Wayback Wednesday: Revisiting the NBA Live 96 PC Rosters

Wayback Wednesday: Revisiting the NBA Live 96 PC Rosters

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 the rosters in NBA Live 96 PC.

Have I mentioned that old basketball video games can be interactive almanacs? I believe I have, once or twice! It’s one of the things that I enjoy the most about retro basketball gaming, on top of the nostalgic throwback gameplay of course. As I’ve noted on several occasions, sim titles capture a snapshot of the league at the time they were released. This includes interesting trivia such as phantom stints, familiar faces in unfamiliar places, and familiar faces back in familiar places, to name just some of the examples that I enjoy keeping my eye out for.

I’ve previously revisited the rosters in NBA Live 2002, NBA Live 95 (both PC and Super Nintendo), and NBA Live 99 PC (with the official update). Those were fun trips down memory lane, but I’m even more excited to revisit the rosters in NBA Live 96 PC. It’s one of my all-time favourite basketball games, and while I sunk countless hours into it playing with my 1998 season roster, I also spent a considerable amount of time with the default lineups. It’s also helped me out with modding, and even in answering trivia all these years later! Let’s take a look back…way back…

Unlike the 16-bit versions of NBA Live 96, the PC release was still in development when the 1995 lockout ended, allowing it to feature rosters that were updated for the 1996 season. If we refer to the 1996 season transactions listing over on Basketball Reference, we can pinpoint the cut-off date to November 3rd, as the Glen Rice for Alonzo Mourning swap and Darrick Martin signing with the Vancouver Grizzlies are the last moves accounted for. This also suggests that Terry Cummings should have been in the game as the Bucks signed him in time, but if he’d already been taken out, it might’ve been too late to re-add him, whereas the other players were still present.

Houston Rockets Roster in NBA Live 96 PC

Other noteworthy veterans who are missing from the rosters in NBA Live 96 who were signed before the game went gold and was released in January include Gary Grant (signed with the Knicks on November 8th), Mike Peplowski (signed with the Bullets on November 9th), Scott Skiles (signed with the 76ers on December 12th), and Anthony Bowie (left out of the game due to the 14-man rosters). Skiles retired on January 6th though, and Peplowski ended up in Milwaukee after Washington released him. I didn’t know it until many years later, but a handful of players who are missing from the rosters in NBA Live 96 PC were later added in the PlayStation version.

Conversely, NBA Live 96 PC extended the careers of a few players – at least on the virtual hardwood – ten of whom I’ve previously covered. They include players who were under contract but had essentially retired due to their injuries (Brad Daugherty, Blair Rasmussen, Scott Haskin, Anthony Tucker, B.J. Tyler), a retiring player who was released in December (James Donaldson), veterans who were cut and wouldn’t play in the NBA again for a few years (Larry Stewart, Victor Alexander), a player who appeared in more basketball video games than actual NBA games (Rodney Zimmerman), and a player who would receive a lifetime suspension (Roy Tarpley).

While we’re discussing some of the oddities and stints for more obscure names in the rosters of NBA Live 96 PC, there are some players who were released not long after the game came out, or at least after the rosters were finalised. Elmer Bennett, Howard Nathan, Randy Woods, Alvin Heggs, Logan Vander Velden, Andy Toolson, Anthony Cook, Steve Bardo, and Jeff Webster had all been cut by the time NBA Live 96 PC was released, and none of them were on a team’s roster by the end of the season. ¬†Since I was using NBA Live 96 PC as a reference when creating my 1996 rosters for NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2004, I ended up adding those players unnecessarily.

Dennis Rodman vs. Shawn Kemp in NBA Live 96 PC

Alright, let’s talk about the stints of more recognisable names that appeared in the rosters of NBA Live 96 PC! As I noted, the later release allowed the game to account for the trade that sent Alonzo Mourning to Miami and Glen Rice to Charlotte, one of the biggest stories as the season was tipping off. Dennis Rodman has joined the Bulls in a deal that Gregg Popovich didn’t live down until the Spurs acquired Tim Duncan, and he became the league’s winningest coach. The PC version didn’t feature any roster players, so Steve Kerr is starting for Chicago alongside Ron Harper in the backcourt. Similarly, Danny Manning starts for the Phoenix Suns in place of Charles Barkley.

Thankfully, no other All-Stars are missing, but a couple of them have new uniforms. Dan Majerle is in his lone season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, after the Suns traded him for “Hot Rod” Williams. Another name on the Cavs that you might recognise from 90s All-Star Weekends is two-time Slam Dunk Champion Harold Miner, traded from the Miami Heat before the lockout went into effect. Following a turbulent year in which he left the Rockets as the Playoffs were getting underway, Vernon Maxwell became the new de facto point guard for the 76ers. A Draft Day trade also sent Rex Chapman to the Miami Heat for a year, bridging his stints with the Bullets and Suns.

