Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
The old saying suggests that you should save the best for last (as does a popular song by Vanessa Williams). In that respect, I’m actually working backwards with this series of Friday Five articles on basketball video game cover players; I’ve already covered the “cursed” cover players, followed by the best cover players, so this week, I’m listing my picks for the five worst basketball video game cover players that we’ve seen so far.
Now, keep in mind that this is all subjective, personal bias is certainly a factor, and when I say “worst”, it’s in comparison to other cover players. Outside of vandalised entries on Wikipedia, we’ve yet to see any benchwarmers join the list of players who have graced the covers of basketball video games. Having said that, let’s get to my list of the five worst basketball video game cover players!
1. Antoine Walker – NBA Live 99
Last week, I mentioned that NBA Live’s list of cover players isn’t quite as impressive as NBA 2K’s. While that may be selling Live’s roster of cover players a bit short – after all, it includes Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Dwyane Wade, among others – EA’s game has had a few unusual or less-than-stellar choices, compared to the releases from Visual Concepts…especially in the early days. This was arguably due to the cover player being less significant, given that NBA Live tended to be the best game (or at least the most well-established brand), as well as the superstars of the time being less interested in video games, or simply asking for too much money.
Conversely, video games are a huge industry these days, NBA stars are more aware of the medium, and the money is there to get deals done. Back in the day however, we saw more covers featuring second or third tier All-Stars, as well as younger, up-and-coming players. The latter certainly describes Antoine Walker, the cover player for NBA Live 99. Now, it should be noted that Antoine Walker is arguably slightly underrated these days. Yes, he was inefficient, and didn’t transition from promising young talent to all-time great like others of his generation, but he had a few respectable seasons, and even garnered some All-Star selections. He had potential, he had shoe commercials. At the time, he didn’t seem like such a terrible choice.
However, he wasn’t one of the biggest names in the sport, he didn’t become one of the biggest names in the sport, and his selection as the cover player hasn’t held up as well as the years have gone by. Compared to other NBA Live cover players, there’s definitely a “bet on the wrong horse” vibe when it comes to Antoine Walker. To that end, when we ran a poll in the Forum some years back to select the most popular and least popular NBA Live cover players, Walker was the community’s pick for least popular. Enough said.
2. Tony Parker – NBA Live 09
As it happens, NBA Live’s other entry on this list comes a full decade later. Now, Tony Parker has had a far more successful career than Antoine Walker, and I expect that a lot of gamers will disagree with me on this one. I can certainly understand that point of view, as he’s a multi-time champion and All-Star, a Finals MVP, and has been frequently ranked as a top ten point guard throughout his career. On the surface, he doesn’t seem to belong on this list.
One of the main reasons that I am including him on the list is timing. Parker’s appearance on the cover of NBA Live 09 came a full season after the championship series in which he won his third ring, and first (and only) Finals MVP. In contrast, NBA 2K9 featured Kevin Garnett, fresh off of winning the championship with the Boston Celtics. When he was announced as NBA Live 09’s cover player, I remember the general reaction being “Really? Tony Parker? I mean, he’s good and all, but…really? Tony Parker?” We were certainly caught off-guard by EA’s choice.
Additionally, while he’s hardly unknown or unpopular, Parker arguably wasn’t the most marketable cover player that EA could have chosen. He didn’t make the All-Star Game the previous season, and the San Antonio Spurs have a reputation for being boring; an assertion that I disagree with, but one that a lot of people do make, even to this day. KG on the other hand is a far more popular player, and was far more relevant at that point of time. In terms of his abilities and career accomplishments, Parker certainly isn’t one of the worst players to appear on the cover of a basketball game. Nevertheless, he wasn’t exactly the best choice…at least at that point in time.
3. Ben Wallace – ESPN NBA 2K5
There’s definitely a lot of personal bias involved with this pick. First of all, let me say that I acknowledge Ben Wallace’s accomplishments in the NBA, and his abilities as a defender and on the glass. He was a vital part of the Detroit Pistons’ championship victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004, and as a prominent member of the defending champs, he wasn’t exactly a bizarre choice for Visual Concepts’ NBA sim for the 2005 season. I’m not suggesting that Big Ben sucks, or that he was a completely bewildering choice.
