Wayback Wednesday: Roster Updates for NBA Full Court Press

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 roster updates for NBA Full Court Press.

While Microsoft’s NBA Inside Drive series was respectably popular in the early 2000s, many long-time gamers may forget about its predecessor, NBA Full Court Press. It’s understandable, of course. Its name didn’t spawn a series of titles like Inside Drive, Live, 2K, ShootOut, and so on, and it was also exclusive to PC. Additionally, although it has its strong points and it’s interesting to revisit it today, it didn’t have the best gameplay or most well-designed modes. I’d suggest that Microsoft made similar mistakes with NBA Inside Drive 2000, before the series took a big leap with 2002.

One of the interesting aspects of NBA Full Court Press is that it was a 1997 season title that featured 1996 season rosters. A few years earlier, it wouldn’t have been unusual for a game to launch without updated lineups and a new rookie crop, but that approach had fallen out of vogue by 1996. I’ve previously covered NBA Full Court Press with a retrospective back in 2018, but the issue of its outdated rosters deserves another look; especially because there were actually some official roster updates that I neglected to mention! Let’s take a look back…way back…

I was introduced to NBA Full Court Press when my best friend from primary school picked it up in late 1996. NBA Live 96 and NBA Jam Tournament Edition for PC were my basketball games of choice at that time, but I was intrigued by what I saw in NBA Full Court Press. Unlike NBA Live 96, it had play-by-play commentary by the legendary Kevin Calabro, then the voice of the Seattle Supersonics. It had buttons for dribble moves and a steal control, which NBA Live PC lacked (though I now know why). Full and twenty second timeouts, an isometric angle similar to NBA Live 95, a practice mode…there were definitely aspects of NBA Full Court Press that I liked.

Los Angeles Lakers Team Editor in NBA Full Court Press After Roster Updates

Indeed, this led me to pick it up a couple of years later when I saw it in a bargain bin at a computer store for $20. Mind you, even from the first time I played it, I noticed some puzzling and frustrating details. Obviously, I found the mixture of 1997 season branding and 1996 season rosters to be an unexpected throwback. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were missing as per usual, but so was Shaquille O’Neal, owing to his exclusive deal with EA Sports. The biggest issue with NBA Full Court Press however is that the more you play it, the more you notice that the gameplay is rather mediocre. It’s far from a terrible release, but it’s a game that’s carried by its bells and whistles.

It also has some of the worst roster editing functionality that I’ve encountered in a basketball video game. Moving players around is extremely cumbersome, to the point of being virtually impossible. Cloning new players onto the All-Star squads replaces them on their original team roster. You can rename players, change their ratings, and even pick a different hairstyle, but you can’t change their position or skin tone, which limits your ability to effectively overwrite unneeded players. Quite a few players have the wrong position, leading to incorrect lineups. In short, clunky roster customisation prevented the creation of better final 1996 season rosters, or updated rosters for 1997.

Of course, given that it was a PC release, all was not lost. The developers were clearly aware that the game had some issues, which resulted in an official patch. This patch added animations to the net on made shots – yes, that detail really was missing at launch – reduced the frequency of lob passes, and correctly reset the shot clock after defensive fouls and illegal defense calls. It’s not much compared to the patches games receive nowadays, but back then we were lucky if issues like this were fixed at all, even on PC. The patch also fixed some lineups for more accurate final 1996 season rosters, though Jordan, Barkley, and Shaq unfortunately still couldn’t be included.

Dominique Wilkins on the Spurs in NBA Full Court Press

I completely forgot to mention that patch when I covered NBA Full Court Press in my previous retrospective. To that point, I also neglected to mention the second patch that included 1997 season rosters in addition to those aforementioned fixes and gameplay adjustments! The fact that NBA Full Court Press received two roster updates is a big deal. Not only was it something that NBA Live wasn’t doing yet, but it addressed two major complaints with NBA Full Court Press: the lack of 1997 season rosters, and poor end-of-year 1996 season rosters in their place. I uploaded both patches back in 2012, so failing to mention them in my retrospective was definitely a big oversight.

