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 a cancelled trade that made its way into the arcade version of NBA Jam Tournament Edition.
We’ve just passed the trade deadline for the 2020 season, and saw a flurry of activity. In the wake of all the deals that went down, several players have been cut, many of whom will no doubt attract some interest on the open market. All of these transactions will be taken care of in NBA 2K20, which receives regular official roster updates. We’re also able to update rosters ourselves, and that’s something we’ve obviously been doing for years in our community, for both NBA Live and NBA 2K. Of course, over a decade ago, official roster updates weren’t as common.
If we go back even further, we’ll find a lot of games that didn’t receive any roster updates post-release, as well as titles that didn’t have roster customisation features. This was true of NBA Jam and its sequel NBA Jam Tournament Edition, which were stuck with out-of-date rosters once trades and signings occurred. Well, sort of. There were changes in different revisions and releases of the NBA Jam games, and on at least one occasion, an update resulted in an error due to a cancelled trade. It’s an interesting situation, so let’s take a look back…way back…
As I mentioned in the introduction, the game in question is one of the arcade releases of NBA Jam Tournament Edition, aka NBA Jam TE. Specifically, it was the fourth revision of the game (or v4.0), released March 23rd, 1994. If you were to fire up the game – either on the original hardware or in an emulator – you’ll see a couple of players out of place. Robert Horry appears on the Detroit Pistons’ roster, while Sean Elliott plays for the Houston Rockets. At first glance, this looks like a bug as they have each other’s portraits (though the correct faces), and are wearing the wrong jerseys for the team they’re on, instead still donning their original teams’ uniforms.
Although there are obviously errors there, the fact that they’re on those teams despite never actually playing for them in real life was in fact intentional, and at one point in time, it wouldn’t have been a mistake. In February 1994, Detroit agreed to send Elliott – who had been acquired in the 1993 offseason in exchange for Dennis Rodman – to Houston for Robert Horry. However, Elliott failed his physical, resulting in the trade being voided, after which Elliott revealed he was suffering from kidney problems that would later require a transplant. He ultimately finished out the year with Detroit and played 73 games. Horry remained in Houston, playing a key role as they won the title.
The fourth revision of NBA Jam TE arcade was updated to include the trade, but wasn’t amended after it was cancelled, thus the now-voided deal was never undone. I’ve talked about video games providing a snapshot of the NBA at the time they’re released, and this makes for a very interesting example, preserving a moment that ended up being a footnote and “What If” in the careers of Robert Horry and Sean Elliott. As such, they’re members of a group of players that only appeared on certain teams in video games, due to some oddity regarding a real life transaction and the release window of the title in question. That always makes for interesting trivia.
It may seem unusual that the trade was still included when the swap was cancelled within two days of it being made, but you have to remember that games (or in this case, a new revision of one) must be finalised well in advance of their release date. Given that news travelled slower before the World Wide Web and social media, it’s possible that the team at Midway weren’t aware the deal was off until it was too late. With that in mind, it’s also quite likely that the trade was thrown in at the last minute as the fourth revision was being finalised. The oversights with their portraits and jerseys certainly suggest that the cancelled trade was included in a hasty update.
Whatever the case may be, the voided swap and resulting errors made their way into the game, and their presence has long been noted. The rosters are fixed in all of the home versions of NBA Jam TE, which were released later. This has resulted in NBA Jam TE featuring noticeably different rosters depending on the platform, as the game ended up spanning a couple of seasons’ worth of transactions. The PC version even has updated logos for teams that were set to debut new branding in the 1995-1996 season, though their uniform colours remained untouched. A couple of trades from just before the 1995 lockout went into effect were even squeezed in on PC.
Of course, the PC version of NBA Jam TE had its own error, with Kevin Edwards using Blue Edwards’ portrait; a mistake that I somehow overlooked for years, and one that was left over from the prototype Super Nintendo version, having been fixed in its retail release. It doesn’t stand out quite as much, though. Of course, arcade gamers who enjoyed NBA Jam but weren’t necessarily diehard NBA fans may not have noticed the extent of the error beyond the incorrect jerseys. Unfortunately there aren’t any contemporary accounts that I can refer to here, but I assume that eagle-eyed basketball fans would have noticed it, and correctly guessed what had happened.
While accuracy is obviously preferable, even in an arcade game, I enjoy finding errors like this in older titles. Once again, game development was very different in a time before day one patches and post-release roster updates, to say nothing of having less help from the NBA as far as official resources for team and player information. The inclusion of something like a cancelled trade is a fun example of how things used to be. As I also noted, it also captures snapshots of forgotten moments and footnotes in NBA history. The failed attempt to swap Horry and Elliott might’ve been forgotten by fans much sooner, had NBA Jam Tournament Edition not ended up including it.
These oddities are something we’re much less likely to see these days, as the official roster updates take care of outdated lineups and inaccuracies, and are less likely to contain “mistakes” like this. The closest we’ll come would be firing up a game with default rosters after online support has ended, and being stuck with lineups that were already at least slightly outdated at launch. However, seeing a player that was cut or traded again after the roster cut-off date isn’t quite the same as the inclusion of a transaction that was wiped from the books. Arguably, Michael Redd appearing on the Dallas Mavericks in NBA Live 2003 is the closest we’ve come to that scenario since.
There might still be other examples out there and if so, I look forward to finding them and covering them in Wayback Wednesday and The Friday Five. As for NBA Jam Tournament Edition, it’s a game that’s kept on giving. Not only do I enjoy revisiting it for some retro gaming, but these nuggets of trivia also keep presenting themselves. It’s fascinating what you’ll find with fresher eyes, and how years of following the NBA and having more readily accessible resources will make these errors and oddities suddenly stand out upon revisiting a game. Of course, most of them didn’t stand in the way of our fun – this one included – and have become fascinating bits of trivia.