With that out of the way…Ben Wallace is absolutely one of my least favourite players in the history of the NBA. He has been since “The Malice at the Palace”, which I felt he played a large part in instigating and escalating, and subsequently got off way too lightly. When he signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2006, I tried to keep an open mind, but his tenure there only cemented my dislike for him. It’s clear that he wanted a big payday, but also didn’t really want to leave Detroit, nor lead a young team that still had a lot of growing to do. As such, I believe that his heart was never really in it with the Bulls; at least, not to the tune of the $15 million a year he signed for.
John Paxson has to take responsibility for that horrible deal of course, but I do feel that Wallace lacked professionalism and commitment. In any case, this pick is heavily influenced by personal preference, but even taking a more objective view, I don’t think that he was one of the better cover players. Hard-nosed defensive players who don’t score much aren’t really that marketable (unless they have really colourful hair), and NBA Live 2005 had rising star Carmelo Anthony on its cover. Back then, NBA Live more than held its own against NBA 2K, and Melo was the player who was more likely to move units. Point goes to EA there.
4. Kobe Bryant – Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside
Alright, time for a truly controversial pick…and one that may sound rather contradictory, given Kobe Bryant’s status as an all-time great, and the fact that I previously included him on the “best” list for his appearance on the cover of NBA 2K10. Even though it was early on his career, most people saw a future of Hall of Famer in the making, and with that in mind, Left Field Productions made a great call in jumping on the bandwagon. Unlike some of the other cover players on this list, history has been kind to their choice.
So, why include him? Well, NBA Courtside essentially billed a player who averaged just seven points per game as a rookie, and wasn’t even a starter in his second year, as one of the league’s top stars. Granted, he was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter that year and his talent was obvious, but by his numbers and his role, it was jumping the gun. Regardless, he was the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting point guard in NBA Courtside, a role that was actually split between Derek Fisher and Nick Van Exel over the course of the 1998 season. Accuracy actually had to be put aside to justify Kobe’s presence as the game’s cover player.
Additionally, Kobe reportedly refused to allow any other players in the game to use any of the moves that he motion captured. Furthermore, the reason that all player ratings were hidden was supposedly because Kobe himself had a big hand in making them up. That’s a dangerous amount of creative control to give to your cover player – especially one who still hadn’t quite broken out as a bona fide superstar yet – and it only serves to undermine any credibility as a sim title. Did pandering so heavily to their cover player ultimately kill off the NBA Courtside series before it could really get started? Well, it folded after only three iterations, so…you be the judge.
5. Adam Morrison – NCAA March Madness 07
What do Michael Jordan and EA have in common, besides Michael Jordan In Flight? Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City, of course…oh, and they both took a gamble on Adam Morrison. And to be fair, it didn’t seem like a terrible idea at the time. It should be noted that he was a highly touted prospect, a finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year and John R. Wooden awards, and co-winner of the Oscar Robertson Trophy with J.J. Redick in 2006. He also led the nation in scoring in his final year at Gonzaga, averaging 28.1 ppg.
Of course, if you’ve been following the NBA for a while, you know that his pro career didn’t pan out so well. After a difficult transition to the NBA in his rookie season, he missed the entire 2008 campaign after tearing his ACL in a pre-season game, was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009, and won a couple of championships with them while seeing very little court time. His name is mostly brought up in memes, with references to the long hair he once sported, his moustache, or the tongue-in-cheek notion that his absence prevented the Lakers from winning a third straight title in 2011.
However, there was a time when his future appeared bright, and that led to his appearance on the cover of EA’s college basketball title for the 2007 season, NCAA March Madness 07. With that in mind, he’s arguably also a candidate for the “cursed” list, but the fact of the matter is that standout college players don’t always find success in the NBA. He was a logical selection at the time, but these days you certainly wouldn’t think of him as a “cover worthy” player. Still, he did indeed get the March Madness cover, and was also signed on to promote NBA Live 07, an arrangement that brought us one of my all-time favourite basketball video game commercials.
Once again, I’d like to mention that this is all subjective, and the fact of the matter is, it’s just as difficult to pick the worst cover players as it is to pick the best. After all, it’s not as though unknown benchwarmers are tabbed to grace a lot of video game covers, so you’re having to choose between players who were significant names in the sport at one time or another. However, whether it’s because a player didn’t pan out, wasn’t particularly marketable or a big enough name, or a rival game featured a better player on their cover, some selections just don’t hold up. Other players, you just may not like. Such selections can therefore be argued as the “worst”, and these are my top five.
In any case, I’ve had my say, so now it’s your turn. Who do you believe are the worst basketball video game cover players? Or, perhaps more accurately, who are your least favourite? Sound off in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.