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 interesting case of the fake PC version of NBA Live 2002.
As I’ve mentioned in my 25th Anniversary of NBA Live retrospective and a few other articles, NBA Live 2002 is a game that I’m oddly nostalgic for. It has its quirks and I definitely wouldn’t call it the best game of its generation, but it’s one that I did have a good amount of fun with when it was new. It was also the upcoming game when I took over the NLSC back in 2001, so it’ll always stick out in my mind for that reason. Oh, and also the fact that it was the first game in the NBA Live series not to come out on PC. That definitely made it a controversial release in our community.
For a while there however, people were reporting that a PC version of NBA Live 2002 did exist, because they’d found a pirated version of it on peer-to-peer file sharing applications. Searching for NBA Live 2002 PC on those platforms did yield results, but what was the story behind those downloads? Let’s take a look back…way back…
I’ve already given it away in the title, so there’s no point pretending that the download so many people reported finding on peer-to-peer sharing applications was in fact a PC version of NBA Live 2002 and not a misleading fake. Admittedly, it would make for a much more interesting story if it was indeed an unreleased PC version of NBA Live 2002 that was somehow leaked. After all, there’s precedent for unreleased games and prototypes finding their way into the hands of the public, and many of them are made available through peer-to-peer sharing and the like. It would be far more interesting to get our hands on that than what was actually being shared as NBA Live 2002 PC.
If it’s not something awesome like an unreleased game or prototype, then something else just as juicy would be a massive hoax or scandal: say, the fake NBA Live 2002 PC was actually a virus spread by some malevolent joker in the community, taking advantage of the desire for a PC version and suckering their fellow gamers into downloading something that damaged and compromised their systems. It’s not like there weren’t people doing just that, labelling viruses as popular songs or games in the hopes that someone would download them, try to run the file, and mess up their PC. It still happens and it’d make a good story here, but it’s not the hoax I’m talking about.
Alright, enough beating around the bush talking about what it wasn’t. What the fake NBA Live 2002 PC found on file sharing applications actually was, was a pirated version of NBA Live 2001 PC with updated rosters (and in some packages, artwork). Now, that was as close to a PC version of NBA Live 2002 as we were ever going to get, but nevertheless, it isn’t what it advertised itself to be. It fooled more than a couple of people who caught wind of its existence, and because no one would ever fake anything on the Internet – hold your laughter there at the back – they insisted it must be real. Well, until they downloaded it and saw what it actually was, at least.
Naturally, there was disappointment and anger when people realised what they had downloaded. It was our community’s digital answer to the Beatles bootlegs trade. Just as enthusiasts sometimes had to buy records on faith, only to find out that they hadn’t acquired a rare Fab Four collectable, so too did trusting basketball gamers find out that they’d downloaded a pirated copy of a game they probably already owned, with a roster update they could easily find here on the NLSC. Furthermore, even if the person who had shared a fake NBA Live 2002 PC wasn’t trying to spread a Trojan virus, there was always the possibility they’d shared some infected files anyway.
At the very least, gamers would’ve wasted a lot of time downloading a huge archive on a dial-up connection, using up the allotted hours on their Internet plan. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that some of the people who shared the fake NBA Live 2002 PC were doing so with an eye towards trolling basketball gamers. At the same time, it’s a lot of effort to go to for a joke, when an insulting image, garbage files, or indeed a virus would’ve been just as effective. It’s more likely that the archive was compiled because people wanted to be helpful, cobbling together something that resembled a PC version of NBA Live 2002. They probably felt that the ends justified the means.
Of course, there was a problem with what they were doing. To state the obvious, software piracy is illegal, and it’s not something that we support in our community. It wasn’t something that we could condone, encourage, or promote; especially when the new content was readily available to the community already. It was also deceptive. Even though they weren’t selling it, and even putting aside the fact it was piracy, it was just NBA Live 2001 PC with pre-packaged mods. We did our best with NBA Live 2001 PC, but at the end of the day, it was the same game with new rosters and maybe some updated art. It was NBA Live 2001 plus mods, not NBA Live 2002.
On top of that, no credit was given to the people who created the mods that were packaged with the fake NBA Live 2002 PC, nor was permission ever asked. That was probably fortunate in hindsight as it limited everyone’s connection to what was an illegal download by not attaching their names to it, but it was the principle of the matter. I’m sure that the NLSC rosters or updates based on the NLSC rosters ended up in at least one of the packages, without any credit (though again, that’s not the worst thing in the long run). Other modders also had their work taken and included in the deceptive download, in an effort to dress up NBA Live 2001 as something it wasn’t.
Eventually there was enough awareness of the ruse that people stopped asking about it, and it was generally forgotten. It just goes to show how much people wanted a PC version of NBA Live 2002 though, and how disappointed we were when we found out it was a console-only release. Even though some of us did end up getting NBA Live 2002 on console, as a community we dedicated ourselves to keeping NBA Live 2001 and other games updated for another year, so that the PC community had something new(ish) to play. We made sure to keep it far away from the fake NBA Live 2002 PC however, and there was no mistaking that they were mods, not a brand new game.
Incidentally, the screenshots I’m using for this article aren’t taken from the fake NBA Live 2002 PC download; I’ve just set them up after moving a few players around in NBA Live 2001, to illustrate what it looked like. I’m assuming the download itself is long gone, or at least very difficult to track down. There wouldn’t be much point in doing so, anyway. It’s nothing that can’t be recreated using resources that are still available in our Downloads section, without the risk of getting a virus that’s been hiding away for years. NBA Live 2001 PC itself might be a bit harder to get a hold of, but there are still copies floating around on eBay and other online marketplaces.
Looking back, it’s a shame the fake NBA Live 2002 PC wasn’t something far more exciting. It would’ve been awesome if EA Sports had been working on a PC port that was unfinished or ultimately just went unreleased, but was subsequently leaked. It would’ve been cool to get our hands on such a thing, and to see it somehow remain in circulation. Sadly, it was nothing more than a hoax; perhaps a well-intentioned hoax by people who wanted to help out their fellow gamers with an all-in-one download, but a hoax all the same. Fortunately it’s one that didn’t do too much damage, and the series would return to PC…for the next six years. But that’s a story for another day.