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 history of Aussies in basketball games.
If you listen to the NLSC Podcast or pay close attention to the way I spell certain words, you’ll know that I’m an Aussie. Being a basketball fan in Australia hasn’t always been easy, even with the NBA’s explosion in popularity in the 90s, as well as the heyday of our own local league, the NBL. Sadly, the sport hasn’t always had the most favourable reputation with many of my fellow Aussies. While those of us who love hoops do so passionately, it’s always battled cricket, tennis, and at least three different codes of football (rugby, Australian Rules, and soccer) for popularity.
I’ve always felt that our struggles on the world stage have contributed to the game’s up-and-down popularity down under. The Boomers are yet to win an Olympic medal, but just this past week, they scored a huge win over the USA in the second exhibition game played in Melbourne; the first time they’ve ever defeated the US. It helps that we have a few more Aussies in the NBA these days, which also means that we see them on the virtual hardwood. In honour of the Boomers’ big win, I’m reflecting on the history of Aussies in basketball games. Let’s take a look back…way back…
The first Australian to play in the NBA was of course Luc Longley, who was drafted seventh overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1991. As the Timberwolves had not yet made the Playoffs, they weren’t featured in EA’s game set in the 1992 season, Bulls vs Blazers. Therefore, Long Luc didn’t make his virtual NBA debut until the release of Tecmo Super NBA Basketball in 1993. However, that wasn’t the first time that he or any other Aussies appeared in a basketball video game. EA’s spinoff of the NBA Playoffs series, Team USA Basketball for the SEGA Genesis, features the 1992 Boomers. For some reason, Shane Heal and Leroy Loggins are notably absent.
As the lone Australian player in the league, Longley appeared on the Timberwolves and later the Chicago Bulls in titles such as NBA Showdown, and subsequently NBA Live. Aussie teams appeared in Sculptured Software’s World League Basketball, the PAL version of their NCAA Basketball title for Super Nintendo. The game featured a fictional global basketball league with teams from around the world, with two Aussie teams representing an Oceanic division: the Sydney Fighting Roos, and Melbourne Koalas. As with all other players in the game, their roster is entirely fictional, and a glance at the names suggests that they didn’t try to parody any actual Aussie players.
In 1996, following the Olympic tournament in Atlanta where the Boomers finished fourth, a couple more Aussies made the leap to the NBA. Mark Bradtke joined the Philadelphia 76ers, while Shane Heal signed with the Timberwolves, Luc Longley’s old team. Unfortunately, neither of them signed in time to be included in NBA Live 97, though Heal would appear on the Timberwolves’ roster the following year in NBA Live 98. By that point however, Heal elected not to return for a second season, opting to return to Australia rather than play behind Stephon Marbury and Terry Porter in the rotation. Longley continued to appear until he retired from the NBA in 2001.
Other Aussies made it to the NBA before Heal and Bradtke, but not into video games. In 1994, Andrew Gaze – widely considered the greatest Australian basketball player of all-time – had a short stint with the then-Washington Bullets. Gaze joined the team on a couple of ten day contracts in March that year, and as such, didn’t make the cut for the console version of NBA Live 95, which featured final 1994 season rosters. He did make it into two NBA video games however, due to his stint with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. The first official roster patch added him to NBA Live 99, and despite returning to the NBL, he can also be found on the Spurs in NBA Live 2000.
Chris Anstey, who played three seasons in the NBA, also appeared in a couple of games. He didn’t make the cut in NBA Live 98, but was in NBA Live 99 and NBA Live 2000. Shane Heal’s brief stint with the Spurs in 2004 didn’t result in any official video game appearances, so for a couple of years, there were no Aussies in the real NBA or on the virtual hardwood. That ended when Andrew Bogut was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks with the first overall pick in 2005, and subsequently appeared in NBA Live 06 and NBA 2K6. Over the next few years, Luke Schenscher, Patty Mills, Nathan Jawai, and David Anderson all made it into the annual NBA titles.
The introduction of FIBA teams in NBA Live also led to the inclusion of the Boomers in NBA Live 09. The Australian squad wasn’t among the eight FIBA teams in NBA Live 08, but with the expansion to 24 teams the following year, their ranking earned them a spot in the game. The Boomers also appeared in NBA Live 10 and were set to be among the FIBA teams in the cancelled NBA Elite 11. As was the case with a lot of the FIBA players, the Aussies’ likenesses weren’t particularly accurate. This was rather egregious with Patty Mills in NBA Live 10, as he also made his NBA debut after being taken by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the 2009 Draft.
Aside from Aussies continuing to appear as part of the NBA rosters, as well as a few Euroleague teams between NBA 2K14 and NBA 2K17, Australian basketball would come to play a role in MyCAREER. As Pres is wrapping up his college career in the early stages of NBA 2K17’s story, Mike Krzyzewski invites him to play for Team USA in a game against the Australian Boomers. The contest was the last playable game in that year’s Prelude, and previewed the inclusion of the current Team USA and Boomers squads as bonus teams that year, along with the pre-order exclusive 1992 Dream Team. As an Aussie, I felt conflicted having to go up against them!
Once again though, apart from the Aussies who were in the NBA and had obviously sat for face scans, most of the players’ likenesses weren’t at all accurate. Strangely, the version of Brock Motum that appears on the Boomers actually has different face to the version that appears on Zalgiris Kaunas! Ben Simmons would also make his video game debut in NBA 2K17, in what should’ve been his rookie season. Simmons would become the first Australian cover player in NBA 2K19, albeit only for the Australian release. Technically you could say Kyrie Irving was the first Australian-born player to appear on a cover – NBA Live 14 and NBA 2K18 – though he represents the US.
A few random facts about Aussies in basketball games: not surprisingly, the highest Overall Rating has been achieved by Ben Simmons, who sits at 88 Overall in NBA 2K19 (and will apparently be 87 Overall in NBA 2K20). Due to being featured on the historical Bulls teams in NBA 2K, Luc Longley has appeared in more video games than any other Australian player. Brad Newley, who has never played in the NBA after being drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2007, has appeared twice as a member of the Boomers. American-born Darnell Mee, who spent many years in the NBL and is now an Aussie citizen, appears on the Denver Nuggets in NBA Live 95 on console.
Speaking of the NBL, unfortunately we’ve never had a video game based on our local league. It stands to reason as it’s obviously not as big and popular enough to warrant the development of its own game, as Aussie rules football did with the AFL series. Its popularity also hasn’t yet reached the level where it might be included in NBA 2K, similar to Euroleague teams in various releases (though I’d love to see that happen). As there have been quite a few Aussie basketball gamers in our community over the years, we’ve seen a handful of NBL mods for NBA Live and NBA 2K. Some of them have been impressively detailed, and even included a handful of classic teams.
Although the Boomers are still vying for that elusive first medal, last week’s win over Team USA – even in an exhibition game and without their top players – was huge for Australian basketball. I hope they can continue to be more competitive on the world stage. As far as the NBA is concerned, I’ve always enjoyed having Aussies to cheer for over the years, with Luc Longley’s tenure in Chicago being a highlight. It’s also given me a few favourites to round out my roster in various franchise games! Seeing the Boomers in a few games has been great as well. With the Tokyo Olympics taking place next year, FIBA teams would be most welcome in NBA Live or NBA 2K.