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 NBA Live Street 2003.
Yes, you read that correctly: NBA Live Street 2003. No, this isn’t some spin-off game of both the NBA Live and NBA Street series that you’ve forgotten all about! NBA Live Street 2003 was a mod for NBA Live 2003 PC, inspired by the NBA Street series. It was one of the first major total conversion mods in the community, one that went on to inspire several other street mods and big projects. It demonstrated what a team of modders could accomplish when they worked together, as well as many of the possibilities with player-specific custom textures.
NBA Live Street 2003 is still available to download. With a little bit of work, you can run NBA Live 2003 on a modern PC, and check it out for yourself. Before you jump into that though, how about a preview of what you can expect to find in this classic mod? Let’s take a look back…way back…
The NBA Live Street 2003 mod added a selection of real streetballers to the roster, as well as rappers, branded All-NBA squads (e.g. Nike, Team Jordan, and adidas), NBA Street-inspired logos and uniforms, and a realistic rendition of Rucker Park. It also included two NBA Legends teams, an updated referee, new accessories, custom Nike basketball, and current rosters updated for the 2004 season. In short, it brought an NBA Street-like experience to the PC, long before emulators would allow the actual games to be played on the platform. Given that NBA Live 2003 leaned in an arcade direction to begin with, it was arguably a perfect game to accommodate a Street mod.
I’d recommend backing up your NBA Live 2003 installation to allow a quick restore, though the mod does include uninstall files. You should be safe as far as your save files are concerned, as the roster will be added to slot 123; most of us don’t end up with anywhere near that many saves! If you’re worried though, backing up your saves folder certainly doesn’t hurt. Once that’s done, it’s just a matter of extracting all of the files, and running the installations one-by-one. Note that all of the installation routines default to the Program Files folder. In most modern PCs, the game will be installed under Program Files (x86) by default, so you’ll need to change the path manually.
While you’re extracting the roster files to a folder called “123” under your saves folder, you’ll also want to clear the contents of your workingdb and currentdb folders. These are temporary file folders that will be refreshed automatically, but they can sometimes cause conflicts with custom rosters (clearing them is also usually the solution when you run into Codebase Errors). If in doubt, refer to the instructions included with the NBA Live Street 2003 mod. It’s a very straightforward procedure though, with the only technical knowledge required being the ability to locate folders and run the setup files. With all of the files in place, it’s time to check it out!
Upon firing up NBA Live 2003 with the NBA Live Street 2003 mod installed, you’ll be greeted by updated main menu art. The orange background has been recoloured blue and white, and the NBA Live 2003 logo replaced with a custom NBA Live Street 2003 design. Assuming that you installed everything correctly, the players that appear on the main menu will be wearing some very different jerseys, providing you with an immediate preview of the new aesthetic. Take some of the streetballers and rappers into Practice Mode, and you’ll see that they’re going shirtless. It’s actually a custom jersey texture and thus there’s a visible seam in their skin, but it’s still a great effect.
I ran into a few problems once I started playing with the mod. A few of them were my fault. I neglected to change the Environment level under Detail Settings to Medium, which resulted in some missing texture errors. You may encounter crashes if you try to change any of the detail settings with a modern video card, in which case you’ll need to manually edit feconfig – located under the cscripts folder under Documents – using Notepad. Changing the r_fedetailsettings.environment value to 1 will get Rucker Park working. It’s very well done, as even the intro cutscene works with the players walking in off the sidelines, rather than out of the now non-existent tunnel.
Once this was done, I was able to get all of the NBA teams working, as well as use any of the players in Practice and 1-on-1 mode. Unfortunately, none of the newly added teams such as the NBA Legends, And1 Mixtape squad, or Rappers, worked properly. Every time I tried to use them in a game, it crashed. I tried a couple of the roster files – including the one that was intended to fix that issue – but to no avail. I even opened up the databases to see if I could pinpoint any problems, but as far as I could see, everything was in order. I installed every fix and art pack included with NBA Live Street 2003, but those teams continued to crash the game when selected.
A fresh installation didn’t help, so it seems that disappointingly, the extra teams aren’t working in the version of the mod that’s still available. It’s unfortunate, as a lot of work went into those teams and players, in the form of excellent faces, jerseys, and logos. Nevertheless, you can still get the gist of the project with the NBA teams. The custom jerseys with matching denim shorts, combined with the Rucker Park setting, really do give NBA Live 2003 a street vibe. The sound effects from the street courts are also used, rather than the NBA arena audio. Turn off fouls, out of bounds, and backcourt violations, and the up-tempo gameplay will be suitably NBA Street-like.
Player ratings notably haven’t been souped-up beyond what you’d expect of a sim-oriented roster, so their abilities aren’t boosted to arcade levels. Although this hardly ruins the mod, in hindsight, it might’ve been a good idea. It would’ve given big men more of a chance to hit outside shots, and for every player in the roster to dunk, as in NBA Street. The Street atmosphere is still there because of NBA Live 2003’s frenetic gameplay, but tweaking the ratings and dunk packages to allow everyone to throw it down, at least knock down the occasional three, and pull off all the dribbling moves with ease, would’ve taken the mod to the next level. It’s still fun to play, though.
Obviously it’s hard to comment too much on the extra teams without playing with them, but just looking at the rosters, the team did a great job choosing bonus content. The Rappers team includes all of the big names from the era such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent. The And1 squad ensures that the likes of Hot Sauce, 1/2 Man 1/2 Amazing, Escalade, Bone Collector, and High Octane are all represented. Once again, their faces are spot on, as are their gear and jerseys. If we can ever get the mod fixed, I think it’s something that a lot of retro gamers would be keen to get their hands on. I can see it making for a fun YouTube video as well, so it’s something to keep in mind.
Tony’s Rucker Park is amazingly detailed. It’s really clever how it’s designed to work with the urban backdrop when you lower the Environment detail, which removes the stands you’d normally see in an NBA arena. That’s a great workaround to facilitate the use the court for all of the NBA teams. There’s a lot of cleverness in the art updates; as I noted above, the use of player-specific textures allows players to wear chains, go shirtless, and in the case of the NBA Legends squads, wear their individual team jerseys. This of course was reminiscent of NBA Street Vol. 2, where the Legends wore era-appropriate uniforms rather than up to date ones, or a generic jersey.
For the sake of transparency, when the NBA Live Street 2003 mod came out, I wasn’t on the friendliest of terms with a lot of the guys from nbalive.org, owing to a falling out that I’ll take my share of responsibility for. As such, the project is something that I saw come together from afar. I always respected the work that went into it and the talent behind it, though. It was undoubtedly a landmark release, making full use of the new CustomArt system. We’d had roster packs and significant mods in the past, but I feel it’s safe to say that it was the biggest – or at least one of the biggest – projects the community had seen at that time. It was definitely an inspiration for other modders.
I’d love to be able to get the mod working properly with all of the extra teams, but even with those issues, the NBA Live Street 2003 mod is a work of art. The folks who made it have since moved on from the community, but they can be proud of what they did all those years ago. The artwork is spectacular, from all of the custom faces and jerseys to an accurate Rucker Park and updated frontend. While boosted ratings may have taken the mod to the next level, the rosters are still fun to play with. Again, NBA Live 2003 may not have delivered as a sim game, but it proved to be the perfect base for one of the most ambitious NBA Street mods we’ve seen, and the first of its kind.