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 bonus teams in NBA 2K over the years.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a look back at the bonus teams that were featured in older NBA Live games. While NBA 2K has become better known for providing basketball gamers with a wide selection of historical squads, it has also featured a variety of bonus teams from Decade All-Stars and developer teams to sports brand and Draft Class squads. While some of them certainly were not essential, they did inject a little extra fun into the game. As with the bonus teams in NBA Live, they provided a means of shaking things up with an enjoyable change of pace.
These bonus teams may now be overshadowed by a bevy of historical content in the form of retro and All-Time squads, but they’re still an important part of NBA 2K’s history of going above and beyond the bare minimum of including all the current NBA teams. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Like most sim-oriented basketball games of the era, the early NBA 2K games were rather thin on extra content. Disk space was at a premium back then, and the focus was on creating games that were more and more realistic (both visually and in terms of gameplay), rather than packing them with bonus features. Nevertheless, there were a few bonus teams available in those early titles, including developer squads similar to the ones that could be unlocked in NBA Live. Other bonus content included the usual selection of wacky codes such a Big Head mode, 70s style uniforms, and so on. There was also NBA 2K’s take on the Decade All-Stars concept.
Unlike the Decade All-Stars in NBA Live, the squads in the early NBA 2K games were broken up into East and West Legends for the 70s and 80s, with a combined 50s and 60s team. Two 90s Legends teams were added in NBA 2K3, with Michael Jordan appearing on the East squad by virtue of being included as an active member of the Washington Wizards. 2K also took a different approach to the teams’ uniforms. While NBA Live experimented with era-specific jerseys, the players on 2K’s Legends teams wore their individual team jerseys; in most cases, a throwback to the era they played. Certain players also appeared on more than one decade’s team, contrary to NBA Live.
The approach was a logical and welcome distinction from what NBA Live was doing with the concept, aping a good idea while bringing something new to the table. The two squads per decade also meant that NBA 2K licensed a few players that NBA Live hadn’t, in order to fill out their rosters. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stands as a prominent example, but former All-Stars such as Tom Chambers, Sidney Moncrief, and Jack Sikma, were also included. The ratings for the Legends were often exaggerated – in some games, all Legends were rated 99 Overall! – but they were solid bonus teams, and remained in NBA 2K until the retro teams were introduced in NBA 2K11.
Developer teams also remained in the game for many years, with squads such as NBA 2K, VC, and 2K China being playable as late as NBA 2K12, though they would be phased out shortly afterwards. Another variety of bonus teams that could be found in several NBA 2K games during the past decade were the Draft Class teams. Like the International and European All-Stars in NBA Live, these squads made use of players who were already licensed as part of the active NBA rosters, teaming up the younger players in the league with their alumni for the purpose of staging games between the Draft Classes. By NBA 2K9, several classes were represented by their own team.
Team Jordan was also featured in a couple of NBA 2K games, similar to the Team Adidas squads in a few of the NBA Live titles. Michael Jordan himself wasn’t on the team until he was included in NBA 2K11, but the roster did boast Jordan Brand athletes such as Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen, and Joe Johnson. NBA 2K9 also featured its version of the International All-Stars, led by the likes of Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. Sadly, with the introduction of actual historical teams in NBA 2K11, the Legends teams were dropped. However, they had lasted a lot longer than NBA Live’s Decade All-Stars.
Indeed, NBA 2K’s array of historical content heralded the beginning of the end for the old school bonus teams. NBA 2K13 included one of the last examples with a celebrity team featuring Justin Bieber, JB Smoove, and Bow Wow, among others. Interestingly, in addition to having superstar abilities, some of the celebrities’ heights were boosted, with the 5’9″ Bieber standing 6’4″. Presumably, it was done so they could more easily dunk and avoid getting blocked by NBA players. With the focus now on historical content, NBA 2K13 also celebrated the Dream Team’s 20th anniversary by including them alongside Team USA 2012. NBA 2K14 saw the addition of Euroleague teams.
As of NBA 2K19, only the retro and All-Time squads make up the selection of bonus teams. At this point, that certainly isn’t a bad thing, as I’d suggest that most gamers are far more interested in playing with historical teams than the concept squads that used to be included as bonus content. Compared to NBA Live, there isn’t as great a need to expand NBA 2K’s rosters with extra teams and Decade/Legends All-Stars, as there are plenty of bonus squads to play with as it is. With that being said, their return wouldn’t be unwelcome, in my opinion. They’re useful for fantasy match-ups in Play Now, and on the PC version, they could potentially be handy assets for modders as well.
Their artwork could also be put to use in MyTEAM. Imagine collecting Class of 2003 throwback cards, and being able to outfit your team with the old Draft Class logos and jerseys. The same goes for completing a Legends squad, or maybe a brand like Team Jordan. Nostalgia for the NBA of yesteryear is obviously a big part of MyTEAM, so it would be fantastic if it could also tap into the fanbase’s fondness for older NBA 2K games as well. The inclusion of the NBA 2K8 mini-game in this year’s Prelude in MyCAREER suggests that 2K is willing to celebrate nostalgia for its own brand, so bringing back some of the old bonus teams would be a fun next step in that regard.
Should they remain a relic of another era, then that is of course understandable. We aren’t starved for extra content in recent NBA 2K games, and what we have now generally has a broader appeal. Still, like the bonus teams in NBA Live, those old squads remain a part of NBA 2K’s legacy, laying the foundation for what was to come in later games. It’s also interesting to compare and contrast the developers’ differing approaches to similar concepts, such as the Legends teams. Truth be told, I’m not too thrilled that this week’s feature forced me to look up information on Justin Bieber, but that aside, these old bonus teams are always fun to reminisce about.