This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at the Dream Team in NBA 2K13.
There have been several interesting (and heated) debates on the subject over the years, but for my money, the greatest squad of basketball players ever assembled was the 1992 United States men’s Olympic team, better known as the Dream Team. Featuring some of the greatest players to ever play the sport, the Dream Team breezed through the tournament, putting on a show as they won each game convincingly, never once calling a timeout. Their scrimmages are the stuff of legend, and it’s no surprise that they were enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a team in 2010.
With 2012 marking the 20th Anniversary of the Dream Team’s dominant showing in Barcelona, and Visual Concepts looking to expand the amount of historical content in NBA 2K13, adding the Dream Team was a no-brainer. Let’s take a look back…way back…
NBA 2K13 wasn’t the first basketball video game to feature the Dream Team in its entirety. That distinction belongs to Team USA Basketball, a SEGA Genesis game that I’ve profiled in a previous Wayback Wednesday feature. An offshoot of EA Sports’ NBA Playoffs series – the forerunner to NBA Live – Team USA Basketball featured the 1992 Olympic tournament, rather than the NBA Playoffs. Not only was the United States represented, but also Yugoslavia, Angola, Australia, Canada, China, Russia, Croatia, France, Italy, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and Spain. There was also a “World” team, with which to challenge the might of Team USA.
As I said in my retrospective, and as you can probably tell from the footage I used, Team USA Basketball is a game that hasn’t necessarily aged very well. That’s not uncommon for basketball games of its vintage, though it should be noted that it in its day, it was quite good. As sports games have improved, there’s been an increased interest in combining old teams and players with new technology. Visual Concepts had already done this to great effect with the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11 and NBA’s Greatest in NBA 2K12, and with 2012 being both the 20th Anniversary of the Dream Team and an Olympic year, it was perfect timing to add the squad to the game.
However, as is usually the case with historical teams and content, likeness rights were an obstacle. The biggest stumbling block, or so it appeared, was the leading scorer of the Dream Team: Charles Barkley. Over the years, Sir Charles has probably been missing from (or represented by a Roster Player in) as many titles as Michael Jordan, and supposedly, he’s not really a fan of video games. Indeed, he and the 1993 Phoenix Suns are noticeably absent from the Jordan Challenge, and he does not appear as a rookie on the 1985 Philadelphia 76ers, included in NBA 2K12 as part of Julius Erving’s NBA’s Greatest challenge.
This is where Jay Z, credited as an Executive Producer on NBA 2K13, comes in. As it turned out, Jay Z’s influence on the game went beyond the soundtrack, menus, and (apparently) an assortment of gameplay suggestions. The rapper was reportedly a driving force in getting the Dream Team into the game, and ensuring that its roster would be complete. Unfortunately, Barkley would not be added to the ’85 Sixers, and the ’93 Suns also remained absent from the selection of historical teams, but given The Round Mound of the Rebound’s history with video games, it was still a major coup.
There was one last bump in the road, however. Upon the release of the first preview screenshot of the Dream Team in NBA 2K13, gamers were disappointed to discover that Scottie Pippen was absent, having not been able to reach a new agreement with Visual Concepts. The matter was eventually settled and a deal was reached, with Pip’s wife and son reportedly playing a role in getting it done. A new screenshot featuring the entire Dream Team was released, and many basketball gamers were looking forward to taking control of the legendary squad, and squaring off against the 2012 Team USA, who had also been announced for the game.
Short of including one of the Dream Team’s actual opponents from the Barcelona Olympics, having them face off against the 2012 squad made the most sense. In fact, all things considered, it was probably the best option. The strength of the 2012 team led to several comparisons, and debates as to which team would win. The players themselves threw fuel on the fire, with Kobe Bryant suggesting the 2012 team would win, describing the Dream Team as older and at the tail end of their careers. In fact, most of the players were still in their prime, and in 2012, Kobe himself was older than all but two members of the Dream Team: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
For their part, Jordan and Barkley vehemently disagreed with that assessment, and suggested that the original Dream Team would emerge victorious instead. Of course, the matchup could never take place in real life, but the argument was perfect fodder for a video game challenge. Although there’s no official mode or objective attached to the gameplay, the 1992 and 2012 USA squads can clash on a special court that celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Dream Team. It was topical, timely nostalgia, and with the attention to detail on the faces, courts, and jerseys, very well done. It certainly wouldn’t have felt the same if the entire Dream Team hadn’t been included.
The Dream Team would be absent from subsequent games, before finally returning as a pre-order bonus for NBA 2K17. Although it was nice to have the team back – now joined by the 2016 Team USA and Australian Boomers – their inclusion didn’t carry as much goodwill as it did back in NBA 2K13, when they were available to everyone right out of the box. Still, they were as worthy an addition to the lineup of historical teams in 2016 as they were in 2012. Whether or not you consider them the greatest basketball team of all-time, the Dream Team is unquestionably one of the best extras we’ve received in a basketball video game.