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 rosters in NBA Live 2002.
As I’ve previously discussed, NBA Live 2002 is a game that I’m oddly nostalgic for. To echo the assessment I made in my 25th Anniversary of NBA Live retrospective, it’s a mixed bag. It has some problems and it wasn’t everything we hoped it would be, but it also featured some welcome improvements. It’s arguably slightly underrated, and I’ve come to look upon it more favourably over the years. Still, if you do go back and spend some time with it, the same issues that were an annoyance when the game was new will soon become apparent. I do enjoy revisiting it, though.
One of the reasons I’m nostalgic for NBA Live 2002 is that it came along at a very memorable time for me. I was entering my final year of high school, I’d just taken over as webmaster of the NLSC, and the NBA landscape was continuing to change. To that last point, Michael Jordan returned to the NBA to play for the Washington Wizards, and while I wasn’t overly thrilled with it at the time – I am a diehard Bulls fan, after all – it was obviously an interesting development. Whenever I look back through the rosters of NBA Live 2002, I’m reminded of that time in my life, and in the NBA. I’m feeling that nostalgia today, so let’s take a look back…way back…
Since I’ve already broached the subject, I might as well begin with Michael Jordan’s comeback with the Wizards. As I mentioned, I wasn’t exactly happy about that. He’d had such a storybook ending with the Bulls, and the thought of him undoing that with an unnecessary coda – playing for another team, no less – felt wrong. I still have mixed feelings about MJ’s Wizards run, but the fact that it made him an active player in an NBA licensed game for the first time since NBA Showdown was absolutely a big event. Naturally, there were preview screenshots of him in his new uniform, and though I didn’t know it back then, he was the cover player of the Japanese version.
It’ll always be a little odd to scroll through the rosters in NBA Live 2002 and see His Airness in Washington, especially with an Overall Rating of less than 90 (88). Seeing Kwame Brown reminds me of how he was one of the players you had to trade for in Franchise, because he’d always develop into a star; sadly, reality wasn’t so kind (and neither was MJ, for that matter). From a returning Legend to one in the making, Kobe Bryant was also rated 88 Overall that year. Those 2002 Lakers – who would of course go on to win the championship – were an interesting squad. Samaki Walker was the starter at power forward, while former star Mitch Richmond came off the bench.
They went on to have an infamous clash with the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Finals, which still stands as one of the most controversial series in league history. I actually had one of my favourite Franchise mode experiences playing with the Kings in NBA Live 2002, and it always comes to mind when I fire up the game and look back at their roster. They’re one of three teams with a default starting five made up of players that are rated 80 Overall or better, though several teams in NBA Live 2002’s rosters do have at least five players rated 80+. The Kings were a lot of fun to play with, and it felt good to get some closure on that Franchise game years later.
Taking a look at the roster of my favourite team, the Bulls did have some talented players, but they weren’t the most fun squad to play with. Some generous ratings did open up some trade possibilities, though some of the contracts made it difficult to work out deals. Looking back at that team also reminds me of the Elton Brand trade, and how the interesting scenario of having two high schoolers to develop couldn’t be played out in NBA Live 2002, since Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler weren’t signed in time to be included. Create-a-Player could take care of that, but it was nevertheless a disappointment out of the box. Of course, I was a bit disappointed in real life, too.
Needless to say, whenever I’m browsing through the rosters of an old game like NBA Live 2002, I’m looking for some familiar faces in strange places. I’ve already noted MJ with the Wizards and Richmond with the Lakers, but there’s also Patrick Ewing’s stint with the Orlando Magic. It wasn’t really a fitting end to his career, but that Magic team is a fun video game squad. Likewise, the game captures Hakeem Olajuwon’s final NBA season with the Toronto Raptors. It’s odd to see The Dream alongside Vince Carter, though I’m reminded that he was reunited with Tracy Murray, who was a member of the 1995 Champion Rockets. Raptor Hakeem is still strange, though.
Other familiar faces in strange places include Tim Hardaway backing up Steve Nash in Dallas, where he’s joined on the Mavericks’ bench by Danny Manning and Muggsy Bogues. Mookie Blaylock is playing for the Golden State Warriors, while Glen Rice – fresh off a forgotten stint with the Knicks – is a Houston Rocket. Scottie Pippen was in his third season with the Portland Trail Blazers, while Shawn Kemp was in his second. There were also some familiar faces back in familiar places: Rod Strickland with the aforementioned Blazers, Dan Majerle with the Phoenix Suns, and Mark Jackson with the New York Knicks, all represented in the rosters of NBA Live 2002.
