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 introduction of the All-Time Teams in NBA 2K.
In many respects, NBA 2K18 was a turning point for the series. MyCAREER added The Neighborhood, a concept that has since evolved into The City. While it wowed gamers when it was unveiled, it’s unfortunately taken the mode in a direction that has less and less relevance to basketball. It also introduced a new motion system that in the opinion of many NBA 2K gamers – and I’m among them – is inferior to games that came before it. Paying for haircuts, a MyPLAYER character who gave up basketball to be a DJ, B-Fresh…in short, NBA 2K18 isn’t one of the series’ strongest releases!
At the same time, it unveiled a welcome addition to the series’ complement of retro content: the All-Time Teams. It’s all too easy to dismiss the All-Time Teams as one of the weaker ideas for bonus squads in NBA 2K, merely combining already-licensed historical players with current stars. As a concept, it’s nothing we haven’t already done with roster mods, going right back to the early days of NBA Live on PC. However, All-Time Teams are an important expansion of the retro content in NBA 2K, even if they aren’t as exciting as specific classic teams. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Historical content in basketball video games has come a long way. NBA Action 94 for the Sega Genesis was one of the first titles to include licensed legends, with teams that were reminiscent of the Decade All-Stars/All-Decade Teams in NBA Live and NBA 2K. After pushing their luck and upsetting the league by including unlockable Legends in the 16-bit versions of NBA Live 96, EA would finally pay tribute to the history of the league – and officially feature Michael Jordan for the first time since NBA Showdown – with the addition of Legends in NBA Live 2000. Beginning with the original Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, 2K has had a variety of classic teams.
With that in mind, you can be forgiven for thinking that a concept like the All-Time Teams is NBA 2K taking a step backwards in its historical content. For the most part, it isn’t adding anything new to the game, as many of the greatest players in league and individual team history are already licensed. We’ve already seen legends grouped together in All-Star teams many times before. It’s not as though 2K finally licensed Charles Barkley for the 1993 Suns, or Reggie Miller for the 1998 Pacers. On PC and console alike, roster makers have assembled their own All-Time rosters, or even full retro season mods. It’s easy to write off All-Time Teams as lazily padding content.
That would be selling the idea short, though. For a start, while it’s true that we can do amazing things with custom rosters – especially on PC – the more content we have in the game by default to work with, the better. It also adds 30 new teams that can be overwritten in a roster mod, which is incredibly useful as NBA 2K’s roster files aren’t quite as flexible as NBA Live’s DBFs were. Even if we’re not completely satisfied with the quality of certain faces, if you’re on console, they’re generally better than what can be made with Create-a-Player’s face sculpting tools. Those extra copies of players can also be put to great use in a variety of creative custom roster projects.
Of course, we don’t even need to consider the modding possibilities to appreciate the benefits of All-Time Teams in NBA 2K. The fact that there’s always been interest in playing with lineups made up of the best players in each team’s history means that including the All-Time Teams allows NBA 2K to cater to that desire right out of the gate. With hypothetical questions such as “Who would win: the All-Time Lakers, or All-Time Celtics?” being a recurring topic in basketball discussions, the ability to play out those scenarios on the virtual hardwood is a way of “settling” the debate. Using stacked squads like the All-Time Teams is a fun way of changing up the gameplay.
It’s also a means of playing with historical players that aren’t readily accessible. Before the addition of the All-Time Teams, there were retro players who were only available in MyTEAM. While I’m all in favour of unorthodox classic teams, such as a Mavericks or Bucks squad from the mid 90s, some are unlikely inclusions. With All-Time Mavericks and All-Time Bucks squads however, we can easily play with The Three Js, or Vin Baker and Glenn Robinson. A 1993 Nets team would be great, but until such time as it’s added, Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson, and Drazen Petrovic are on the All-Time Nets. It’s a suitable alternative for players without a classic team.
