The Friday Five: 5 Things Old School Basketball Gamers Did

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.

I’ve been playing basketball video games for a long time now, and I know that I’m far from the only person in our community with a long history on the virtual hardwood. If you go back a long way with basketball video games, chances are you have a healthy appreciation for how far they’ve come, while also harbouring a certain amount of nostalgia for the more primitive games from yesteryear. You probably remember many of their quirks, some of which you may miss, whereas others will definitely leave you feeling very grateful that they’re no longer an issue.

Of course, we gamers have plenty of quirks of our own, whether it’s some kind of superstitious ritual with the controls (“Yeah, tapping the button at that time totally works!”), or just something we do because it’s kind of fun, such as timing movements with the soundtrack. When it comes to basketball games, there are also certain things that we old school gamers did that probably seem a bit strange and amusing to younger gamers, because technology is so much better now. Just for fun, I thought I’d make a list of some of those quirky rituals and old fashioned activities that it seems many of us old school basketball gamers indulged in at one time or another.

1. Watched Players Nod Along to the Music in NBA Live 2002

Michael Jordan's Player Card in NBA Live 2002

Let’s tip things off with one that’s kind of silly, but it’s something that I did, and I know that others did it as well. When basketball games started displaying players’ in-game faces in addition to (or instead of) real portraits, their heads generally weren’t stationary. Usually they were just looking back and forth, perhaps raising an eyebrow or whatever to demonstrate the facial animations, but NBA Live 2002 took it one step further by having players bob and nod their heads, as if in time to the game’s soundtrack. It was easy to catch yourself watching the players on various stats and roster management screens, waiting for their movements to sync up to the soundtrack.

Did I say it was kind of silly? Alright, it was very silly. Still, it was an oddly calming and hypnotic distraction while browsing the menus. If you give it time, the players’ head bobbing will synchronise with all of the songs on the soundtrack, but personally, I find the best results come from “Deep End” and “Lady Venom” by Swollen Members. In case you don’t have NBA Live 2002 handy to check it out for yourself, here’s an animated gif for you to loop alongside those tracks, or one of the others from the game’s soundtrack.

Michael Jordan bobbing his head in NBA Live 2002

2. Created Maxed Out Players

Maxed Out Created Player in NBA Live 96 PC

I’m sure that there are still a handful of basketball gamers who still do this offline, and I know that there are gamers who very controversially hack their games to do this online. However, it seems to be something that we all did back in the day; we either created a super version of a missing player (Michael Jordan, in my case), or our own avatar with ratings of 99 in every category. When you’re a younger basketball gamer – especially back then in the earlier days of basketball gaming – you tend not to care as much about realism, competitive balance, or anything like that. You just want to dominate the opposition, or mess around.

I have to imagine that this has greatly fallen out of vogue. We don’t have the issue of current stars missing from the game, official rosters are pushed through regularly, and even if we do create a missing player who just signed a ten day contract, we’re unlikely to max out their ratings. Realism is absolutely the name of the game, these days. As far as creating ourselves, that’s something we tend to do exclusively for modes like MyCAREER, Pro-Am, and MyPARK, where we grind for upgrades and level caps are in effect. Hacking MyPLAYERs aside, getting a new game and creating a maxed out player just isn’t really done anymore, or so it would seem, anyway.

3. Tried Playing Online with a 56K Modem

Jason Kidd dribbles the basketball in NBA Live 2004

When you hear the sound of a 56K modem dialling up, it’s usually a joke at the expense of the primitive speed of Internet connections in the 90s. For those of us who were around and online at that time, that sound triggers both feelings of nostalgia, and frustrating memories of waiting ages to download anything that was over a couple of megabytes. A six gigabyte Day One patch? Forget about it! However, online gaming certainly did exist back then, with modem-to-modem, IP-to-IP, and matchmaking options. Needless to say, it wasn’t as sophisticated or reliable as online play is today.

I had a lot of fun playing modem-to-modem games of Duke Nukem with a friend of mine in the late 90s, but when it came to basketball games, my experiences weren’t so positive. It’s probably why I’m generally not much an online gamer outside of 2K Pro-Am, which I enjoy for the social aspect as much as anything else. Playing basketball games on a 56K connection (if indeed you were getting anywhere close to that speed) was an adventure. If the lag or a network error didn’t ruin the experience for you, there was always the likelihood that an incoming call or someone picking up the phone to make one would suddenly terminate your Internet connection.

4. Searched in Vain for Signature Jumpshots

Dirk Nowitzki shoots the basketball in NBA Live 2003

Scrutinising jumpshots is still something we do with every new basketball game that comes out. With today’s games, however, that means inspecting all the signature shots that are in the game, and passing judgement on their accuracy. In older basketball games, we were simply looking for the presence of any signature jumpshots and unique animations. Funnily enough, it usually didn’t occur to us that signature animations are a strong selling point that would definitely be mentioned in promotional material. Indeed, when they finally started making their way into basketball games in the middle of the last decade, they were a spotlighted feature.

Before signature jumpshot styles were actually implemented, someone would inevitably claim to have found one that absolutely didn’t exist. Generally speaking, it was an early/late release animation, or an animation that just happened to kind of resemble the real life form of a certain player (except everyone else was using it, too). Beginning with NBA Live 2003, the PC/PlayStation 2 versions of NBA Live also featured separate regular and big man jumpshot styles, up until the addition of signature styles in NBA Live 08. The search for signature jumpers, and subsequent false discoveries, was an annual ritual in basketball games for a while there.

5. Used Cheats in NBA Jam

Ron Harper dunks in NBA Jam Tournament Edition PC

(Incoming “Back in my day” reminiscing in 5…4…3…2…1…)

Back in my day, when a few of us wanted to get together and play an NBA Jam game, we either had to be in the same house, or in the same arcade with enough coins. None of this online matchmaking that we finally saw in the 2010 NBA Jam reboot and NBA Jam: On Fire Edition! That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the advances in multiplayer gaming – once again, I’ve really gotten in 2K Pro-Am in recent months – but there’s a certain advantage to sitting in front of the same TV or computer screen when you play a basketball video game. Human companionship, sure, but it’s also harder to cheat and be a jerk. After all, you’re within striking distance.

Aside from playing co-op NBA Live with my cousin, I generally played multiplayer NBA Jam, since most of my friends weren’t as into basketball as I am, and preferred a more casual experience. Now, those old NBA Jam games had a variety of button codes for full court dunks, unlimited fire, and so on. Of course we used them, the same way we used IDDQD and IDKFA in Doom. We did employ “gentleman’s agreements” when it came to using cheats however, including which ones were fair game, and the stipulation that we’d start the game over if someone didn’t get a code punched in. That way, we at least maintained a reasonably level playing field.

In many ways, I obviously prefer the experiences that recent basketball games provide, but I do feel a little nostalgic whenever I think back on these rituals and activities. I’m certainly glad that these issues generally aren’t relevant in NBA 2K17, but they’re fun and amusing to look back on all the same. To my fellow old school basketball gamers, what other quirky things do you remember doing back in the day? 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.

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September 24, 2016 3:44 pm

and here I thought we were trying to erase MJ on the Wizards from our memory….