Continuing to scroll through the rosters, I’m also reminded of some of the big moves that took place that offseason, such as the New Jersey Nets trading Stephon Marbury to Phoenix for Jason Kidd. Of course there was the swap of point guards with Mike Bibby going to Sacramento in exchange for Jason Williams, who joined the newly relocated Memphis Grizzlies. Indeed, that’s another event that I’m reminded of when I look through the NBA Live 2002 rosters, as it was the first relocation that took place since I started following the NBA. The Atlanta Hawks also acquired Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and it’s odd to see him playing alongside Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc.
It’s fun to see rookies and rising stars, though. As I noted, unfortunately Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler were absent, but you can see a fresh-faced Pau Gasol coming off the bench for the Grizzlies, listed as a small forward and rated 75 Overall. Fellow rookie Shane Battier starts ahead of him, with an Overall Rating of 79. Future Dunk Champ Jason Richardson is 78 Overall, as is top pick Kwame Brown. Gilbert Arenas is the eleventh man on the Warriors, rated 75 Overall. At 77 Overall, Joe Johnson is rated lower than fellow Celtics rookies Kedrick Brown and Joseph Forte (79). His career ended up lasting three times as long as both of their NBA stints combined!
I’m also reminded of some of the hyped-up players that didn’t become stars. Marc Jackson – not to be confused with Mark Jackson – was rated 80 Overall, having been pegged as a potential breakout star with a bright future following flashes of brilliance the year before. It didn’t quite pan out that way, and he was out of the NBA by the age of 32. Other players who flamed out – such as Eddie Robinson, Ron Mercer, Rodney White, Vonteego Cummings, Felipe Lopez, Laron Profit, Calvin Booth, and Tyrone Nesby – are also rather generously rated. Perusing the lineups also yields players with brief peaks, such as Keon Clark, Jamaal Magloire, Tony Delk, and Morris Peterson.
Once again, NBA Live 2002 came out at a rather significant point in my adolescence, and revisiting the rosters reminds me of how I felt about the changing landscape in the NBA, and how everything was starting to become very different. Many of the stars I grew up watching were either retiring or approaching retirement, and several players had become familiar faces in unfamiliar places. A new crop of stars were on the rise, and there were bench players that I didn’t recognise. Angsty Teen Andrew even wrote a poem (yeah, yeah, I know) bemoaning that “the names on the jerseys are changing”. Adulthood and the future were looming, and I was trying to make sense of it all.
To that end, there’s some wistfulness in the nostalgia I have for NBA Live 2002 and the snapshot of the NBA preserved in its rosters. On the other hand, now that I’m so many years removed from that time, I’m able to appreciate that part of the journey. It was the first identifiable transitional era I experienced as a fan, and in some ways, it’s appropriate that it lined up with looming changes for me personally. I can appreciate the oddity of seeing players in unfamiliar jerseys, and the new stars that blossomed during that period. I can also think back to personal trials and tribulations in addition to trying to adjust to a changing NBA, and feel grateful to have grown since then.
When I revisit the rosters in NBA Live 2002, there’s very much a “Next Chapter” vibe to them, which once again fits neatly into other aspects of my life in 2001. Throw in the fact that it was part of my introduction to the PlayStation 2, and it really does encompass changing times, and a changing of the guard. Coincidentally, the theme of my English studies in senior high school was “change”; certainly appropriate for a group of students on the verge of tertiary education or entering the workforce, but in the moment, I didn’t recognise that so many examples were being provided by two of my interests. Maybe I should’ve written essays about that instead of Ready to Rumble!
Revisiting old favourites and other games that we found memorable for one reason or another evokes memories beyond the gameplay experience. We recall stars before they were stars. We’re reminded of stints that we may have forgotten, or indeed, tried to forget. And of course, it takes us back to the era in which a game was released, from fashions and trends to our personal recollections. Oftentimes, when basketball gamers reflect on titles, they refer to them as “my childhood”. In a way, NBA Live 2002 represents the definite end of mine. Times were changing, and it was a weird feeling. Few things embody that quite like seeing Michael Jordan in a Wizards jersey.