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Wayback Wednesday: Decade All-Stars in NBA Live

Michael Jordan Dunk (Decade All-Stars, NBA Live 2004)

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 Decade All-Stars in older NBA Live games.

I’ve mentioned the Decade All-Stars in several previous articles, including my first look back at Legends in Wayback Wednesday, my NBA Live 2000 retrospective, and as an example of content that I’d like to see return. However, apart from a profile of the 50s All-Stars on the anniversary of the BAA-NBL merger to form the NBA in 1949, I haven’t yet dedicated an entire feature to talking about those squads. Given how popular they were, and how much I personally enjoyed having them, it’s time to rectify that with a long overdue retrospective.

A lot of older basketball gamers who played NBA Live back in the day no doubt remember the Decade All-Stars quite fondly. It’s interesting that many of us do feel nostalgic for them now, considering how they were the original attempt to capitalise on nostalgia in basketball video games. For those who remember them, and for those who don’t know what all the fuss is about, let’s take a look back…way back…

With all of the historical teams that have been featured in the NBA 2K series these past eight years, younger basketball gamers may not appreciate (or indeed be aware) that there was a time when we could only dream of having that kind of content. It was a huge deal when Legends were announced for NBA Live 2000, in no small part due to the inclusion of Michael Jordan. MJ’s presence in video games had generally been limited to the infamous placeholder “roster players“, but now His Airness, along with several other all-time greats, would be playable out of the box! It’s one of the features that made NBA Live 2000 a strong entry in EA Sports’ long-running hoops series.

Michael Jordan in NBA Live 2000

Legends could also be added to the current rosters, so if you wanted to bring Michael Jordan out of retirement or see how Wilt Chamberlain would fare in the modern era (at least on the virtual hardwood), it didn’t take you long to set up a fantasy scenario. On PC, having a pool of historical players also made it a lot easier to create retro and all-time roster mods. The other concept introduced along with the Legends Pool was of course the Decade All-Stars. These new squads were basically All-Decade teams, grouping the Legends by the decade that comprised most of their prime. They could be used for a battle of the decades, or to take on any current team.

The teams that were established in NBA Live 2000 were the 50s All-Stars, 60s All-Stars, 70s All-Stars, 80s All-Stars, and 90s All-Stars. There was only one team per decade, and they mixed in players from both the East and the West. Although we’ve come to collectively refer to them and the basic concept as the Decade All-Stars, this name hasn’t ever been used in any official capacity (at least in-game). NBA Live kept the teams throughout the PlayStation 2 generation (including the PC ports), however several players were added and removed as their likeness rights were lost and gained. In fact, by NBA Live 09 on PS2, the 90s All-Stars were left with only nine players.

In the early days of the Decade All-Stars, however, NBA Live boasted a strong roster of Legends. Three of the biggest names that were missing were George Mikan, Clyde Drexler, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Charles Barkley was included by virtue of still being an active player – his Legend version being rated much higher than the one on the Houston Rockets – and as noted, Michael Jordan was licensed as one of the main attractions. Players on the 80s All-Stars and earlier wore short shorts, as did John Stockton. There were some debatable decisions such as placing Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon on the 80s team rather than the 90s, but that wasn’t entirely out of place.

Larry Bird vs Karl Malone (Decade All-Stars, NBA Live 2004)

As the years went by, EA Sports managed to license some new Legends, with Clyde Drexler, George Mikan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all eventually joining the roster. Unfortunately, they also lost the likeness rights for several other players, meaning the roster was never quite complete out of the box. Charles Barkley was one of the first to go following his retirement in 2000. EA retained his likeness rights for a year after that and so he appeared in NBA Live 2001, but he hasn’t made an official appearance in the series since. MJ’s last appearance was in NBA Live 2004, a year after his final season with the Washington Wizards. Several other 90s All-Stars soon followed.

Adding missing Legends to both the Legends Pool and Decade All-Stars therefore became one of the first tasks of anyone who wanted to maintain a comprehensive roster update for the latest NBA Live game, as did creating faces for them. Sadly, the concept had been abandoned when NBA Live made the jump to the next generation of consoles, with no Legends appearing in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. Although the problems that NBA Live began having during that generation went far beyond the extra content on offer (or lack thereof), it was another knock on the game, and a reason that many people in our community stuck with the PC version.

Whenever we talk about the Decade All-Stars, we tend to focus on the players, and understandably so. However, it’s worth noting that they had some great branding over the years as well. The logos for each of the teams suited the aesthetic of the era quite superbly, as did their jerseys. While the original jerseys were fairly plain, the art team would go on to give them some more creative and aesthetically pleasing designs, with a couple based on the real All-Star jerseys worn during those decades. It’s also worth noting that the 50s, 60s, and 70s All-Stars courts lacked a three-point line. It wasn’t just aesthetic either, as all field goals counted for two points on those courts.

60s vs 70s (Decade All-Stars. NBA Live 2003)

Even though concepts such as actual retro teams and even the All-Time squads for each franchise tend to hold more appeal, I still believe there’s room for the Decade All-Stars in today’s selection of historical content. Although there’s obviously going to be some key omissions, they should be much easier to fill, and they’re an effective way of organising players that are already licensed onto some squads that are ready-made for fantasy challenges. As with the other historical teams, as long as likeness rights are retained, there’s very little maintenance required year to year, yet the teams retain their appeal. Of course, at this point, a 2000s All-Stars squad is probably due!

While it would be difficult to compete with NBA 2K’s retro content, I do believe it’s an idea that should be strongly considered for future NBA Live games. In fact, Visual Concepts should consider it too, as the early NBA 2K titles also featured their own Decade All-Stars, albeit combining the 50s and 60s into one team, and featuring both East and West squads for the 70s through to the 90s. Those teams were fun to play with, and in lieu of any historical teams – as is the case with NBA Live – it would be an effective way of allowing us to play with the Legends outside Ultimate Team and The One’s connected experiences. Extra content never goes astray, after all.

Should Decade All-Stars remain a concept for bonus content that’s left in the past, they’re nevertheless an important milestone in basketball games. They broke ground with the inclusion of historical players, paving the way for content that we now both enjoy and expect to see. Had the concept of including Legends not been established all those years ago, it’s possible that it wouldn’t have come as far as it has in the two decades since. Unfortunately we’re still seeing the same issues when it comes to the trade-off of players being added and removed, but overall, it’s been worth it. It all goes back to the original Decade All-Stars; nostalgia upon nostalgia, indeed.

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beegees
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beegees

As far as I’m aware, there is a general EA vision to keep legends under a lucrative Ultimate Team paywall (NBA Live, FIFA, NHL, Madden). KONAMI with PES does that with its MyClub too. Welcome to the 2010s!