Wayback Wednesday: Revisiting NBA Live 2001

Wayback Wednesday: Revisiting NBA Live 2001

This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! From retrospectives of basketball games and their interesting features, to republished articles and looking at NBA history through the lens of the virtual hardwood, Wednesdays at the NLSC are for going back in time. This week, I’m revisiting NBA Live 2001, and sharing some further opinions on a game that I’ve previously profiled.

Thanks to my efforts in amassing a large collection of basketball video games, I have a plethora of classic (and not-so-classic) titles that I’m yet to cover here in Wayback Wednesday. One of my goals for 2023 is to finally get around to games that have been on the To Do List for years, including the NBA Street series. However, there are titles that I’ve changed my mind about upon revisiting them with fresh eyes. When I’ve experienced a significant change of heart, it only feels appropriate that I follow up with an updated retrospective.

As I’ve previously discussed, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for games such as NBA Live 06 for Xbox 360, NBA Live 10, and NBA 2K14 for PlayStation 4/Xbox One. Last year, I reflected on how my stance on NBA Live 2003 had softened. While I don’t completely disagree with my prior criticisms, I can now find more enjoyment in it as a retro gaming experience. I can say the same for NBA Live 2001 PC, which I ended up revisiting while feeling nostalgic ahead of my twenty year high school reunion. Similar to NBA Live 2003, it’s a game I’ve had mixed opinions about over the years. Let’s take a look back…way back…

Since this isn’t my first time revisiting NBA Live 2001 and I’ve already produced an in-depth retrospective as part of our 25th Anniversary of NBA Live content, there are details that I won’t rehash. This is more about how I’ve come to view NBA Live 2001 after revisiting it again, as well as the factors that prompted me to give it a second look. As I mentioned, my high school reunion last year put me in a nostalgic mood for games that I was playing at that time. It’s probably not surprising that talking to Nate and Roger, the NBA Live 2001 Legends, has also inspired me. Their passion for a game I’ve had my issues with over the years encouraged me to give it another chance.

Steve Nash in NBA Live 2001

On top of that, NBA Live 2001 PC – which is the version that I’m focusing on today – has been somewhat elusive as far as being a viable retro gaming possibility. Beyond the issues with unsupported copy protection – for which there are workarounds – my gamepad wasn’t recognised during gameplay, despite being correctly configured. As it turned out, it was a conflict with my mouse and keyboard that only seems to occur in NBA Live 2001. To that end, if I needed gameplay screenshots for an article, I had to set up a CPU vs CPU game, and wait until the action resembled whatever I wanted to portray. It wasn’t an efficient system, or a particularly fun method of doing things!

When I figured out the conflict with peripherals and discovered that a generic mouse and keyboard would avoid it, I was finally able to properly revisit NBA Live 2001 PC once more. Its gameplay is identical to the PlayStation 2 version, which Dee and I had revisited a few times over Parsec. Those sessions also piqued my interest in revisiting NBA Live 2001 on PC, as while I immediately recognised issues that had bothered me all those years ago, I still had fun with the PS2 version. Now that I can run the PC version without too much hassle, I’m also able to revisit old mods, such as my 1995- 1996 season roster. With that being said, I’m inclined to play the vanilla game, too.

There’s a certain roughness to NBA Live 2001, which was the result of a complete rebuild following the landmark release that was NBA Live 2000. When I spoke to former NBA Live developer and programmer Rod Reddekopp, he explained that this was necessary due to shifting to a brand new programming language. The result was a game that was by no means horrible and indeed featured some improvements, but also fell short of its predecessor in other aspects. The chief complaints about NBA Live 2001 PC have always been the loss of established modes and features, too many offensive boards, and difficulty in chaining together and breaking out of animations.

Tim Duncan in NBA Live 2001

These are not unreasonable criticisms, and they are an annoyance when revisiting NBA Live 2001 PC. I know that I’ll commit turnovers trying to execute spin moves and crossovers, due to getting stuck in an animation or being unable to smoothly transition from a dribbling move into a shot attempt. I’m aware that rebounding is clunky, and that the sensible habit of jumping for a board is going to work against me on the defensive glass. However, much as the release of superior games has allowed me to accept NBA Live 2003 with its quirks and drawbacks, NBA Live 2001 is fun to revisit now. I can temper my expectations, now that newer games have surpassed it.

