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 Legends and Champs rosters for NBA Live on PC.
The announcement that NBA 2K18 will be receiving new historical content, not only in the form of additional classic teams but also All-Time squads, drew a lot of excitement from gamers who are also enthusiastic NBA history buffs. While there have been omissions and other issues, historical content is something that the 2K series has generally done a great job with since NBA 2K11. Of course, as more than a couple of people have pointed out here and on social media, All-Time Teams are not a completely original concept, as many fan-made rosters featuring such squads have been created in recent years.
However, the concept goes back a lot further than that. Rosters comprised of All-Time squads date all the way back to the early days of patching NBA Live on PC, as Lutz’s Legends rosters demonstrate. For that matter, the concept of classic teams was also utilised by his Champs rosters. It’s been a while and a lot of newer basketball gamers probably aren’t aware of those influential mods, so let’s take a look back…way back…
For a few years, the Legends and Champs rosters were an annual project for Lutz, along with the NLSC current roster updates for NBA Live. It all started with the Historical Roster Patch for NBA Live 98 PC, which included every championship squad from 1947 to 1996, excluding back-to-back champions. The patch also included full 1996 and 1997 season rosters, and the first incarnation of the Legends rosters, featuring the fifteen most significant players in the history of the then-29 NBA teams. The project evolved into the separate Legends and Champs rosters for NBA Live 99 and NBA Live 2000, with HAWK23 making the Champs roster for NBA Live 2001.
Upon becoming separate releases, the Legends and Champs rosters still retained their original premise. The Legends rosters featured the fifteen most significant players in the history of each franchise, while the Champs rosters featured championship squads from 1947 to the present. Back-to-back champions were still omitted to avoid redundancy, which I would suggest was a wise approach. Conceptually speaking, it would have been overkill as many repeat champions have had very similar, if not near-identical lineups. On top of that, leaving out redundant squads no doubt made the rosters a little easier and less time consuming to create.
Although the community did create historical art updates for those old games – many of which have unfortunately been lost to time – you’ll notice that the Legends and Champs rosters do not include or require them. As I discussed in a Monday Tip-Off article back in April, this is one of the ways that our modding community has changed over the years. As we’ve developed tools and techniques to create a host of detailed art updates, there’s been a larger emphasis on comprehensive projects that include all the necessary face, jersey, logo, and court updates. The Legends and Champs rosters, however, used the default team artwork and created player faces.
As such, they may seem primitive now, and basketball gamers who are accustomed to more comprehensive mods may wonder what the big deal was. Going back to my aforementioned article on how modding has changed, one of the main factors here was the feasibility of distributing larger updates, to say nothing of the availability of the necessary art updates in the first place. The main appeal was the concept itself: rosters filled with all-time squads and championship teams. All the players were there, with carefully created appearances that included headbands, high socks, and so forth. With or without custom art updates, those rosters offered new experiences.
Needless to say, those original Legends and Champs rosters had a big influence on the modding community, but I’d suggest that they also influenced EA Sports. Beginning in NBA Live 2000, EA added a pool of Legends and Decade All-Star teams to the game, which also made the creation of those rosters a little easier. As modders became more proficient at creating historical art updates, we saw more retro content included in current roster updates, as well as full retro season mods, and projects that had similar concepts to the Legends and Champs rosters. With all the appropriate custom art, these projects became bigger and better than ever.
It was those original Legends and Champs rosters that started the trend, though. Sure, it’s easy to look upon them now as being primitive or “half-finished”, but in their day, they were very comprehensive in their own right. They not only appealed to basketball gamers who wanted to see historical content in NBA Live, but also ably demonstrated that interest to the development team at EA Sports. While historical content has disappeared from NBA Live over the years – with the exception of collectable Legends in Ultimate Team, of course – NBA 2K has picked up the slack and then some with the Jordan Challenge, NBA’s Greatest, and the classic teams.
That’s why I feel it’s a bit short-sighted to scoff at Visual Concepts utilising the idea of All-Time teams for NBA 2K18. It’s a well-established concept, and we’ve come to the point where having an extensive amount of historical content in basketball games is actually feasible. For the record, classic teams weren’t an original idea when they made their debut in NBA 2K11; besides the Champs rosters, there had been several other mods that added retro squads to basketball video games. Not only that, but there’s leftover data that indicates classic teams were once intended for NBA Live 08, but were presumably scrapped due to an inability to license all the necessary players.
Getting back to the Legends and Champs rosters, I always admired Lutz’s dedication in making those patches year after year, while at the same time working on current roster updates. Granted, there’s data that can be reused and even directly copied across using the appropriate software, but it’s still a lengthy process. While I ended up taking over the NLSC current roster updates, unfortunately I wasn’t able to continue the tradition of creating Legends and Champs rosters. Once again, the demand for more comprehensive mods complete with artwork was a factor there. That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course, as other people ending up making some great retro projects.
I’m glad that we’ve been able to preserve the Legends and Champs rosters in our Downloads section. Over the years, we’ve lost a lot of great mods for a variety of reasons, and with them, some of the history of our modding community. As we continue to make great updates for basketball video games, I think it’s important to look back on the innovative ideas of the early days of modding, and reflect on the influence they had over the development of NBA Live and subsequently NBA 2K. It’s amazing to see content that we once had to spend hours creating ourselves become an official part and core component of the games that we enjoy so much.