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 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.
I’m still overseeing our ongoing server move, so as I mentioned in the Monday Tip-Off, I haven’t been able to set aside a lot of time to prepare new original content this week. My hope is that everything will be in place and back to normal soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to get something out there for Wayback Wednesday, to give everyone something to either check out while they wait, or catch up on when the site is back up to speed. Specifically, I thought I’d write up a quick piece on three team trades in NBA Live 2001.
If you caught the first instalment of “Trivia Time” on the NLSC Podcast, you might have heard that NBA Live 2001 is, to date, the only game in the NBA Live series to feature three-team trade functionality. It’s something that I think a lot of us would like to see return along with other roster editing functions, and since it is such a rare feature in the NBA Live series, it’s worth looking back on.
So, let us indeed take a look back…way back…
As I mentioned in my recent retrospective, NBA Live 2001 was one of the first missteps of the NBA Live series. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t call NBA Live 2001 a bad game, but it does have some flaws that were just as noticeable at the time as they are now in retrospect. It did introduce a couple of nifty roster management features, however: the ability to place players on the injured reserve while leaving fewer than twelve players on the active roster, and the feature we’re looking at today, three team trades.
In the late 90s, multi-team trades were becoming increasingly common. With player salaries on the rise, blockbuster deals often needed to involve more than two teams to be completed under the rules of the salary cap. In September 2000, a few months before the release of NBA Live 2001 PC, future Hall of Famer and New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in a twelve-player, four-team deal. The timing was certainly right to get multi-team trade functionality into NBA Live.
And so, NBA Live 2001 saw the trade interface expand to a maximum of three teams. This allowed up to fifteen players to be traded in one deal, though pulling off such a feat was easier said than done, at least in Franchise Mode. Unless you were controlling all of the teams involved in a trade, the three team trade function could be somewhat limiting, as you couldn’t suggest deals that involved player movement between CPU-controlled teams. To trade the maximum of fifteen players, the user needed to trade away ten of their players, while receiving a total of five players from the two CPU teams combined.
Needless to say, unless you were very clever and careful, this often meant a bad deal from the user’s perspective. Because of the limitation, a lot of gamers felt that the three team trade function was useless, which is an understandable conclusion to draw upon first glance. Used carefully, however, three team trades could sometimes be quite useful. Just as in real life, they could be used to facilitate trades that wouldn’t work as separate deals due to salary cap restrictions, but with a little creativity, could be completed with the involvement of a third team.
As long as the user satisfied the usual conditions to get the CPU to accept a trade – fair value according to Overall Ratings, matching salaries, available roster space, and so on – three team trades could be worked out much the same way as a deal between two teams. Satisfying both of the CPU-controlled teams was often difficult, but savvy virtual GMs could indeed complete deals that they couldn’t get to work otherwise, without giving up more than they had to. Even though you could trade up to ten players and receive five in return, it usually wasn’t a good idea to do so. Not making the biggest deal just for the sake of it was generally a good rule of thumb.
Beyond Franchise Mode, the three team trade function was a useful tool when updating the rosters in NBA Live 2001. If there was a three team trade in real life, it was much easier to make the swap in-game, as there was less cycling through teams on the trade screen. With such a practical use in roster customisation, as well as roster building in Franchise Mode, it’s a shame that we haven’t seen three team trades in the series since NBA Live 2001. At the same time, it’s not altogether surprising, given the feature’s reception.
The inability to propose deals that involved movement between CPU-controlled teams did make the feature seem more confusing, and less useful. Perhaps there was a problem implementing trade logic for deals in which the user suggested multiple players being swapped between the CPU teams; it’s something many of us would’ve wanted to do, and if it wasn’t working properly, it’s understandable that it wasn’t made possible in the final build. Alternatively, perhaps the ability to make decisions for CPU-controlled teams was seen as cheap, something that could be easily exploited.
Whatever the reason, I’d like to see the function return in future NBA Live games; along with all the other roster customisation options, of course. If it does come back, I would suggest that it must allow for proposed movement between CPU teams, as long as the trading logic determines the deal to be agreeable for everyone, and the rules of the salary cap are followed. If nothing else, better on-boarding should be included to explain the usage and benefits of such a feature. Until then, of course, it remains a feature that’s exclusive to NBA Live 2001 – at least within the NBA Live series – and a suitable topic for a trivia question, as demonstrated on the NLSC Podcast.