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The Friday Five: 5 Terribly Named Basketball Games

The Friday Five

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 five terribly named basketball games.

Since nothing is classier or more cultured than Shakespeare, I’ll pull a quote from one of The Bard’s most famous works, Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This famous quotation, often paraphrased as “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, is a metaphor which illustrates that a name doesn’t affect the nature or quality of the thing that it belongs to. Just like the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, it reminds us that superficial details aren’t everything, and that we shouldn’t make snap judgements based on them.

Of course, as The Simpsons once argued, roses wouldn’t be nearly as alluring if they were called stench blossoms or crap weed, and candy would likely be off-putting if it were called scum drops. The point is that while names aren’t always indicative or as important as we make them out to be, they do play a role in our initial impression of whatever it is they’re attached to. Even when we get past those impressions, a bad name can still stand out as an unfortunate attribute of an otherwise appealing thing. That goes for basketball video games, and there have been some terribly named ones over the years. Here are five examples that stand out to me.

1. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

NY Subway in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

When Saber Interactive named their new arcade basketball game NBA Playgrounds, it was a sensible choice. It fit the streetball vibe and aesthetic, it was distinct, and it was catchy. There’s nothing wrong with the Playgrounds branding. However, when Saber entered into a partnership with Take-Two and the sequel to Playgrounds came under the 2K umbrella, the title was expanded to reflect that. Originally simply named NBA Playgrounds 2, the game became NBA 2K Playgrounds 2, which is quite a mouthful to say and doesn’t look much better to write. It’s not overly long, but the repetition of “two” with 2K and the trailing sequel number is rather awkward to say the least.

Also, while NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a sequel, there’s no NBA 2K Playgrounds 1. Obviously it’s still a very similar title, but since they decided to change up the naming convention to reflect the new partnership, they could’ve chosen something far less awkward; even NBA Playgrounds 2K would’ve been better. It’s admittedly the least of my problems with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2, and a more pleasing title wouldn’t erase those complaints – “what’s in a name”, after all – but it does make it one of the more terribly named basketball video games. It wasn’t the first time that a game under the 2K umbrella changed its naming convention, but I’ll get to that shortly.

2. Sony’s NBA Series

Free Throw Drill in The Life (NBA 08)

In contrast to the above example, the problem here is that the name is too generic, at least as it pertains to the series as a whole. The individual games are fine – NBA 06, NBA 07, NBA 08, and so forth – and the subtitle, “Featuring the Life”, is kind of catchy. As a name for the entire series, though, it’s too ambiguous. If you were to refer to “the NBA games”, it isn’t clear which ones you mean. You could be referring to any number of NBA-licensed video games, such as NBA Live, NBA 2K, or NBA Jam, or indeed, actual NBA games. Calling it “the NBA series” removes some of the ambiguity, but it doesn’t stand out as its own brand like Live, 2K, Jam, and so on.

That the series was named so generically is somewhat appropriate in hindsight. I’ve picked up a few games in the NBA series and I’ll be covering them in-depth for Wayback Wednesday at some point, but my general impression of them is that they’re fairly run-of-the-mill basketball sims; a significant step below NBA 2K, and even the rougher NBA Live titles of the seventh generation. Aside from the creative story modes years before NBA 2K incorporated that approach into MyCAREER, they’re quite basic with an inferior on-court product. They are most certainly NBA-licensed games however, so they’re named appropriately, if not particularly creatively.

3. Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000

Shaq in Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000

These days, we’re accustomed to generally seeing only two basketball games come out each year (and with NBA Live’s ups and downs, sometimes just one). This wasn’t the case in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s though, as several developers had the NBA license and threw their hat into the ring with both sim and arcade titles. Many of them tried to have catchy names in order to stand out and draw attention away from NBA Live, and later NBA 2K. These included NBA in the Zone (NBA Pro here in Australia), NBA ShootOut (Total NBA in PAL regions), and NBA Give ‘n Go, among others. Admittedly, some of those names might stand out as being a bit cheesy now.

However, the title I’m picking for this list is Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000. One of four 2000 season sim titles to be released on PC (NBA Live 2000, NBA Inside Drive 2000, and NBA ShootOut 2000 are the others), it’s an interesting game and another one I’ll eventually be covering for Wayback Wednesday. It does have a clunky name though, being longer than it needs to be thanks to the redundant use of the word basketball to go along with the network branding and year. The lengthy title probably wouldn’t be so bad if it included a more exciting or eye-catching brand like Live, or one of the other aforementioned games. As it is, it sounds both wordy and bland.

4. ESPN NBA Basketball

LeBron James dunks in ESPN NBA Basketball

If you’re not aware which game this is, it’s the fifth title in the NBA 2K series, the one many informally (but nevertheless incorrectly) refer to as NBA 2K4. 2K4 does appear on the cover, but the game’s official name is just ESPN NBA Basketball. It’s weird to think that NBA 2K would drop or at least downplay their own branding in the game’s title. After all, they’ve gone on to awkwardly shove it into NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. The series was also picking up steam at that point, and beginning to take sales away from NBA Live as it became a popular brand and the sim game of choice for many. ESPN was easily the bigger brand of course, but it was still changing the convention.

2K Sports’ entire 2004 lineup was titled according to that new convention: ESPN NBA Basketball, ESPN College Hoops, ESPN NHL Hockey, ESPN NFL Football, and ESPN MLB Baseball. They’re terribly generic without a year to identify the season they’re set in, and including the name of the sport in the title is somewhat redundant as well. The repetition of “N” in ESPN NBA Basketball (and every other game except College Hoops and MLB Baseball) also prevents it from comfortably rolling off the tongue. ESPN NBA 2K5 was slightly better, but still awkward. 2K would then drop “ESPN” altogether, once EA Sports had acquired that license.

5. NBA Elite 11

Kevin Durant dribbles the basketball in NBA Elite 11

You knew this one had to be in here. By all accounts, NBA Elite 11 was set to be a disaster no matter what it was called, but it has all the hallmarks of being terribly named. It was a rebranding of a series that had a tarnished reputation, yes, but also a long history, nostalgia, and brand recognition. The new name wasn’t an improvement as far as being catchy, exciting, or memorable…at least for the right reasons. NBA Elite 11 also doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily with its back-to-back vowel sounds. Before we saw the game in action, before we played the demo, before the meme that was “Jesus Bynum”, the name alone made us feel sceptical about the new title.

As it turned out, the scepticism was well-founded and the awkwardness of NBA Elite 11 matched its title, which I guess makes it the stench blossoms of basketball video games. The final nail in the coffin came when it was cancelled, and the punny “NBA Delete 11” was coined as a way of mocking it. While it had been terribly named, there was a silver lining here. EA Sports were able to drop the name and return to NBA Live, branding that carried more goodwill and nostalgia. The past decade still hasn’t been kind to NBA Live, but by washing their hands of the NBA Elite branding, EA preserved their well-established moniker by shielding it from a failed experiment.

What’s your take on these names? What are some other basketball video games that you feel are terribly named, and what makes their monikers so bad? Have your say 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.

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