The Friday Five: My Top 5 Favourite Basketball Video Games

Welcome to another Friday here at the NLSC and as such, a new edition of The Friday Five! If you haven’t checked out The Friday Five before, this is a weekly feature that I post on Fridays in which I discuss a variety of topics related to basketball video games, the real NBA and other areas of interest, either as a list of five items or in Top 5 countdown format.

This week, I’m picking my Top 5 Favourite Basketball Video Games. Please note that this is not intended to be an objective list of the five best basketball video games that we’ve ever seen; that’s another list entirely and a topic for another day. While I do feel that all of these games are quality titles (at least for the time they were released) this is definitely a subjective list, featuring the games that I’ve enjoyed the most and/or spent the most time with over the years.

5. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

Knicks vs Raptors in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

What’s this, starting with an arcade game? Yes, although I absolutely prefer five-on-five basketball games to strive for as much realism as possible, I do also enjoy arcade oriented titles for a fun change of pace. Back in the day, NBA Jam Tournament Edition and NBA Hangtime by Midway were my favourite arcade basketball games, but NBA Jam: On Fire Edition has subsequently topped them.

In addition to the usual arcade style of gameplay, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition brings two elements to the table that put it above its predecessors: solid online play and Real AI. Both allow OFE to avoid a common problem that has plagued arcade basketball games throughout the years, namely repetitive gameplay. Combine that with a deep single player mode that also supports multiplayer and you have, in my book, the best arcade basketball game to date.

4. NBA Live 96

Luc Longley in NBA Live 96

The oldest game in my Top 5, NBA Live 96 has obviously been surpassed in all respects by every other game on this list and most any other basketball game that’s come along since. However, for the amount of time I spent with it and how much I enjoyed it all those years ago, it’s definitely one of my all-time favourites.

NBA Live 96 was also the first NBA Live I bought for PC. I originally played NBA Live 95 on the Super Nintendo and picked up the PC version at a bargain bin price some time after I got 96. It’s also one of the first games that I looked up content for when I first got on the Internet, which in turn introduced me to patching and the site I would eventually come to run, the NLSC.

3. NBA Live 2000

Shaquille O'Neal in NBA Live 2000

NBA Live 2000 was a definite high point in the NBA Live series and the game that introduced my favourite mode, Franchise (later rebranded Dynasty). It also featured a host of legends including my all-time favourite player, Michael Jordan.

The game is over a decade old now, so it obviously can’t compete with the best titles that have come along since, but for its time it definitely delivered in terms of gameplay, game modes and features. We actually still have people in the community patching NBA Live 2000, which is a testament to its quality and enduring popularity. It’s absolutely in my Top 5 as one of my all-time favourites so far.

2. NBA 2K13

Derrick Rose in NBA 2K13

It may seem too soon to put NBA 2K13 in my Top 5, a by-product of it being the latest release and the freshest in my mind. However, as I’ve said several times in previous articles and on the NLSC Podcast, I’ve really enjoyed my time with the game so far. I’m currently in the second season of a MyCAREER game, having played every single game in the first season, so suffice to say I’ve been hooked since day one.

Even unpatched, as the PC version remains as of this article, I’ve really enjoyed the experience that the game offers. When I’ve had the time to play three or four games in a single session, it’s been difficult to resist, which is always a sign of a quality title. With its new right stick dribbling controls, NBA 2K13 made a change for the better without compromising any of the stuff that’s made the series great. I expect to spend a lot more time with the game before the 2014 titles are released.

1. NBA Live 06

Dwyane Wade in NBA Live 06

And so, we come to my all-time favourite game (at least to date), NBA Live 06. I consider it to be the last quality release in the NBA Live series for the PC platform, a very good, solid overall title from top to bottom that offers good gameplay, a good Dynasty Mode and the All-Star Weekend. It’s also very patchable.

With the right slider settings, I’ve been able to achieve a pleasing amount of realism for a game of that vintage. It’s also the game in which I’ve had one of my favourite Dynasty experiences. With NBA Live 96 and NBA Live 06 taking up two spots in my current Top 5, it’ll be interesting to see if I have similar enthusiasm for NBA Live 16 in a few years’ time.

Bonus Five!