When they were first included in NBA 2K18, the All-Time Teams wore the club’s current uniforms, with a couple of retro jerseys to choose from. From NBA 2K19 onwards, each team’s default home and away uniform is one of their most iconic throwbacks, and every single jersey that’s been included in the game is available to select. Needless to say, it was a significant improvement over the original approach. There’ll always be some debate over the ideal primary jerseys for those teams, but I’m sure most would agree that modern players look less out of place in retro jerseys than Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Erving do wearing contemporary uniforms.
While it’s unquestionably better to have the All-Time Teams in NBA 2K than not, and their presentation has improved with suitable jersey choices, they do fall victim to the same problems as the individual classic teams. Legends such as Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller are conspicuous by their absence, leaving spots to be filled by lesser players (or at least, players who aren’t as synonymous with the franchise). There’s also a tendency for younger and more recently retired players to go missing, as they were originally included via the licensing agreement that covers active players. Until 2K reaches an agreement with them, they can’t return to the classic and All-Time Teams.
This has led to some questionable substitutions with active players when retired stars can’t be included. It’s one thing to include players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo; they belong on those squads, and teaming them up with Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Kemp, Latrell Sprewell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is all part of the fun. You can even make an argument for a player like Luka Doncic, who has quickly risen to stardom since debuting in the NBA. P.J. Brown as a Hornets Legend is a massive stretch, though. It’s even more frustrating when active players fill spots over historical players who are in the game, and would be a better fit.
Rex Chapman and Cedric Ceballos are two examples of players who were previously available on the All-Time Teams, but have since been relegated to being MyTEAM exclusives. Granted, it’s getting difficult to argue for Ceballos over an active player like Devin Booker, but the fact that there’s no other way to play with the former Dunk Champion outside of MyTEAM is a point to consider. The same goes for Chapman in Washington, or perhaps Charlotte, as he was their very first Draft pick. Again, one of the benefits of the All-Time Teams was finding a way to feature players who weren’t on a retro squad. That’s been lost with the inclusion of more and more active players.
There’s also the matter of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Seattle SuperSonics. At present, the Thunder share history and records with the defunct Sonics, and so the All-Time Thunder roster is primarily made up of Sonics Legends. Although the Sonics’ jerseys are available to the All-Time Thunder, it doesn’t feel quite right. Ideally there should be separate All-Time Thunder and All-Time SuperSonics teams, even if it does mean that the All-Time Thunder have one of the weaker lineups, and the number of All-Time Teams doesn’t match their active counterparts. Assuming there are no licensing issues or objections from the league, I’d rather see two separate squads.
As for players that have been pushed out of the All-Time Teams, I’d like to see them made available outside of MyTEAM once more. One idea that I’ve suggested on the NLSC Podcast would be to revisit the concept of a Legends Pool, where additional historical players could be kept in reserve. Alternatively, the All-Time Teams could be programmed to facilitate a larger roster, with the extra players being subbed into the active lineup as desired. They could also help make up the rosters of other bonus teams such as Draft Classes, Dunkers, Shooters, Defensive Stoppers, and so on. Or indeed, by licensing some additional players, we could get some new retro teams.
Although I haven’t been active in the NBA 2K modding scene, I’ve found a use for the All-Time Teams in recent years. When setting up screenshots for my series of articles on retro teams I’d like to see in future games, they’ve been quite useful. Additionally, a couple of times I’ve made my first Play Now game with a newly-released title a matchup between the All-Time Bulls and All-Time Jazz. It’s been a way to indulge my nostalgia, and give myself both adequate firepower and a stimulating challenge as I adjust to a brand new game. Like the All-Decade Teams – which returned in NBA 2K20 – I enjoy having them on hand, even if I’m not constantly playing with them.
Even though there are issues and ways that the All-Time Teams could improve, as I said, it’s far preferable to have them in NBA 2K than not. Those additional assets will always be useful for modding, and the teams are fun to play with out of the box. They still feature a number of players that can’t be found on any of the classic teams that are currently available, including some big names and all-time greats. They may double up on retro content to a certain extent, and they’re probably not the most frequently-used teams in the game. Nevertheless, All-Time Teams are a good use of the Legends that have been licensed in NBA 2K, and will hopefully remain a part of its rosters.