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, it’s a retrospective of Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000, specifically the PC version.
As I’ve mentioned before, Wayback Wednesday features are a lot of fun for me as I’ve not only been able to revisit old favourites, but expand my collection and play some games I never got around to playing when they were new. It’s always interesting how they all hold up. Some are just as I remembered them, for better or worse. Others are better than I recalled, while more than a couple have aged badly. When it comes to the old games I’m playing for the first time, I’ll appraise them on the same scale. There are ones I wish I’d played more of, while others were definitely worth skipping.
And then, there’s Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000. It’s one of the bad ones, and not just because it’s aged like milk. Even when compared to its contemporaries, such as the fantastic PC version of NBA Live 2000 – and yes, even the disappointing NBA Inside Drive 2000 – it’s noticeably inferior. Here’s the thing, though. Usually, bad basketball games are frustrating or off-putting to play. Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 is bad in ways that are hilarious, to the point where the humour of the situation makes it unintentionally entertaining. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 – a mouthful of a title – was developed by Radical Entertainment Inc, now a subsidiary of Activision and a company that has made some fantastic games (and several bad ones, too). In all fairness, NBA Basketball 2000 was their first hoops game, and it has its strong points. It’s playable, has some presentation features that are ahead of their time, and there are much worse basketball games out there. The underlying problem, aside from the gameplay not being on par with its contemporaries, is that it makes so many wrong decisions with the established staple features of a sim basketball game. So much of the game doesn’t work as it should.
In a way, the game’s problems can be summed up by its cover player. Now, I’m all for not judging a basketball game by its cover player, but in this instance, there’s a good metaphor. NBA Live 2000, the market leader, had reigning Finals MVP Tim Duncan along with Michael Jordan on an insert. The first NBA 2K had Allen Iverson. NBA Inside Drive 2000 had Ray Allen. NBA Jam 2000 had Chris Webber. NBA ShootOut 2000 had Jason Kidd. In other words, top tier stars and rising young talent. Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 had Steve Smith; a fine player but never a top star, one who’d already peaked, and had just been traded to the smaller market Portland Trail Blazers.
Again, it’s such a perfect metaphor for a game that has its good points, but is clearly a step below its peers and falls short of expectations (not unlike the 2000 Blazers). The game starts out promising, with a great old school intro made up of real NBA clips and music that pumps you up to play. The main menu is straightforward and at a glance, it has all the basic features. Notably, there’s a quick play option on the main menu with randomly selected teams, while the traditional exhibition mode is called Choose Teams. There are “random team” buttons on the Choose Teams screen, which is impressive to see as that wasn’t a standard feature in many games of that vintage.
There’s a single Season and Playoff mode, as well as a Practice mode and network play. Season mode includes a full 82-game schedule, along with 56, 28, and 12-game options. It also has the usual core features including league leaders, calendar, trades, lineup management, and so on. You can control multiple teams, and even switch teams after starting a season. Players can be created and edited in and out of Season mode, but the Edit Player function is somewhat misleading. It allows you to edit the players you’ve created, but not modify original players. There’s no way to actually do that, which is quite unfortunate as several players do have incorrect jersey numbers.
On the bright side, the rosters were actually updated for the 2000 season along with Class of 1999 rookies. On that front, it’s one step ahead of NBA Inside Drive 2000. There’s no multiseason play, but only NBA Live was doing that back then. Oddly, the Sign/Release players menu is called Transactions, and along with the Trade Players screen, is listed under a menu that’s also called Transactions. The same rosters screen from the main menu is also available in Season mode, which means you can actually load a custom roster into a Season game in progress. You can also manage the rosters of teams you’re not controlling, and save a Season’s rosters for use in another file.
This is all quite weird, as it defeats the purpose of choosing teams to control. There are also no salaries and any trade you want to make will go through, making it an odd throwback to the Season modes in early NBA Live games. It feels poorly designed, like Season play is an extension of exhibition mode with a schedule and stats tracking. You can play and sim through it as normal and it will work fine, but it’s very easy to break everything with a few clicks. The sim engine is terrible however, with strange results such as Jason Williams leading the league in scoring. The ability to export rosters is cool though, and something I’ve previously only seen in NBA Live 96 PC.
The Create Player function is fairly standard, but also contrived. Toggling between bio data and different attributes is clunky, with oddly labelled buttons that only appear if you’ve toggled to the appropriate screen. It’s a bit hard to describe but basically, the first screen with a player’s ratings (all nine of them!) is the Player Stats screen, while the Attributes screen includes height, weight, and accessories. “More Attributes” now toggles between the bio data and facial customisation options, while the Player Stats button now replaces the one labelled Attributes. It works well enough once you get the hang of it, and facial customisation is reasonably deep, but again, it’s clunky.
That brings us to gameplay. You’ll immediately notice that the attention to detail on the pregame sequence and starting lineup introductions is impressive. Of course, it’s also here that you notice one of the first hilariously bad aspects of the game: the faces. They’re severely behind NBA Live 2000 PC in terms of quality, and they lack any animations. This is an issue as several faces don’t have neutral expressions. I couldn’t stop laughing at Kobe Bryant staring up at the camera with a big cheesy grin as he ran onto the floor. As for Shaquille O’Neal’s face, I’ve seen better likenesses on bootleg action figures. In fact, the models and stiff idle stances are very action figure-like.
Amusingly bad faces with frozen expressions and players standing perfectly still and upright when they’re not in motion is just the beginning. The gameplay is completely lacking in realism. It’s quite easy to get to the hoop for a dunk, and most dunks are two-handed slams, despite a blurb on the case promising “tons of dunks”. Animations and rim interactions are noticeably wonky, even for a game made in 1999. The game attempted to add some player momentum and foot planting, but it’s only resulted in movement feeling very stiff and heavy when changing direction. The CPU doesn’t play strategically, and there’s no incentive for users to play realistically, either.