Admittedly, because it didn’t become a favourite and staple of my basketball gaming rotation, I haven’t played a ton of NBA Full Court Press using the official patches with their fixes and roster updates. It’s why I think of the game with the 1996 rosters it featured at launch, rather than the updated 1997 season lineups. While the patches didn’t drastically improve the on-court experience and there are still some errors in the rosters, there’s novelty in seeing the game updated for 1997 as it always should have been. Furthermore, it reflects some stints that were never officially represented in NBA Live, and adds some players that didn’t appear in many other NBA video games.

For example, thanks to the 1997 roster update, NBA Full Court Press is one of only a couple of games that officially represents Dominique Wilkins’ brief San Antonio stint. Australian Shane Heal didn’t appear on the Minnesota Timberwolves until NBA Live 98 – by which point he’d left the team – but he was added to NBA Full Court Press in the 1997 update. Speaking of Aussies, Mark Bradtke is also on the 76ers. The Class of 1996 are obviously there, meaning that we can play with Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury, Kerry Kittles, Marcus Camby, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Returning veterans such as Xavier McDaniel were also added.

Antoine Walker in NBA Full Court Press

Naturally, the 1997 roster also includes the major moves of the 1996 offseason, such as Dikembe Mutombo joining the Atlanta Hawks, the big trade between the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns (sans Charles Barkley, meaning free agent signee Kevin Willis is starting instead), Isaiah Rider and Kenny Anderson becoming the Blazers’ new backcourt, Larry Johnson and Allan Houston going to New York, and so on. Cross-referencing the new rosters with the transaction listings over on Basketball Reference, they appear to be accurate as of around January 6th, though a couple of cuts aren’t accounted for. The result is an interesting snapshot of the 1997 season.

Jason Kidd is in Phoenix, as the swap for Michael Finley and Sam Cassell has been included. It predates Don Nelson’s housecleaning in Dallas though, so Finley and Cassell are teaming with Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson on the Mavericks. The Lakers haven’t traded Cedric Ceballos to Phoenix for Robert Horry yet, and Stacey Augmon is still with the Pistons. Mark Jackson’s return to Indiana after being traded to Denver for Jalen Rose in the offseason was still a few weeks away at that point, leaving Eddie Johnson on the Pacers. Whether it’s due to a later release or an official update, it’s always fun to see midseason rosters captured in basketball video games.

There’s still a mystery to try and unravel here. While it’s great that NBA Full Court Press did receive a couple of roster updates, including one that updated it for the season that it’s set in, there’s the question of why it launched with final 1996 season rosters in the first place. Although reviews compared it to NBA Live 96 since NBA Live 97 wasn’t out yet, NBA Full Court Press was released on September 20th 1996; in other words, a date that would normally allow a game to include offseason moves and any rookies that had signed as of July. The file dates of August 8th 1996 would normally indicate that it was in development long enough to be updated for 1997.

Knicks vs. Heat in NBA Full Court Press

However, a key event of the 1996 offseason – namely, another lockout – was likely a complication. It isn’t talked about very often as it only lasted a few hours, thus it didn’t greatly delay the beginning of player movement like the 1995 lockout, nor cancel any games like the lockouts of 1998 and 2011. With that being said, free agency didn’t begin on July 9th as intended, with teams instead starting to make moves on the 11th, and the first major trades and signings beginning on the 14th. With NBA Full Court Press being finalised in August (as per the file dates) ahead of a September release, it’s possible that the lockout was a factor in it launching with 1996 season rosters.

If so, it would join a short list of games that were affected by a labour stoppage, including NBA Live 96 16-bit, NBA Live 99, NBA 2K12, and NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. Fortunately, like the latter three titles, official roster updates eventually took care of the issue. Of course, given the brevity of the lockout, it’s possible that NBA Full Court Press’ September release had already mandated a roster cut-off date that made it difficult to include updated rosters. Even if that’s the case though, the lockout was likely still a factor. Notably, the in-game help file addresses the outdated rosters, stating that they were “not able to include some of the more recent player changes”.

This is why I love going back and investigating these issues, even when I’ve already covered a game. I’d never made the connection with the brief lockout of 1996, or read through that help file until now. It certainly explains why the rosters were outdated, which is an important perspective to keep in mind. At the same time, it doesn’t excuse the lousy roster editing, or change my mind about the mediocre gameplay. Still, NBA Full Court Press does have some appeal as a retro title, and the roster updates do help out in that regard. Some of the design choices may be puzzling and it doesn’t measure up to NBA Live, but at least we have answers about the rosters, all these years later.

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