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 challenging myself to update the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95 to 1995 in Season mode.
There are many aspects of old basketball video games that younger gamers will find strange and antiquated. The idea that one of the top players in the league won’t be included and instead represented by a Roster Player is one that springs immediately to mind. The lack of a steal button is another. Perhaps the most unusual is the inclusion of the previous year’s rosters in a game whose title suggests that it should portray the current NBA season. This of course excludes extenuating circumstances such as a lockout, or the pandemic shutdown and subsequent delay of the 2021 campaign.
When basketball video games were in their relative infancy and before they became as popular and successful as they are today, we experienced all of those issues at one time or another. A prime example of a game including the previous season’s rosters is the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95. While the PC version was updated for the 1995 season and this approach would become the norm – aforementioned circumstances aside – the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis release carried on the tradition of featuring outdated lineups. The PC version facilitates roster modding, but is it possible to update NBA Live 95 for 1995? Let’s take a look back…way back…
For those who are unaware, there are no roster customisation options in the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95 outside of Season mode. I did look around various ROM hacking sites, and sadly it doesn’t appear that there are any tools for the game. A glance at the ROM in a Hex Editor further suggests that I’m stuck with the in-game functionality. Unfortunately, the ability to make trades in Season mode is limited to the starting five, and there’s no option to reorder lineups or create players. Also, all trades must ultimately go through the team that you’ve selected. With all that being said, let’s see how close I can get to making some real 1995 lineups in Season mode.
The key to moving players around in the Season mode of NBA Live 95 16-bit is to plan ahead. This means selecting a team that will be receiving some new players and leaving them until last, trading players out of position so that they can eventually be replaced by the correct player, and constantly shuffling players in and out of lineups until no more moves are possible. When it’s all said and done, there are going to be inaccuracies. In the absence of external tools, it’s impossible to truly update the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95 for the 1995 season, but once again, this exercise is about seeing how close we can get, rather than creating a comprehensive, accurate roster.
After deliberation, I opted for the Orlando Magic. I chose them because they do have a player they need to trade, and it should be possible to finish up with them having a starting five that they actually fielded during the 1995 season. Power forward Jeff Turner is the player that will be moving, and I began by trading him to the Miami Heat for Grant Long. I flipped Grant Long to the Hawks for Kevin Willis, who I traded to Miami for Turner. To complete the Hawks-Heat deal, I swapped Turner for Steve Smith. I traded Smith to the Hawks for Stacey Augmon, Augmon back to the Hawks for Danny Manning, and sent Manning to the Suns for Cedric Ceballos.
These initial moves demonstrate the basics for updating lineups in the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95: keep trading for players that need to move on, trade back and forth to reorder lineups as necessary, and as much as possible, think ahead so that every move results in a team getting closer to the most accurate lineup that can be achieved. At this point, I’d already identified an inaccuracy I wouldn’t be able to resolve. Cedric Ceballos needed to go to the Lakers, but every member of the Lakers’ starting five was still on their roster in 1995. At some point, one of them was going to end up in the wrong place. I opted for George Lynch, to place Ceballos at small forward.
While this created an inaccuracy very early on in the exercise, it also offered some flexibility. I’d be able to trade Lynch anywhere as a placeholder in the short term, and continue to move him back and forth to get other players where they needed to be. For now, I traded him to Houston for Robert Horry, sent Horry back in exchange for Otis Thorpe, traded Thorpe to Portland for Cliff Robinson, sent Robinson back for Harvey Grant, traded Grant back for Clyde Drexler, and the finally sent Drexler to Houston for George Lynch. In this scenario, both Drexler and Grant are out of position, but all of the players in Houston and Portland’s lineups were members of their roster in 1995.
Using Lynch, I moved Wayman Tisdale to Phoenix and Oliver Miller to Detroit. This meant Greg “Cadillac” Anderson entered the shuffling of players, since the Hawks already had an accurate starting five. I went ahead and swapped Chris Webber for Tom Gugliotta, which also allowed me to fix Miami’s lineup by sending them Billy Owens (and in the process, getting Jeff Turner back, and Rony Seikaly to Golden State). For final 1995 season rosters, I needed to get Gugliotta to Minnesota, but that was a problem for later. For the moment, I moved Dale Ellis to Denver and Sean Elliott to San Antonio, though this left Reggie Williams out of place in Detroit.