The game also promotes a “Go-To-Guy AI” feature, and there’s a control to highlight said player on your team. In my experience, it’s rather useless. There is a rebound indicator similar to Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, and that does help a bit, though it’s another old game where scooping up rebounds off the floor is far more effective than jumping for them. There’s a button for crossovers and spins which don’t break ankles; not that you need to. Far too many passes go out of bounds or straight to an opponent. Dunks result in charging fouls way too often, and in the restricted area, too. Defenders and offensive players playing off-ball barely make any kind of effort.
Free throws are attempted with an odd variation of the T-Meter concept, in which you need to stop the meter within the hot zones either side of a basketball. The shooting percentages are ridiculous, and on twelve minute quarters, you’ll easily top 200 points by the end of the game. On the whole, Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 does not live up to its tagline of “Sports Games for Sports Fans”; if you know basketball, you’ll know it’s not a good representation of it. It’s playable if you don’t care about realism, and kind of enjoyably bad. It can’t compete with NBA Live 95 in terms of gameplay though, let alone NBA Live 2000, so it would’ve left me disappointed back in 1999.
Presentation is one of the game’s redeeming features, however. While the faces and models aren’t impressive, and some of the other details look outdated for 1999 as well, the camera cuts on certain dunks and three-pointers are impressive. The game also displays actual highlights during the quarter break screens, which was rather advanced for back then. Unfortunately, it feels like most of the effort went into the presentation rather than gameplay or modes. I find Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 to be enjoyable in a somewhat ironic way, but it’s pretty bad. It has staple controls and features like playcalling, but they don’t amount to a good game of virtual basketball.
There’s a two man booth on commentary: Greg Papa and Doc Rivers, the latter of whom had actually left broadcasting for his first coaching gig with the Orlando Magic that year. The quality is respectable given that commentary was even more repetitive back then, and Doc actually sounds better than Reggie Theus does in NBA Live 2000. However, the commentary continues when the game is paused, which is very unusual. It’s something that else that made me laugh, because it felt so jarring to hear. It’s one of the better aspects of the game despite that weirdness, but it’s still late 90s sports video game commentary, and it doesn’t make up for the sloppy on-court action.
I also need to mention the instant replay in Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000, because it has some interesting quirks. First of all, when you fast forward or rewind, there’s a distortion effect as though you’re rewinding or forwarding through tape. It’s kind of cool, but also a bit annoying. The controls also don’t really work properly when using the mouse. Clicking the rewind and fast forward buttons jumps ahead a few seconds; if you want to go frame by frame, you need to use a key or gamepad button. Moving the camera is cumbersome, and while a lot of the standard features are there, they don’t work properly. It’s a recurring theme with Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000.
Quite a few people spoke fondly about Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 when I posted some screenshots on Twitter back in March. I’m not about to make fun of anyone’s nostalgia – I’ve had fun with some poorly-received games, I can assure you – but I do find that surprising, as it’s vastly inferior to its contemporaries. I would’ve been quite disappointed with the game had I picked it up back then, as it doesn’t come close to touching NBA Live 2000 in just about every area. I do find it fun to play now because of how clunky it is, and how hilariously bad certain aspects of it are. Once again, it feels like it’s got the right features, but does most of them completely wrong.
And yet, there are things to admire about Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 as well. There’s some impressive presentation, before and after games. There are concepts that are ahead of their time, such as the ability to randomly select teams, switch home and away teams on rematches, or set substitutions that will happen at the next dead ball, complete with the players waiting on the sidelines. It’s another example of how it wasn’t just EA Sports who were doing good things with basketball games. However, it’s also an example of how many games focused on flash over substance – extras over modes and core gameplay – and made unnecessary changes to the staple features.
All in all, Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 is an interesting game to revisit. Again, it’s inferior to NBA Live 2000 in just about every way, most importantly the modes, gameplay, and graphics. It has many of the right features, but has implemented them incorrectly or in a needlessly contrived manner. It doesn’t offer a particularly realistic portrayal of basketball, even by late 90s/turn of the millennium standards. Playing it all these years later though, that doesn’t make it infuriating. I find it funny more than anything else, and if you put aside any expectations of realism and a deep experience, it can be reasonably fun to play. It just doesn’t hold up well if taken more seriously.
Maybe that’s where I differ from people who enjoyed the game when it was new. I’d been playing NBA Live for years, seeing it get deeper and more realistic, and so I had different expectations. If this was one of your first NBA games, or if you didn’t care that much about realism, you’d probably see it in a different light. Compared to NBA Live 2000 and other 2000 season titles, it’s not a good release, and well behind where it should’ve been for a basketball game made in 1999. That’s not to say that it can’t be fun though, so if you do enjoy it, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, if you want to argue that it’s on par with those other titles, then I must strongly disagree.
Fox Sports NBA Basketball 2000 has been in my collection for a while now, so this retrospective has been a long time coming. Despite my criticisms, it’s too interesting and too funny to get mad at or frustrated with, and it also has its strong points that deserve credit. I can appreciate its ambitions, and it’s hardly torturous to play if you set aside expectations of realism. I’m not sure if it could have ever become a worthy challenger to NBA Live and NBA 2K, but I appreciate the effort. Admittedly, I’d have been disappointed with it in 1999, but in 2020, I’m quite entertained; not in the way that was originally intended, perhaps, but I’m still glad that I finally took it for a spin.