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 reminiscing about stumbling upon the modding community back in 1997, and the rosters I made for NBA Live 96 PC.
This week’s Wayback Wednesday happens to have fallen on my 35th birthday. As such, I feel like reminiscing about my history in the community, and my modding endeavours in particular. I haven’t been as active modding NBA Live PC in recent years, and apart from my current plans to update the rosters for NBA 2K11, I haven’t been too involved in NBA 2K modding either. There are a few reasons for that, but it mostly comes down to making a lot of updates for many years beginning in 1997, burning out on the hobby, and wanting to create different content.
That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my time messing around with mods over the past 22 years. Even though rosters in particular can feel like a chore, it’s tremendously satisfying when a project comes together. Rosters have been my bread and butter for the most part, and I’ve updated several iterations of NBA Live, right through to the final PC release with NBA Live 08. For me it all started back in 1997 with one of my all-time favourite games, NBA Live 96. Since I’m up to NBA Live 96 in our 25th Anniversary of NBA Live celebrations and I touched upon the subject of modding the rosters in my retrospective, let’s take a look back…way back…
I realise that some of you may not have a lot of clear memories of gaming in 1997, or indeed, you may not have even been born yet. Even if you were around at that time, your memory may need to be jogged, so allow me to paint a picture. Although it was possible to edit the rosters for NBA Live 96 in-game, there wasn’t a lot that we could do. I tried to keep the game up to date, but there were only so many Create-a-Player slots, and 14 slots in the Free Agent Pool for retired players. Original players couldn’t be edited, so there were incorrect and duplicate jersey numbers, including errors that shipped with the game. Ratings, bio data, and the All-Star teams became outdated.
Still, I tried to make the most of it. I made trades as I read about them in magazines, or saw them reported on NBA Action. As I mentioned in a previous article, I also used basketball trading cards to find information on the new rookies, as well as bio data for missing veterans such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. I even tried fudging the ratings for the players I created to try to get the team rankings in order; an approach that is absolutely the wrong way to go about making roster updates, but I was young and they were mostly for my own use anyway. However, I was about to learn about NBA Live PC modding, or as it was called back then, patching.
In August of 1997, my family finally got the Internet. Yes, a lot of the sites back then were very basic (the official Space Jam website, still up and running 23 years later, is a fine example), and downloading videos from NBA.com literally took hours, but the experience of jumping online and being able to look up anything about your favourite hobbies and interests was nevertheless a wondrous experience. Using Altavista – there was no Google yet – I scoured the then-much smaller World Wide Web for content on some of my favourite video games. My “haul” included a track editor and Warrior car unlock for The Need for Speed, and a bunch of tools and patches for NBA Live 96.
The latter came from a website called the NBA Live Series Center, also known as the NLSC. As I said in my retrospective, I was blown away by what our founders and a handful of other people had done to update and change the games. The patches were amazing, but I was probably even more excited to discover that with the editor for NBA Live 96, I could easily make those changes myself. I could finally give Michael Jordan his date of birth and proper Draft information. I remember being so excited I ran out to my parents to tell them all about it, and my Dad, in his trademark dry way, asked “So that’s a good thing, I take it?” Yes Dad, it was indeed a very good thing!
Pretty much everything I’d ever wanted to do was now possible. Created players didn’t have to stand out as fake anymore; they may not have had a portrait, but they could have complete bio data. I could put MJ on the East All-Stars, and update the lineups for the current season. Retired players could be overwritten, jersey numbers fixed, and ratings updated; again, the editors made it so easy! It was even possible to exceed the height and weight limits using the DOS editor, something that came in handy after Shaquille O’Neal’s listed weight rose to 315 pounds. I wanted to know as much as I could about patching, and Tim, Lutz, and Brien were very patient and helpful.
That brought me to the next step: releasing my NBA Live 96 rosters to the public. By studying the NLSC rosters for NBA Live 96, I learned little tricks such as changing the extension of the roster file, so that multiple season patches could be installed in the same game folder. This was before the days of DBFs and separate roster saves, so roster updates required their own modified exe and roster.dat files in order not to clash with each other. I learned how to change the text string for last season’s stats, and the patience of updating everyone’s stats. The premier source for that information was Doug’s NBA & MLB Stats, and it’s cool to see that that site is still going strong!
1998 was the first season I provided updates for the NBA Live 96 rosters, hosting the file on the NBA Live Domain: my own NBA Live fansite, hosted at Geocities. It was a proud day when I submitted the file for inclusion in the NLSC’s database, and saw it up there among the other files that had impressed me so much. Inspired by the multi-season packages of the NLSC roster, I tried my hand at creating some retro season rosters, including what could be considered an early version of the Definitive mod. My roster packages included opening night, midseason, and final season lineups, as well as text updates for anyone who wanted to update their Season game in progress.
Beyond my love of the game, one of the reasons I continued updating the NBA Live 96 rosters after others had left their own updates behind was an inability to run the newest games properly. It was a while before our family got a new PC, so if nothing else it was a way for me to play with updated rosters on the platform. After skipping the 2000 season, I made the Complete Update for 2001 with some help from a modder who’d found out how to update team art files for NBA Live 96. Their name seems to have been lost to time, so if you’re out there, I’d like to retroactively give you a shout out! It was an ambitious project for a game that was already several years old.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and soon fewer gamers had interest in updates for the really old titles. I remember getting quite defensive when someone expressed surprise that the NBA Live 96 rosters were still being updated for the 2001 season, though they hadn’t meant it as a slight. Still, it emphasised that it would be better to focus on newer games, which I could now run thanks to a better PC. I left the Complete Update for NBA Live 96 behind, though just this year I went back and updated the roster through the end of the 2001 season. Working on the NBA Live 96 rosters again brought back a lot of fond memories, not to mention a feeling of closure.
At one point I thought my old NBA Live 96 rosters pack had been lost forever, as I couldn’t find it anywhere in our Downloads section or my archives. After digging through the old Downloads section pages deep in my archives, I located the filename and discovered that it hadn’t been lost after all. Even though they’re outdated and not my best work – I’d learn a lot more about developing comprehensive roster updates working on newer games as they came out – I made sure to upload them for posterity. I have lost a few updates I made for older games in the series, but I’m glad that I still have those NBA Live 96 rosters as keepsakes from my early days of modding.
There were a few project ideas I never got around to creating back in the day. After I discovered how to change the pointers for team logos, I considered making an all-time All-Stars roster, replacing the NBA teams with various All-Star squads. After my cousin and I attended an NBL game and picked up a program with roster listings for all the teams, we made a preliminary attempt at an NBL mod, changing team names and cities. Roster projects take a lot of time and effort however, and again, people had understandably started to move on from the older games. The ideas have stuck with me though, and I’d love to take a shot at them in a newer title if I can find the time.
I’ve got a lot of nostalgia for my NBA Live 96 rosters; almost as much as I do for the time I spent actually playing the game! They’re what got me involved in the hobby and ultimately the gig running the NLSC, so while I’ve created a lot of roster updates since then, those NBA Live 96 rosters will always be special. It’s why I’ll fire up the editor from time to time, and why I’ll be releasing at least one more update for the Definitive mod with a few minor fixes and corrections, as part of our ongoing 25th Anniversary of NBA Live celebrations. Even at 35, I can still relate to the excitement my younger self felt when he stumbled upon this hobby, all those years ago.