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.
As revealed in the deep-dive developer blog and subsequent trailer, we’ll be introduced to a new cast of characters in NBA 2K17’s MyCAREER mode. Of course, the presence of fictional characters in basketball video games is nothing new, and goes back a long way before NBA 2K began taking a story-driven approach to MyCAREER. While we obviously remember and are familiar with the real players featured in basketball video games, new and old, those fictional players and other characters we encounter also have a tendency to stick in our minds.
For this week’s Friday Five, I’m compiling a list of some of the most memorable characters we’ve seen in basketball video games. Please note that I don’t necessarily mean memorable in a positive sense; just that we do remember them. Please also note that I’m excluding secret players in NBA Jam who are actors, politicians, or developers, as well as NBA mascots (who are obviously characters, but not ones created specifically for basketball video games). These are five fictional basketball video game characters that are all memorable for one reason or another.
1. Joe “The Show” Jackson
I’ve always been more partial to the NBA Jam series than NBA Street, but I own the first three Street games on PlayStation 2, and Homecourt on Xbox 360. Both series are fantastic arcade basketball games, with their own distinct style. When it comes to the voice of the game, perhaps no series is as iconic as NBA Jam, with Tim Kitzrow’s famous calls of “Boomshakalaka!” and “He’s on fire!” However, the original NBA Street had its own memorable MC in the form of Joe “The Show” Jackson, who appeared in the game as the host of the tournament, acted as the referee for the jump ball, and provided commentary during the games.
Joe “The Show” was portrayed by former NBA player and long-time broadcaster Bob Elliott, who also provided commentary for NBA Live 2001 through NBA Live 2003 alongside the late Don Poier. I have to admit I didn’t recognise his voice the first time I played NBA Street, as Elliott’s delivery and mannerisms are somewhat different to his usual commentary; far more energetic and enthusiastic, to match Joe’s character. If you’re a fan of NBA Street, you’ll no doubt remember his excited reaction to dunks, alley-oops, and of course, getting a Gamebreaker. “The Show” was replaced by Bobbito García in NBA Street Vol. 2, but he remains a memorable character.
2. Roster Player
A man of mystery…or at least, he would be if his ratings and bio data didn’t give strong hints as to who he was actually supposed to be. Back in the days when major players could be missing from NBA games – generally Michael Jordan, and for a few years, Charles Barkley – they were often replaced by a generic placeholder player. In NBA Live, they bore the name Roster Player, but other basketball games used similar names such as Roster Guard, Bulls Guard, and so on. All things considered, it was probably better than simply having the real players completely absent from the games, and they were convenient to edit in the PC versions of NBA Live.
Since they were a means of getting around the lack of likeness rights for players such as MJ and Sir Charles, it was important that Roster Players didn’t resemble them too closely. Some of them certainly did walk the line, however, and a couple of games landed their developers in hot water when the resemblance was too close. I’m certainly glad that we don’t have to deal with the issue of missing stars today, but like a lot of old school basketball gamers, I am oddly nostalgic for Roster Players, as they remind me of good times playing those old games. I also stand by the assertion that Scottie Pippen and Roster Player #89 are still the greatest duo in NBA history.
3. Vic Van Lier
Not all basketball video game characters are memorable for the right reasons. Vic Van Lier may not have been around for as long as some of the other characters on this list, but anyone who played through “Livin’ Da Dream” in NBA 2K16 probably won’t be forgetting him anytime soon. A childhood friend of our MyPLAYER – whose “Frequency Vibrations” persona was also a candidate for this list – Vic is a troubled young man whose misadventures end up reflecting badly on Freq, and jeopardising his NBA career. Spoiler Alert: there’s no happy ending for Vic, as the Friend of Freq ends up resting in power.
While his character isn’t completely unsympathetic, Vic is also pretty annoying. What’s even more annoying is that as Freq, you have no choice to cut him loose. I think NBA 2K16’s story would’ve been far more interesting if you actually could’ve made that decision, resulting in a couple of possible endings. Instead, we have to put up with Vic until the predictable “redemption equals death” ending (sort of), during which his ghost (or memory, I guess) has a lengthy monologue. On top of all my other gripes with “Livin’ Da Dream”, I felt the story was just too trite and predictable, and Vic’s character kind of personifies that. Sorry Vic, just keeping it ten times ten.
4. Jackson Ellis
A couple of years before we met Vic Van Lier, we were introduced to Jackson Ellis. NBA 2K’s first attempt at a story-driven MyCAREER in NBA 2K14 began much the same way the mode had on the previous generation, with a showcase game featuring some of the top prospects in the Draft. It was here that we first encountered Jackson Ellis, who turns out to be your rival. From that first cutscene after the showcase game, your careers are entwined: who gets picked first in the Draft, who gets the best endorsement deals, and who comes out on top when you face each other on the court.
The relationship between Ellis and your MyPLAYER is naturally quite antagonistic, although you can choose whether you want to respond aggressively, or with a cool, calm, and collected demeanour. Should you become the more successful player and win a championship first, he’ll end up changing his tune, and offering you his friendship…as well as asking for your help in winning a ring himself. At this point, you’re able to accept his olive branch, or bluntly reject him to keep the rivalry going. Ellis returned in NBA 2K15, smug as ever, as an executive offering a shoe deal. He’s also a connection in NBA 2K16, which earns you his #99 jersey for your MyCOURT.
5. Clifford “Stretch” Monroe
We’re returning to the NBA Street series for the last character on this list. Clifford “Stretch” Monroe, born in Harlem and currently residing in Brooklyn, is a street legend who plays at Rucker Park. The cover player for the first two games in the Street series, Stretch epitomises old school basketball, from his playing style to his short shorts and resemblance to “Dr. J” Julius Erving. A 6’11”, 247 pound finesse player, this 46 year old school teacher (blood type O+ according to the manual, in case you were wondering) is based on blacktop legends who never made the NBA, but continued to dazzle onlookers and school much younger players.
It’s probably fair to call Stretch the face of the NBA Street series. Not only was he the cover player for the first two games, and appeared once again in NBA Street V3, but he was also among the roster of legends that was released as downloadable content for NBA Street Homecourt. Stretch would finally be able to showcase his talents on NBA courts in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, becoming one of only a few players to crossover and make an appearance in both legendary series of arcade basketball games. If you’re looking to create an NBA Street mod for NBA Live or NBA 2K, I would suggest that including Stretch is a must.
Who are some other memorable basketball video game characters, for better or worse? Let me know some of your favourites (and least favourites) 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.