In a move that was a literal changing of the guard, the Cavaliers opted to make Terrell Brandon their starter at point, while former All-Star Mark Price was traded to the Bullets. That made him teammates with his younger brother Brent, as well as former Denver Nugget Robert Pack. Injuries limited Mark to just seven games however, while Pack played only 31, making them a far more impressive point guard trio on paper (or indeed, the virtual hardwood). Terry Porter was another former All-Star point guard who moved on that offseason, tipping off a respectable three year stint as a solid reserve for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The league was definitely changing!

Golden State Warriors 1996 Roster

To that point, the rosters in NBA Live 96 PC predate a couple of major trades that went down in the early weeks of the season. The Derrick Coleman for Shawn Bradley swap isn’t accounted for, nor is Kenny Anderson’s trade to Charlotte (both are in the PS1 release). As such, you can play with the once-promising duo of Coleman and Anderson with the default rosters of NBA Live 96 PC. Todd Day and Eric Murdock, both mainstays in Milwaukee since 1992, were traded to Boston and Vancouver respectively. Tim Hardaway wouldn’t be traded to the Miami Heat until February, thus NBA Live 96 PC captures his final half season with the Golden State Warriors.

Speaking of the Warriors, that’s where you’ll find three-time champion with the Bulls B.J. Armstrong, and one of his NBA Finals opponents, former Portland Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey. Both were picked up by the Toronto Raptors in the 1995 Expansion Draft, resulting in phantom stints that are preserved in NBA in the Zone. Neither was keen to play for an expansion club however, and coincidentally both ended up in Golden State: Armstrong via a trade, and Kersey via free agency after being granted his release. Looking back, the 1996 Warriors were talented and a solid video game team, but went a mediocre 36-46, missing the Playoffs for the second year in a row.

Browsing the rosters, I’m reminded that so changes were looming on the horizon, with some big names set to move on at the end of the 1996 season. The ’96 campaign was Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway’s last one together in Orlando before Shaq signed with the Lakers. Dikembe Mutombo is also in his final year with the Denver Nuggets, the promising young trio of Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, and Jim Jackson would be broken up early on the following year, Isaiah Rider is playing his last year in Minnesota, Larry Johnson and Anthony Mason are a year away from being traded for one another, and Allan Houston would soon leave Detroit to join LJ in New York.

Glen Rice in NBA Live 96 PC

This means that you can play with some very short-lived duos in NBA Live 96 PC: Glen Rice and Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Rex Chapman, Terrell Brandon and Dan Majerle, Isaiah Rider and Kevin Garnett, Tim Hardaway and Joe Smith, Dikembe Mutombo and Antonio McDyess (though they later reunited in New York), and Jerry Stackhouse and Shawn Bradley. Although the 1996 season is rightfully remembered for the Chicago Bulls going 72-10 on route to a fourth ring and Michael Jordan’s first full season back – though that isn’t represented in NBA Live 96 PC without customising the roster – there were other fun teams in the NBA that year.

Also, while the Class of 1995 isn’t as revered as the Class of 1996, or other great Draft Classes such as 1984 and 2003, there was some legitimate talent there. I’ve already mentioned Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, and Jerry Stackhouse, but there was also Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Michael Finley, Theo Ratliff, Brent Barry, Corliss Williamson, Kurt Thomas, and Bryant Reeves, to name just a few future All-Stars and prominent role players. Arvydas Sabonis also finally made the leap to the NBA, managing to impress despite being extremely banged up. Thanks to the post-lockout release, those rookies are available in Live 96 PC without codes.

It’s also fun to look back at those inaugural Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies teams. The later release on PC meant that there was no need to include the Expansion Draft as in the 16-bit version, though it’s a shame it wasn’t available as an option. In addition to Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire, the Raptors had a handful of solid players including Tracy Murray, Carlos Rogers, owner of a quadruple-double Alvin Robertson (albeit coming off a serious back injury), John Salley, and Oliver Miller. They weren’t a strong or successful team in their debut season, but they had some bright moments (including a big win over the Bulls), and are intriguing to play with.

Toronto Raptors vs. Vancouver Grizzlies

The Vancouver Grizzlies had an even tougher inaugural campaign, but a handful of decent to good players make them interesting to put on the virtual hardwood in NBA Live 96 PC. That includes the aforementioned “Big Country” Reeves, Greg Anthony, former Showtime Laker Byron Scott, Blue Edwards, and Gerald Wilkins. Glancing at their roster, I’m also reminded that they had Chris King: a benchwarmer for Seattle in 1994 and Utah in 1999 that played 80 games for the Grizzlies in 1996, starting 66 of them. Expansion clubs have a way of providing opportunities like that for journeymen and benchwarmers, leading to them having career years on spectacularly bad teams.

