Wayback Wednesday: Revisiting the Lockout Season in NBA Live 99

Wayback Wednesday: Revisiting the Lockout Season in NBA Live 99

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 taking a look back at the transitional rosters of the 1999 lockout season, as captured in NBA Live 99 PC.

It’s been 25 years since a lockout led to NBA games being cancelled for the first time, with the threat of an entire season being lost. I’ll admit that I wasn’t paying attention to the looming labour crisis as a teenage Chicago Bulls fan in 1998. I was focused on following the action, hoping that Michael Jordan would win another scoring title and the Bulls would end the year as champions once more. The rumours that concerned me were that it would be The Last Dance, which it obviously was. Furthermore, the magazines I was reading weren’t really covering it, and NBA Action definitely wasn’t!

Fortunately, the season was saved when ultimatums were issued – though, it wouldn’t be the last labour dispute – and the 1999 lockout ended on January 20th, 1999. On top of shortening the 1999 campaign to 50 games, it also meant that video games such as NBA Live had to launch with final 1998 season rosters. Fortunately for PC gamers, EA Sports released an official patch that not only fixed a few bugs, but updated the game for the new season. As such, NBA Live 99 PC in its updated state does preserve the rosters from a weird, yet memorable season. Let’s take a look back…way back…

To state the obvious, the 1999 season wasn’t a fun one for a Bulls fan! It was a rude shock seeing your favourite team go from a juggernaut – as vulnerable as they’d felt at times during The Last Dance – straight to the bottom of the league. It didn’t matter that there were some familiar faces left over from the championship team, when none of them were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, or Dennis Rodman. It’s kind of like the attempts to follow up M*A*S*H with AfterM*A*S*H: the returning faces were key cast members, but without your leading star – no Michael Jordan in Chicago, no Alan Alda in the spin-off – there was no real chance of it being a successful endeavour.

Scottie Pippen on the Rockets in NBA Live 99 PC

It was impossible to get excited about additions like Brent Barry, Andrew Lang, Mark Bryant, Kornel David, and briefly, Mario Bennett. Their 13-37 record was arguably better than it had any right to be, but they weren’t fun to watch, or play with in video games. They actually opened the season against the Utah Jazz, in what has to be one of the most underwhelming rematches of the previous year’s NBA Finals! Beyond the breakup of the champion Bulls however, it felt as though the face of the league had changed. I’d experienced the NBA offseason before of course, but the flurry of player movement after the lockout was lifted put a number of familiar faces in new places.

More specifically, players with lengthy tenures that had become synonymous with a club – or at least, they’d always played for them as long as I’d been watching – were suddenly wearing new uniforms. Naturally, seeing Scottie Pippen sporting a Houston Rockets jersey was the most difficult sight to get my head around. Dennis Rodman in the Los Angeles Lakers’ purple and gold was strange too, but I’d already seen him on the San Antonio Spurs when I was first getting into basketball. Glen Rice had become an All-Star with the Charlotte Hornets, and was now poised to be third fiddle behind Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, with Eddie Jones going the other way in the deal.

Although the big names were the biggest surprises, it was also strange to see some long-tenured role players who were regular starters now playing elsewhere. Vinny Del Negro had been a constant in the Spurs lineup for as long as I’d followed the NBA, but now he was with the Bucks. Dell Curry, a Hornets mainstay, also joined him in Milwaukee. LaPhonso Ellis left the Denver Nuggets to join the Atlanta Hawks, Derrick Coleman ended up with Charlotte, and long-time Los Angeles Clipper Loy Vaught went to the Pistons. Christian Laettner also re-joined college teammate Grant Hill in Detroit, Tom Gugliotta signed with Phoenix, and Mario Elie went to the Spurs.

Antonio McDyess in NBA Live 99 PC

Browsing through the rosters in NBA Live 99 PC, I’m reminded of some instances of familiar faces in strange places, and back in familiar places, that occurred after the lockout ended. Olden Polynice returned to Seattle, where he began his career when the SuperSonics acquired him in the Draft Day trade that sent Scottie Pippen to the Bulls. Thurl Bailey is back with the Jazz, long after being traded to Minnesota and then playing overseas for four years. Dominique Wilkins joined his brother Gerald in Orlando for a stint that’s seldom remembered, despite him having a bit left in the tank. And then, there were some surprising moves involving a few prominent rising stars.

Antonio McDyess returned to Denver, though the move wasn’t without controversy. Suns players Jason Kidd, Rex Chapman, and George McCloud had flown through a blizzard hoping to convince him to stay with the Suns, and were banned from the arena where McDyess was attending a Colorado Avalanche game. It was the original “beside himself” offseason story! Stephon Marbury appeared to be the future of the Timberwolves alongside Kevin Garnett, but by the end of the season, he’d been sent to New Jersey. Steve Nash was traded to Dallas where his career soon took off, while the Knicks finally parted ways with veteran Charles Oakley to get Marcus Camby.

And of course, there were a couple of very infamous moves. Following a season-long suspension in the wake of his altercation with P.J. Carlesimo, Latrell Sprewell also became a Knick, in the process sending John Starks to the Warriors where he’d begun his career as an undrafted rookie in 1988. Former number one pick Joe Smith signed with the Timberwolves, a move that would soon become controversial thanks to the under-the-table deals that banished him to Detroit for a year in 2001. In hindsight, it seems only appropriate that these incidents happened around the same time as the 1999 lockout, one of the most controversial events in the NBA during that decade.