Although the errors and inevitable inaccuracies were piling up, I pressed on. I traded Dominique Wilkins to the Celtics, which meant Robert Parish entered “circulation” owing to a lack of roster spots in Charlotte. In the short term, I sent him to the Bulls to get Bill Cartwright to Seattle. Cage in turn went to Cleveland for Larry Nance, who was retired at that point. I used Nance to get Ron Harper to Chicago, which meant that Pete Myers also began erroneously wandering. He ended up being used to facilitate Tom Gugliotta’s trade to Minnesota, which meant Chuck Person had nowhere to go with the Spurs already featuring five correct starters. I sensed that the end was near.
I left Jeff Turner in Sacramento, standing in (in name only) for Henry Turner. Using Lynch once again, I traded Blue Edwards to the Jazz, and Sean Rooks to Minnesota. After placing Mark Jackson in Indiana, Haywoode Workman joined the growing list of players floating between inaccurate teams. Scrolling through the teams, it looked as though I was finally running out of possible moves. Retired players such as Fat Lever and Isiah Thomas were taking up roster spots, and without the ability to reorder the lineups or trade with the bench, several players either couldn’t be moved to their new team, or were now in the wrong place. At last, I traded Horace Grant to Orlando.
The Magic now fielded a starting five that they had during the 1995 season. Dennis Scott mostly came off the bench that year, but did start ten games during the regular season and moved back into the starting five in the Playoffs, making it an accurate lineup. Joining the Magic with a lineup comprised of players who were on their roster in 1995 – if not necessarily the actual starting five – were the Hawks, Celtics, Hornets, Nuggets, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Timberwolves, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Spurs, SuperSonics, and Jazz. I was actually surprised that given all of the limitations, I was able to “update” 17 teams in the 16-bit version of NBA Live 95!
Of those 17 teams, the Hornets, Nets, Knicks, and 76ers were the only four that didn’t require any moves to have any kind of accuracy for the 1995 season, though in some cases the players in question were not the regular starters. Of those four teams, the Knicks, Nets, and Hornets have lineups that were actually used in 1995, if only for a handful of games. The Knicks’ lineup was the most accurate, with the starting five of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Charles Smith, John Starks, and Derek Harper being their lineup for at least half of the season. The Hornets’ five is accurate for all nine of David Wingate’s starts, while the Nets’ is accurate for Kevin Edwards’ 14 games.
Among the teams that featured five accurate players from their 1995 rosters following all the trades I made, only the Magic, Hawks, Pacers, Lakers, and SuperSonics were fielding lineups that all started together in at least a handful of games that year. Of the 10 teams with inaccuracies, nine had at least three correct players; only the Clippers featured just two. Several jersey numbers were obviously incorrect after the trades were made, and again, nine teams feature makeshift lineups that were never used in 1995, but do contain players that were on the team’s roster at the same time. All in all, the exercise went better than I expected, accounting for more than half of the league.
With that being said, it also highlights the limitations of the roster customisation tools in the 16-bit versions of NBA Live 95. On top of only being available in Season, the lack of a Free Agents Pool, Create-a-Player, and the ability to trade bench players, all make it impossible to comprehensively update the game for the 1995 season; or, for that matter, mod it for any other year. It demonstrates how back then, we had to take most basketball games as we got them when it came to the rosters, as there was very little we could do to keep them up to date. Thankfully, future games expanded on the roster customisation functionality, and included updated rosters with the new rookies.
I enjoy exercises like this because it’s a challenge to see what can be accomplished, and it’s always interesting to find out whether we possibly could’ve done more back in the day. All things considered, I’d suggest that anyone who tried to update the rosters during a season in NBA Live 95 16-bit did all they possibly could. It doesn’t matter the team you choose or the order in which you make the moves. There are some that you won’t be able to make, and inaccuracies you’ll end up with. You’ll also be limited to games using the team you chose. So, can you update NBA Live 95 16-bit for the 1995 season? Nowhere near comprehensively, but perhaps more than you’d think!