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 NBA seasons that tend to be underrepresented when it comes to retro roster mods.
Full retro season roster mods are a huge undertaking. Even if a game features a large amount of retro content in the form of historical players and throwback team art, there will still be a lot of work to be done as far as adding players and creating their faces, not to mention jerseys, courts, and logos. To that point, a modder seeking to make a retro season roster will likely choose the year carefully. Some seasons will require less work than others – especially those in the 90s onwards – because of the amount of assets that can already be utilised.
Of course, there’s another factor that goes into one’s choice of seasons for a retro mod: popularity and notoriety of the campaign in question. I’ll admit to always thinking of the 1996 season when it comes to retro roster ideas, because that’s when I really got into basketball. Generally speaking, I’m also partial to years where the Chicago Bulls were on top. However, with a rich history spanning over seventy years, there are many NBA seasons filled with stories and highlights that should inspire more retro mods than they do. That’s not to say that these seasons don’t have any retro mods already, but all the same, I’d argue that they’re underrepresented in roster projects.
1. 1995 Season
Yes, there have been 1995 season mods for various games. When it comes to 90s rosters though, it’s far more common to see one featuring the champion Bulls. That suits my tastes just fine, but it’s a shame that the Rockets’ title years don’t get a bit more love on the virtual hardwood. There is a 1994 mod for NBA 2K19 and I’m sure that a 1995 mod isn’t an impossible prospect, so to that end, I’d like to see one. From my point of view as a Bulls fan, that 1995 team following Michael Jordan’s mid-season return – wearing number 45, of course – has a certain appeal in its own right. It’s a transitional lineup, a blend of players from the first and second threepeat.
Mind you, while MJ’s comeback grabbed headlines in March, the Rockets winning back to back titles by sweeping an exciting young Orlando Magic team featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway is the story that put a bow on the season. Elsewhere, Patrick Ewing’s Knicks were still at the height of their powers, as were Charles Barkley and the Suns. David Robinson was teaming with Dennis Rodman in San Antonio, while Dominique Wilkins was a Celtic. A few noteworthy names from the 80s, such as Sleepy Floyd and Tree Rollins, were in their final stops. 1995 mods are also a nice throwback to NBA Live 95, which was of course an influential title.
2. 1999 Season
It isn’t surprising that the 1999 campaign is one of the more underrepresented NBA seasons. After all, it was the first season that lost games to a lockout, resulting in a 50-game schedule, a brief offseason with a flurry of movement, and a haphazard style of play as some teams and players struggled to get it together after an extended break. As such, fans have frequently indulged in the contentious practice of branding the San Antonio Spurs’ first championship with an asterisk, which to my mind isn’t exactly fair. Obviously there was also the breakup of the defending champion Bulls, which on top of everything else made 1999 one of those unusual transitional NBA seasons.
However, while I wouldn’t argue that it was the best NBA season, it’s nevertheless one of the most interesting. That alone is reason enough to represent it on the virtual hardwood through a full roster mod. You’ve got the Spurs finally getting over the hump against a revamped underdog Knicks team. The Bucks and 76ers were back in the Playoffs after being perennial lottery teams for most of the 90s, with rising stars Ray Allen and Allen Iverson leading the way. There are talented rookies, including Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and Antawn Jamison. With all the player movement, you have some familiar faces in strange places. It’s an oddity, but a fun one to replay.
3. 2001 Season
Although the 2001 season isn’t completely overlooked thanks to a dominant Playoff run by the Los Angeles Lakers and a stunning victory by an overmatched 76ers team that prevented LA from going undefeated on route to a second straight title, I’d still say it’s underrepresented in retro mods. Looking back though, it does make sense. The league was still in a transitional period as the stars from the 80s and early 90s were retiring or beginning to fade, so I’d suggest that it’s a blind spot for our nostalgia. It’s also overshadowed by the 2002 and 2003 seasons, which saw MJ’s comeback with the Wizards. As such, those two seasons tend to be more popular choices for modders.
While that may be understandable, it can be argued that 2001 is still an appealing option for a retro roster mod, and underrepresented to date. There’s the oddity of seeing Patrick Ewing playing for the SuperSonics. The Orlando Magic had just signed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, a duo that worked out a lot better in games than in real life. Several teams that had been woeful for most of the past decade continued their rise to perennial Playoff participants, and potential title contenders. It doesn’t have the best Draft Class, but there were a few standout names that joined a new generation looking to make its mark. I’d suggest that 2001 deserves more attention.
4. 2004 Season
The 2004 season tends to be well-represented when it comes to individual teams, in particular the Los Angeles Lakers squad from that year. There are no surprises there, as a lineup featuring Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton is an outstanding video game team. The champion Detroit Pistons and Timberwolves with MVP Kevin Garnett are also noteworthy enough to be included among NBA 2K’s historical squads. When it comes to full retro season roster mods though, the campaign doesn’t seem to be the first choice of most modders. Perhaps the Pistons spoiling the Lakers’ season wasn’t the storybook ending that most fans wanted.
Personally, I think it made the 2004 season one for the ages, though I wouldn’t blame any Lakers fans for feeling differently. Beyond that though, you’ve got a rookie LeBron James and the rest of the Class of 2003 in their freshman campaigns. A few more stars from the previous decade called it a day at the end of 2003, opening up opportunities for the new generation to shine. Beyond the Lakers, the Mavericks also had an amazing lineup for a video game, featuring Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, Steve Nash, Antoine Walker, and Antawn Jamison. I’m all for more 2004 season mods, as it does seem underrepresented given the teams and storylines of the time.
5. 2006 Season
I was tossing up between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but a 2005 mod was released not that long ago, and another one is in the works. Also, NBA Live 06 for Xbox 360 has been my retro gaming jam as of late, so this underrepresented season is appealing to my nostalgia right now. Admittedly the 2006 NBA Finals are mired in controversy – namely the belief that Dwyane Wade and the Heat benefitted from some generous calls as the series went on – but there’s no denying its memorability. It isn’t often that we’re guaranteed to see a first time champion crowned, but that was the scenario we were presented with as the 2006 season came down to the Heat vs the Mavericks.
Once again, you’ve got some future Hall of Famers in the early stages of their careers, which is fun to look back on. The stars that came along in the mid to late 90s were now firmly established as the league’s elite. To put it into perspective, no player that had been an All-Star in the 80s was still active, and the only 80s Draftee in the league that year was Cliff Robinson. There are also some interesting scenarios that are fun to play out in video games, such as Steve Francis teaming with Stephon Marbury. 2006 is one of those seasons that younger fans are starting to become nostalgic for though, so as far as retro mods are concerned, it might not be underrepresented much longer.
Do you feel these seasons need better representation in retro roster mods? What other seasons do you think should receive more focus? Have your say 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.