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The NBA Jam series is famous for its inclusion of secret players. From Will Smith in his Fresh Prince persona, to Mortal Kombat characters – excuse me, “kharacters” – Scorpion and Sub-Zero, a lot of special guests have hit the virtual hardwood for high-flying, arcade basketball action. Joining the cast of public figures, Midway developers, and NBA mascots in NBA Jam Tournament Edition was Boston Celtics great, Larry Bird.
Along with Hall of Famer Carol Blazejowski, Larry Legend is the only real former professional basketball player that is hidden and playable in NBA Jam TE. It’s actually something that I wasn’t aware of when I first got into the game all those years ago, as I never encountered him as an opponent after beating all of the NBA teams and seeing secret characters randomly appear as opponents. It wasn’t until my family got the Internet and I was able to look up some codes for the PC version that I discovered he was in the game, and playable. He’s also in the Super Nintendo version, though I wasn’t aware of that particular code, either.
Since tomorrow will be the 24th anniversary of his retirement from the NBA, I thought I’d reflect on Larry Bird’s presence in NBA Jam Tournament Edition. So, let’s take a look back…way back…
First of all, how do you unlock Larry Bird in NBA Jam Tournament Edition? Well, if you want to play with Larry Legend, you’ll need to enter a code via the initials that are normally used to save your game. On top of that, on PC, you’ll also need to press one of the function keys before each letter, as well as the date of birth. Once you’ve done this to create a record with a secret player unlocked, you don’t need to use the function keys the next time you enter them. The code to unlock Bird is F1, L, F2, A, F3, R, F4, Jan, F5, 15. The L-A-R initials are probably self-explanatory, but the January 15th date of birth is a little odd, as Bird’s birthday is actually December 7th.
Since you need to enter those initials to unlock Bird, you won’t be able to use a profile in which you’ve already defeated each of the 27 NBA to unlock the expanded rosters. Furthermore, it seems that although your win-loss record will be tracked as usual under the LAR initials with Bird unlocked, you won’t be able to advance through the tournament to unlock the expanded rosters. Instead, your next opponent will always be the 27th ranked Dallas Mavericks. Presumably, this is to prevent you from cheating your way to victory, as the secret players are all quite powerful.
Once you’ve unlocked Larry Bird, you can choose to play with any team you like. You might be inclined to pick the Boston Celtics, where he can team up with Dee Brown, Dominique Wilkins, and Dino Radja. That’s what I did in the first game that I played. Alternatively, you might want to place him on the Chicago Bulls alongside Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, and Toni Kukoc, as I did in my second game. Of course, if you really want to make Celtics fans turn green, you could do the unthinkable and put him on the Los Angeles Lakers, alongside Nick Van Exel, Anthony Peeler, and Vlade Divac.
Whatever you decide, you’ll be playing with him the entire game. While NBA Jam Tournament Edition did introduce substitutions between quarters, when you play with a secret player, you cannot sub them out. You can still make substitutions for a CPU or human teammate, unless of course the second user has also entered a code to use a secret player, in which case they’re both playing the entire game; potentially quite a challenge if you both get worn down by injuries! Incidentally, the CPU suffers from the same restriction when you keep playing after beating all 27 teams, and secret players start randomly showing up.
Like all secret players in NBA Jam TE, Larry Bird’s ratings aren’t visible, as only question marks are displayed in their place. Funnily enough, secret players’ injury levels also appear as a question mark on the substitution screen, so there’s no way to tell how banged up they are until you view the halftime and fulltime stats screens. As I mentioned above, however, secret players are locked to playing the entire game, so in the end it wouldn’t really matter even if you did know their current injury level, since you can’t sub them out anyway.
In playing a couple of games with Bird in NBA Jam TE, I tried to hazard a guess at what his ratings might be. Now, according to The Cutting Room Floor’s entry on the Super Nintendo version of Jam TE, all secret players except Mark Turmell and Jay Moon have identical ratings. However, several ratings did change between the SNES and PC versions of the game (Yinka Dare’s being the most significant, not to mention insulting), so that may not actually hold true for the PC version. It’s also possible that as a real player, Midway elected to give Larry Bird “proper” ratings. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, I’ve never been able to mod NBA Jam TE, so I can’t check them.
As per The Cutting Room Floor, the ratings for all secret players are Speed 10, Three-Pointers 10, Dunk 10, Pass 2, Power 3, Steal 6, Block 8, and Clutch 8. The maximum rating that is displayed in-game is 9, but obviously some players are truly maxed out in certain areas. Funnily enough, I always wondered if there was a difference between any of the 9 ratings, as I noticed that some players with a Dunk rating of 9 tended to perform the most spectacular dunks a little more often than other players with the same rating. It’s quite likely that some of them are actually rated 10 in that category.
Larry Bird’s in-game abilities do seem to line up fairly well with those ratings. He’s great at knocking down three-pointers (which is appropriate), and he’s also extremely fast (not so much). I also managed to trigger a few of the flashier dunks with him, but no somersault dunks, so I’m not sure that his Dunk rating is actually that high. He certainly performed well in the clutch, though – again, definitely appropriate, if only by accident – and I did pick up a couple of blocks with him. It’s quite possible that he and all other secret players do still have those same identical ratings in the PC version of NBA Jam TE, though I’m not so sure about his Dunk rating.
It’s funny; for all the rumours about how you could supposedly unlock Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal – though much of Shaq’s data was apparently left in the SNES version – in Larry Bird, there was actually an all-time NBA great secretly hidden in NBA Jam Tournament Edition. He’s certainly not the first NBA legend that comes to mind when you think about high-flying dunks and a game like NBA Jam, but for what it’s worth, he’s pretty effective. If only there was a way to use him with the expanded rosters. Larry Bird and Yinka Dare…now there’s a lethal team for NBA Jam TE!