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 some players that I remember because of video games.
In response to my retrospective of NBA Live 95 for our 25th Anniversary of NBA Live celebrations, our own Q noted that the game helped him form opinions about NBA players. I can certainly say that video games were one of my main resources for learning about the league and its players when I was first getting into basketball, and I know a lot of other 90s kids can say the same. I’ve wondered if that still applies to the younger gamers these days. NBA 2K’s success has unquestionably made the genre mainstream, but the Internet has also made the NBA itself more accessible than ever.
I’ve previously joked that you know you’re a long-time hardcore NBA fan when you can name benchwarmers from over a decade ago. Trading cards and video games are also a reason that I remember a lot of lesser-known players from the 90s and 2000s, and a few of them will often spring to mind thanks to the virtual hardwood. For this week’s Wayback Wednesday, I’m recalling some of those players who stuck in my mind due to their video game counterparts. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Good old Marty Conlon is often my go-to example of a more obscure player from the 90s whose name I always remember. Conlon played in the NBA from 1991 to 2000, suiting up for eight teams along the way. Although I think of him as a benchwarmer, in a couple of his stops he ended up playing over 20 minutes per game and averaging a respectable amount of points given his touches. His best years were in the mid 90s, and I recall him showing up as a rotation player in NBA Live 95, 96, and 97. Because he was on the move so often, I also remember him as one of the players I had to trade a lot when making rosters, and so I can always picture his NBA Live 96 portrait.
The early 2000s were a tough time for the Chicago Bulls, both in reality and on the virtual hardwood. As a fan and enthusiastic gamer who remembers those dark times, one of the players that sticks out in my memory is Khalid El-Amin. He stands out because of how abruptly his career ended, as the Bulls cut him shortly after the 2001 All-Star Weekend despite a decent showing in the Rookie Challenge game. There’s a sillier reason I remember him as well. Whenever my cousin and I played NBA Live 2001, we’d sing along to the final lines of Montell Jordan’s “Unstoppable“, replacing “How you gonna win?” with “Khalid El-Amin!” Dumb, but I remember the name!
Logan Vander Velden
Forward Logan Vander Velden played all of 15 games in the NBA, all of them with the Clippers in the 1996 season. He was waived in early January, and never set foot on an NBA court again, though he did play in the CBA and overseas. He appears in NBA Live 96 PC, and as you can probably guess, his distinct name is what makes him so memorable. Because he didn’t have a portrait or career stats in the game, he was a prime candidate to be overwritten with a new player in roster updates. Since he was already on the Clippers’ roster, I remember using him to add the late Lorenzen Wright to the game when I updated it for the 1997 season, saving a Created Player slot.
To be honest, I don’t just remember Gary Grant from video games. This lucky shot from his time with the Clippers appeared on a couple of NBA VHS tapes back in the 90s, and I always found it amusing due to his reaction. Indeed, it played a role in my acquisition of him in more than a couple of Franchise games; well, that and his low rating made him the perfect throw-in player to balance salaries! He didn’t see a lot of court time, but he did become a sort of mascot for the team. My cousin and I used to give him every accessory we could, which helped him to stand out on the court and in our minds. Who says these aren’t Barbie dress-up games?
I’m often hesitant to bring up Yinka Dare, as he passed away in 2004 at the age of 31, which is far too young. However, with all due respect, he was one of the worst players in NBA history. He infamously tallied nothing but a single defensive rebound in three minutes in his rookie season, and took 77 games to register his first career assist, with a total of four dimes in 110 outings. His ratings in video games were far from stellar, with his attributes in NBA Jam Tournament Edition PC being particularly insulting (albeit not completely unfair). With ratings like that – not that it prevents him from being a star on the virtual hardwood – Yinka Dare is undoubtedly hard to forget.
Ronald “Flip” Murray
For a couple of months in the 2004 season, Ronald “Flip” Murray was the talk of the NBA. Then a member of the Seattle SuperSonics, Murray found himself playing a much bigger role while All-Star Ray Allen was sidelined through to late December. After warming the bench for his first two seasons in Milwaukee and Seattle, Flip posted averages of 19.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 4.5 apg in eighteen starts for the Sonics. This meant I had to drastically increase his ratings in the roster updates for NBA Live 2003 and 2004. His numbers fell off when Allen returned and he was out of the NBA by 2010, but that run and its effect on his video game self makes him memorable.
A journeyman who seemed to change teams twice a season, Reggie Slater actually enjoyed a three year stint as a member of the Toronto Raptors. Before his tenure with the Raptors however, he bounced back and forth between a few teams, getting cut and latching on via 10-day contracts, and even getting picked by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1995 Expansion Draft (though he never played for them). He’s another player that I remember constantly moving around when I was updating the rosters in early games. I’d forgotten that he was still in the league as of 2003, though true to form, the Minnesota Timberwolves waived him in early January, ending his NBA career.
Another player who surprised me by how long he stuck around, and sticks out in my memory because I maintained the NLSC roster updates for so many years, is Mikki (pronounced Mikey) Moore. He appeared in fewer than 50 games in eight of his 13 seasons and was often on the bubble, yet he also saw decent minutes with a couple of respectable seasons in 2007 and 2008, even leading the NBA in field goal percentage during the former campaign. Despite his fluctuating role and job security, he was a constant in the NBA, and thus NBA video games, for more than a decade. The run came to an end in 2012, though he made a brief appearance in the D-League in 2013.
Probably the most prominent out of all the players on this list, Calbert Cheaney was a regular starter for the Washington Bullets/Wizards from his second season in 1995 through to 1998. He was a double digit scorer for the first five years of his career, but found himself in smaller roles after leaving Washington in 1999. I also recall him from collecting trading cards and the Bulls’ 1997 first round series with the Bullets, but mostly, it’s all those hours I spent playing NBA Jam TE PC. There’s something about the way that Tim Kitzrow said his name that my cousin and I always found very entertaining. Whenever I think of NBA Jam TE, Cheaney always comes to mind!
Even though he played six years in the NBA from 1995 through to 2001, I don’t think I ever saw Zan Tabak in a real game, outside of a clip of him missing a jumpshot very badly during a blooper reel in the VHS tape NBA Courtside Comedy. I certainly do remember him from the rosters of video games however, particularly NBA Live 95 where he was on the Houston Rockets. As I recalled in this article celebrating the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, he was the player my cousin and I replaced in order to add Larry Bird to the Rockets’ roster in our Season on PC. That bit of tomfoolery on the virtual hardwood ensured that I’ll always remember NBA Champion Zan Tabak!
I could go on and on, but those ten players are some of the most prominent examples of names I remember because of video games. One of the fun things about revisiting older titles is seeing all those names again on the teams that I remember them playing for. I’ve said it before, but basketball games are effective time capsules in that way, and it’s one of the reasons that I enjoy dusting them off for Wayback Wednesday, or indeed, my own enjoyment from time to time. Are there any lesser known or forgotten players that stuck in your mind thanks to playing basketball games? Let me know in the comments below!