“But what about…”, you ask? Well, this is the Friday Five, so I had to narrow it down to my Top 5 and in the process, make some tough picks between some games from the same era (all of which I very much enjoyed). As a bonus, if I were compiling a top ten, my next five would include NBA Live 2005, NBA Live 2004, NBA 2K12, NBA 2K11 and NBA Live 95.

That’s going to do it for this week. Please let me know your Top 5 Favourite Basketball Video Games in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for reading this week’s feature, I hope you enjoyed it and invite you to join me again next Friday for another Five!

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The X
March 23, 2013 6:15 am

Mine would be as follows:

1. NBA Live ’95: I played this game to death on Sega Mega Drive. It was the first NBA sim title to replicate the speed of the NBA. Sure if I had went back & had a look, it wouldn’t look pretty, but for its time it was brilliant.

2. NBA Live ’05: Another title that got a lot of play. For me, the last great title from EA since I wasn’t a big fan of Live ’06 like most others.

3. College Hoops 2K8: A ridiculously deep title. If not for old gen gameplay quirks on new gen, it would be up one spot.

4. NBA 2K11: Whilst maybe not as polished as 2K13, I had a lot of fun with this title.

5. NBA Live ’04: Got a lot of play out of this also. It also allowed you to retire a player’s jersey in Dynasty Mode.

March 23, 2013 8:00 am

Can’t believe Live 2003 didn’t receive love, haha. That’s personally probably my favorite Live game aside 05.

March 23, 2013 12:39 pm
Reply to  Andrew

I have to agree on the general gameplay and the lack of sliders, an absence of those just doesn’t do well. It would’ve been nice if they were included, I can dream – if only. I really liked the free-style control system they had back then, sure it was a little ridiculous in some situations but it has it’s moments. Live 2003 definitely had arcade elements and not so great of a commentary, or “comedy” as you called it. I don’t worry that it was left out necessarily at all from your picks, just voicing my preference.

If I were to have a top 5, mine would be as follows.

NBA2k11 – The best I’ve played so far, I’m in season 5 of My Player mode.
NBA Live 05 – I just liked most everything about this game.
NBA Live 2003 – Franchise mode was very simple, I really liked that.
NBA 2k13 – Has yet to earn my complete appreciation, after the “VC” bit it dropped a bit.
NBA Live 08 – Even though it is rudely incomplete, the modding community has made it worth my while returning to it now and then.

NBA Live 2003 was the first basketball game I’ve ever played, which is why I have it rather high. Once I played it I couldn’t get off, especially franchise mode. I have 4 franchises, Jazz, Wizards, Bulls, and Cavs.

March 26, 2013 10:10 am

Showing my age here. First memorable basketball game was Jordan vs. Bird on an Apple IIc computer while in High School. After that, Bulls vs. Blazers on Super Nintendo. Purchased NBA Live 95 for $50 when it came out. Followed by 96-98. Pretty much slacked off since then. Did purchase 03 off of ebay for a steal of $2 one year. Was playing NBA 2K11 on my 360 until I refound this site and downloaded an awesome mod for my PC NBA 2K12. So that is where I am now. Also have put in some time on On Fire Edition + many quarters in the original NBA Jam AND NBA Hangtime titles. Of course that reminds me of Arch Rivals and Double Dribble. 🙂

With all of that my top 5 would be: (In terms of sheer playing time)

1. Bulls vs. Blazers (Love Jordan and the Bulls)
2. NBA Live 95
3. NBA Live 98
4. NBA 2K11
5. NBA 2K12

Like I said I am old school so 2K11 on my 360 has rosters from the 90’s and now my 2K12 has those same old time classic rosters. That was a great time for basketball that I do not believe will be replicated again, but who knows, we sure do have quite a bit of talent these days also. Just not like Magic, Bird and Jordan imho.

Just my 2 cents…

March 30, 2013 3:40 am

I’m just going to say that the best basketball game ever is NBA Street Vol.2!. It just the feeling of having Iverson in his prime do a crossover and throw an alley-oop to Vince Carter in his prime while hearing <Chief Rocka or Live on Stage playing in the background is a feeling that I have NEVER been able to recapture, even when i tried…. . You guys have a top 5 but Vol.2 is so far ahead in my book, I only have one! 🙂