Whenever I revisit the default rosters in NBA Live 96 PC, I’m reminded of mistakes with jersey numbers. Rookie George Zidek should be #25, but instead wears #52, the same number as Matt Geiger. Jerome Kersey still has his traditional #25, but that already belonged to Chris Gatling on the Warriors, so Kersey should be wearing #7. Doug Overton and Randy Woods both have #14 on the Nuggets, having worn it for the Bullets and Clippers respectively. Neither player actually sported that number in Denver though, as Overton took #11, while Woods wore #10. This wasn’t something that could be fixed until our founders developed a roster editor for the PC version.

There are also some questionable position assignments, though that was likely due to conflicting sources and deliberate “mistakes” for the sake of substitution logic. Tom Gugliotta is listed as a small forward in Minnesota while Christian Laettner and Kevin Garnett are power forwards; Basketball Reference lists Googs as a four, Garnett as a three, and Laettner as a centre for the 1996 season. Portland has six power forwards, at least one of whom should be a small forward. 6’1″ James “Hollywood” Robinson is also a shooting guard rather than a point guard, though it arguably made it easier to get him into a rotation that also included Rod Strickland and Randolph Childress.

Denver Nuggets 1996 Roster

Jalen Rose and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf are also switched at the guard spots in Denver. Juwan Howard is listed as a small forward, though with Chris Webber, Gheorghe Muresan, and rookie Rasheed Wallace also in the rotation, that’s a sensible change. Once again, we weren’t able to change positions for original players until the NLSC’s roster editor was released, but it was best to leave a couple of them alone due to the lack of secondary positions, as well as the primitive rotation logic. As with the lineups and a ton of other player data, I copied many of those erroneous positions when I used NBA Live 96 PC as a reference when creating my two 1996 season roster mods.

Funnily enough though, while nowadays I’ll use Basketball Reference while creating rosters, I also think back to NBA Live 96 PC when I’m visiting Basketball Reference! More specifically, I try to think back to the game’s rosters whenever I’m playing the Immaculate Grid game. I like to challenge myself to come up with the rarest examples I can for each grid, without cheating and double-checking on Basketball Reference itself. Picturing those NBA Live 96 PC rosters – still in the back of my mind after all these years – has allowed me to answer with some extremely obscure examples! I do think back to other games as well, but NBA Live 96 has been particularly useful here.

I’ve mentioned a couple of familiar faces in strange places and other interesting stints seen in NBA Live 96 PC, but I’ll throw out a few more as I wrap this up. Spud Webb is back in Atlanta after four years with the Kings, though he was traded to Minnesota in the Laettner deal. Eddie Johnson – that’s Eddie A. Johnson, he of the terrible takes regarding Michael Jordan – is back in the league after playing in Greece in 1995, and now on Indiana’s bench. Anthony Tucker ended up with a phantom stint in New York. Cedric Ceballos, injured in reality, replaced Charles Barkley on the West All-Stars, while Karl Malone started in Sir Charles’ place. Honestly, I could go on and on!

Yinka Dare & Brooks Thompson

And of course, I’m reminded of oddities such as Yinka Dare wearing a Washington Bullets jersey in his portrait. I finally delved into that mystery last year, and it would appear that his head has been Photoshopped onto Mitchell Butler’s shoulders. There’s still the question of why that was seemingly done, but it was still satisfying to come up with an answer all these years later! The same goes for my earlier research into a court bug in Season mode. It’s a sign of spending countless hours with a game when these quirky issues are among the memories that come flooding back whenever you revisit it. I’d like to think that I know NBA Live 96 PC extremely well at this point!

To that end, I don’t actually need to revisit NBA Live 96 PC to recall its rosters, but I still greatly enjoy doing so. I did have a casual interest in basketball before the 1996 season, but that was when I truly fell in love with the sport and the NBA. It’s what moved me to buy NBA Live 96 PC, and make it the first sim game that I ever owned. Along with trading cards and magazines, it helped teach me about the contemporary players, as well as the history of the league. It was undoubtedly a big part of indulging my newly-discovered passion for hoops! In the years that followed, it became a useful resource for roster modding, and as I mentioned, even completing Immaculate Grids.

There’s something special about discovering a new hobby or interest. It hopefully won’t be the peak of your fandom, but there’s a pure, joyful enthusiasm to finding a new passion, and eagerly learning everything that you can about it. Revisiting NBA Live 96 PC and seeing the players on the teams they played for when I was really getting into basketball takes me back to an exciting time in both my fandom and the NBA. Beyond that, there’s a ton of short-lived and otherwise interesting stints to see. As such, NBA Live 96 PC isn’t just one of my all-time favourite basketball games for the fun I had on the virtual hardwood, but also for the interactive almanac it became.

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