This takes so much pressure off older games such as NBA Live 2001. I’m long past any disappointment in the game’s shortcomings and design choices, especially since newer titles have delivered the sim experience that I craved. I’m not fighting against what NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2003 are, trying to force a sim style of play that they’re not capable of. It’s not about pretending there aren’t any problems; rather, it means working with the gameplay mechanics to win and produce highlights, instead of trying in vain to make NBA Live 2001 something that it’s not. I’m nowhere near as proficient as Nate and Roger in that regard, but their example has been inspiring.

By leaning into how NBA Live 2001 plays when revisiting it now, I’m able to really appreciate its stronger points. I’ve always liked its dunks, and how the backboard sways when players throw it down. The ball physics on blocks feel ahead of their time, especially with so many games favouring an assortment of massive swats. NBA Live 2001 could’ve definitely used some more emphatic rejections, but I like that it accounts for more controlled swats and fingertip blocks. I’ve admitted to overlooking Direct Shoot far too often back in the day. Making greater use of it now, I’ve realised that games such as NBA Live 2001 have deeper controls than I gave them credit for.

Grant Hill in NBA Live 2001

I’ve also become quite nostalgic for the duo of Don Poier and Bob Elliott in the virtual booth. NBA Live 2001 was their first game together, and it was a huge step up from NBA Live 2000 with Reggie Theus on commentary. Like most NBA Live gamers, I was thrilled when Don and Bob were replaced by Marv Albert and Mike Fratello in NBA Live 2004. Bringing in top NBA announcers added authenticity, and that was the right decision for basketball games as their presentation continued to improve. I do think that Bob Elliott and the late Don Poier did a fantastic job though, adding a ton of excitement. Again, Bob’s takes were more enjoyable than Reggie’s dry remarks.

Although I’ve been critical of NBA Live 2001 over the years, I played it frequently when it was new, and did have some positive first impressions. Of course, I can draw some further parallels to NBA Live 2003 here. As I discussed when I revisited 2003, when those games were released, I was at an age where I could have discerning tastes, but wasn’t yet entirely comfortable with criticising something I was passionate about. It’s led to me overcompensating in both directions: trying too hard to focus on the positive aspects when NBA Live 2001 was released, and overcorrecting in some of my critique thereafter. I can now recognise it as a flawed, yet solid and fun release.

And of course, there’s that interactive almanac aspect that I enjoy so much about retro basketball gaming. Revisiting NBA Live 2001 is no different. There’s the oddity of seeing Patrick Ewing on the Seattle SuperSonics. The new duo of rising star Tracy McGrady and established star Grant Hill was an intriguing development at the time, and is now a “What If” to explore through retro gaming. Shaq and Kobe are ruling the roost as the defending champions, while Portland is stacked with Shawn Kemp now on their bench. Allen Iverson is entering his prime, Chris Webber’s free agency looms in Franchise mode, and there are interesting and forgotten stints across the league.

Chris Webber in NBA Live 2001

Obviously, revisiting that era in NBA history via NBA Live 2001 greatly appealed to me last year, at a time that I was feeling particularly nostalgic ahead of my twenty year high school reunion. As I noted, the technical difficulties that made NBA Live 2001 PC an elusive title to dust off and play also increased my interest in getting it to work, and experiencing its gameplay outside of a CPU vs CPU scenario. Resolving the conflict with my gamepad undoubtedly contributed some added joy and novelty to revisiting NBA Live 2001 PC, but I don’t want to downplay the game’s merits. Once again, fresh eyes and an open mind have allowed me to better put it into perspective.

Indeed, there are times that I look back at some of the comments we made about those old games, and realise that we didn’t know how good we had it. They definitely had their issues, so our gripes weren’t completely unfounded, but they were striving to be the best basketball video games they could be. Sometimes the tech or a design choice didn’t pan out, but to that point, that still happens today! Furthermore, those classic titles aren’t riddled with microtransactions and other practices that suck the joy out of modern basketball gaming. Hindsight allows us to better appreciate those old games, even with their flaws and dated graphics. Technology constantly marches on, after all.

If you’d told me that I’d be feeling nostalgic for NBA Live 2001 over twenty years later – especially around the mid 2000s, when I was enjoying games such as NBA Live 06 far more – I’d have doubted it! I had my fun with it, but I’d also written it off as a slight misstep; one of the weaker entries in the series. There have been far worse NBA Live games since then, but even putting them aside, NBA Live 2001 PC is a solid title that’s worth revisiting if you’re a retro gamer. Like NBA Live 2003, it’s not my ideal blueprint for a sim game, and there are other titles that I prefer. Nevertheless, I’ll admit to underrating it, and will absolutely revisit it again when the mood strikes.

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