fell through.
The Japanese-exclusive NBA Starting Five 2005 for PS2 actually has classic NBA teams, years before NBA 2K did it. It’s not a particularly good game, though.
Wow, so other than the last few 2Ks, there is nothing out there other than the all time teams in the Live 03 era, and scattered here and there?
Yeah, only the All-Decade/Decade All-Stars in those NBA Live games, and also in NBA 2K up until NBA 2K11. For a long time, classic NBA teams seemed unlikely outside of that one unique appearance in NBA Starting Five 2005, but 2K has managed to do it for over a decade now.
Yeah, so that 2K20 Ultimate Retro mod is pretty special then.
Absolutely! Well-made mods have filled in the gaps that issues with likeness rights have left quite superbly over the years. The Ultimate Retro roster has become something quite special.