The Lockout Kept Vince Carter Out of NBA Live 99 PC At Launch

One of the most unfortunate side effects of the lockout was that the Class of 1998 rookies were absent from any 1999 season games that were released while it was still in effect. Fortunately, the official patch added them to NBA Live 99, allowing them to make their virtual hardwood debut. This meant that we could play with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Paul Pierce, Jason Williams, Mike Bibby, Rashard Lewis, and yes, top pick Michael Olowokandi, with proper faces and audio. Notably, when a couple of sites were looking back at Vince Carter in video games over the years in honour of his retirement, they forgot about NBA Live 99 PC.

Something else that I notice when revisiting those lockout season rosters in NBA Live 99 is that there were a few soon-to-be contenders taking shape, and some other teams on their last legs. In addition to White Chocolate, the Kings have Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic – both had actually joined the team prior to the lockout – as well as Vlade Divac. The Lakers are a couple of pieces (and Phil Jackson) away from tipping off their threepeat. Dirk, Nash, and Michael Finley would go on to lead Dallas back to the Playoffs after a very rough run in the 90s, while the 76ers were surrounding Allen Iverson with the talent to get out of the basement. A new era was definitely dawning.

Conversely, the trio of Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith, and Mookie Blaylock played their final year together in Atlanta. Joe Dumars was in his last season, and though I don’t believe many predicted it at the time, Grant Hill would also leave Detroit by 2000, albeit to join the Orlando Magic. The Jazz kept more of their core than the Bulls did, and Karl Malone was the MVP – almost by default – but they were aging and on the downswing. The Miami Heat were still contenders and topped the East now that Chicago had fallen off, but were upset by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion New York Knicks in the first round. Again, a changing of the guard was imminent.

Shaquille O'Neal in NBA Live 99 PC

One potential team of the future that wouldn’t fulfil its potential was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Shawn Kemp infamously entered the season out of shape, and his career was soon derailed. A few of their promising young players didn’t pan out, but it did ultimately lead to bottoming out and drafting LeBron James first overall in 2003. San Antonio of course turned things around after a 6-8 start and defeated the Knicks in the NBA Finals for their first championship, though the next few years would belong to the Lakers. Anfernee Hardaway played his final season in Orlando, just as Darrell Armstrong was emerging as the league’s Most Improved Player and top Sixth Man.

It’s no surprise that I remember the 1999 lockout season as a turning point in NBA history! There are some other fun oddities, such as Australian legend Andrew Gaze playing for the Spurs; a stint that made him the first player to win an NBL and NBA championship. Jerome Kersey was also a member of that Spurs team, meaning that much like Clyde Drexler – his former Trail Blazers teammate during two trips to the NBA Finals – he finally got a ring with a Texan team. Chuck Person on the Hornets, Mitch Richmond on the Wizards, Luc Longley on the Suns, Terry Porter on the Heat, Nick Van Exel on the Nuggets a year after being an All-Star in LA…the list goes on.

There are a couple of other fun facts about the impact the lockout had on NBA Live 99, and the subsequent patch on PC. The patch added a 50-game option for Season mode, along with the updated 1999 schedule. However, if you selected the new multi-year option – a precursor to the first Franchise mode – and chose a 50-game season, it would then revert back to 82 games for the 2000 campaign and beyond! That was an unexpected and very cool detail that, along with fixes and roster updates, solidified the PC release as the definitive version of NBA Live 99. Of course, that was often the case with NBA Live in the 90s, and even in the 2000s thanks to modding capabilities.

Lockout Schedule in NBA Live 99 PC Season Mode

Additionally, while the official patch and roster were made available to download, you can also find re-releases of NBA Live 99 – such as the Black Diamond Game Series copy that I found on eBay – that include it on the disc. It won’t be installed automatically, but back in 1999, it was handy for anyone who didn’t have access to the internet (which yes, was a possibility back then!). Interestingly, it doesn’t include the subsequent post-trade deadline update, which is the roster that I’ve been looking back at here. The copy I have only includes the English patch, as it was distributed in Australia. Incidentally, we still have all of the game’s patches available to download.

1999 definitely isn’t my favourite NBA season. The lockout put a damper on things before it even got underway, Michael Jordan retired, and the Chicago Bulls fell to the bottom of the standings. As I’ve said before though, I still feel some odd nostalgia for that season! That flurry of player movement when the lockout was lifted leading to a few weird stints, unexpected returns, and new-look teams, combined with a handful of exciting new rookies, makes it memorable in its own right. We also saw a first time champion crowned, an eighth seed make an underdog run to the NBA Finals – also a first – and a handful of spectacular highlights despite some sloppy play early on.

Thanks to the lockout, there aren’t too many video games that officially represent the 1999 campaign, but the official patches mean that NBA Live 99 PC is one of them. It’s an overlooked title, coming between a big step forward in NBA Live 98 and a landmark release in NBA Live 2000, but it’s one that’s absolutely worth revisiting. The uniqueness of the 1999 season, and the ability to actually play that 50-game schedule, adds further incentive to take a trip down memory lane. It’s undoubtedly one of the reasons that I enjoy firing up NBA Live 99 PC all these years later. It may not be my favourite season, but I still like basking in the weirdness of a transitional year.

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