Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! This is a feature where we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in 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.
The next game that I’ll be looking back at as part of our 20th Anniversary of NBA Live celebrations is NBA Live 2002. As I’ll discuss in more detail in my retrospective, NBA Live 2002 was a controversial release, as it was the first game in the series to be console exclusive and also had its fair share of issues. At the same time, it’s also a game that I managed to have a considerable amount of fun with back in the day, and I kind of have a sentimental attachment to it, as it was the first new NBA Live game that came out after I took over the NLSC in August 2001.
On a recent dig through my archives, I uncovered a collection of NBA Live 2002 preview screenshots that were posted on the NLSC all those years ago, but had since gone missing following a couple of hosting and design changes. I’d previously searched high and low for them, but I just couldn’t seem to find them anywhere. Now that they’ve turned up, I thought it might be fun to exhibit them again, especially with NBA Live 2002 being the next game I’m posting a retrospective on. It’s also a reminder that NBA Live’s graphics have indeed improved over the years.
So, what did basketball video games look like in 2001? Let’s take a look back…way back…
NBA Live 2002 PlayStation 2 Screenshots
The PlayStation 2 screenshots naturally feature a lot of star players of the era, including Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, and cover player Steve Francis. You’ll probably also recognise Latrell Sprewell, Rasheed Wallace, and Baron Davis, while Brian Grant also makes an appearance. Not surprisingly, the newly added between-the-legs dunk is spotlighted, with Vinsanity himself doing the honours.
You’ll also note that the screenshots of Shaq throwing down a classic “Shaq Attack” dunk are cropped at his wrists. That would certainly have been done deliberately; as I discussed in a recent Monday Tip-Off column, hand and rim interactions have come a long way over the years, and there were a few in NBA Live 2002 that definitely looked awkward and amiss. That comes down to the limitations of the technology at the time, however, so I think it’s fair enough that the preview screenshots didn’t draw attention to it.
NBA Live 2002 Xbox Screenshots
Most of the same players are featured in the Xbox screenshots, in similar scenarios. Vince Carter is once again showing off the between-the-legs dunk, Brian Grant is shown backing down a star power forward (this time Tim Duncan, rather than Karl Malone), Latrell Sprewell is going up for a one-handed dunk, and so on. The Xbox screenshots are also a little sharper, though as you can see in some of the screenshots I’ve taken myself in recent years, the PS2’s graphics were actually better than they appear in the preview screens posted above.
NBA Live 2002 Michael Jordan Screenshots
The biggest story of the 2001 NBA offseason was the second comeback of Michael Jordan, with His Airness suiting up for the Washington Wizards. The “Will He, or Won’t He?” speculation leading up to his return included a “Return-o-Meter” on ESPN’s website, which fluctuated according to the latest rumours and reports. When the comeback became official, Michael Jordan ended up making his first official appearance as an active player in NBA Live, with ratings that were suitably lower than his Legend version. Naturally, EA Sports released a collection of NBA Live 2002 screenshots to mark the occasion, which I’ve also found.
NBA Live 2002 vs. NBA Live 16
So, I know this is Wayback Wednesday, but I did want to touch on a topic that concerns the latest NBA Live release. One of the most common knocks on NBA Live’s visuals the past few years it’s that they’re “PS2 graphics” (or “cartoonish”, but that’s a whole other article right there). While there are definitely aspects of NBA Live’s aesthetics that can be criticised, and there’s room for improvement, the “PS2 graphics” declaration is unhelpful, and frankly, ridiculous hyperbole. If anything, out of the box, NBA Live 14’s graphics were somewhere between the PS3 and PS4 generations. As for NBA Live 16 vs. NBA Live 2002, an actual PS2 game…well…
It’s hard not to sound like a fanboy or an EA apologist here, but that’s definitely not the angle I’m coming from. Whether it’s unfavourably comparing NBA Live 16’s graphics to a game from a couple of generations ago, or deeming NBA 2K16’s graphics “terrible” because we haven’t yet seen the same jump that the PlayStation 4/Xbox One version of NBA 2K14 made from its PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 predecessors, we need to keep a few things in perspective when we critique graphics in basketball games. Above all, we should avoid hyperbole, and instead be clear and specific about what it is that we don’t like, and what we want to see improve.
As for these NBA Live 2002 screenshots, I do feel a bit nostalgic when I look at them. They remind me of a game that I enjoyed playing despite its issues, as well as the early days of my tenure as NLSC webmaster. Basketball video games have come a long way since then – and I’d like to think that the NLSC has, too – but I still have some fond memories of that time, and of NBA Live 2002, despite its problems and the controversy of being a console-only release. As I said, I’ll talk about that more in my upcoming retrospective, so stay tuned!