Wayback Wednesday: The Timeline of NBA Jam TE PC & PS1

Wayback Wednesday: The Timeline of NBA Jam TE PC & PS1

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 timeline that led to the rosters and branding in the PC and PS1 versions of NBA Jam TE.

It’s interesting how many of us who grew up playing video games in the 90s can have different memories of the same title, depending on which platform we played it on. These days, multi-platform releases tend to be identical for the most part. Even when it comes to the cross-generational NBA 2K games these past few years, there are familiar gameplay mechanics in the eighth and ninth gen versions, not to mention shared roster updates and seasonal content. Conversely, back in the 90s, staggered release dates for the same title across various platforms led to interesting differences.

The various iterations of NBA Jam provide some fun examples. Depending on which revision was present in your local arcade, or which home port you played, you’ll recall different squads. These revisions and updates continued with NBA Jam Tournament Edition, infamously resulting in the fourth arcade revision including a cancelled trade. NBA Jam TE was ultimately updated through two NBA seasons by the time the final home ports for PC and PS1 were released, with that timeline leading to an interesting evolution in the rosters and team branding. Let’s take a look back…way back…

When discussing the timeline of NBA Jam TE for PC and PS1, we should start with the release dates. The funny thing about researching release dates for older games is that some of them are seemingly lost to time; or at least, no one has bothered to list that information in the usual sources. At most, they’ll list the year without the specific day. Giant Bomb helpfully lists the US release date for the PS1 version of NBA Jam TE as September 4th 1995, but I can’t find the date for the PC version. Checking the file dates on the CD-ROM reveals that it was finalised in October 1995, which lines up with GameFAQs’ listing of 1996 (and my vague memories of when I bought it).

A Timeline Establishing Trade in NBA Jam TE PC

What we can glean from this information is that the PC and PS1 versions of NBA Jam TE were being developed during the 1995 offseason, and more specifically, during the lockout. This explains why the rosters weren’t updated with the Class of 1995 rookies, or moves that occurred after June 27th, 1995. Furthermore, it does explain why the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, and Seattle Supersonics have their new logos that were set to debut in the 1996 season (notably, the Knicks logo wasn’t updated with the addition of “New York” above it). Meanwhile, in the arcade releases and the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis ports, you’ll see logos from 1994 and 1995 respectively.

Additionally, the Hawks, Rockets, and Sonics jerseys weren’t updated for the 1996 season, retaining their old colour schemes. To that point however, teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings retained their jersey colours from the 1994 season in all ports of NBA Jam TE that had been updated through 1995, so that’s not surprising. As such, if we try to pin down the timeline of NBA Jam TE for PC and PS1, it features remnants of the 1994 season with some jersey colours and portraits, recent 1995 trades including Clyde Drexler for Otis Thorpe and Tom Gugliotta for Donyell Marshall, and three new logos for 1996 alongside 1995 rosters and branding.

This means that NBA Jam TE for PC and PS1 technically represents multiple seasons, though it’s ostensibly set in 1995. I noted that the rosters are accurate as of June 27th 1995, and this can be proven after unlocking the expanded rosters by defeating every NBA team. When the expanded rosters are unlocked, you’ll find Hersey Hawkins in Seattle, and Kendall Gill in Charlotte. As you can see from the 1995 transactions listing on Basketball Reference, that trade was completed on June 27th. Meanwhile, two trades involving players featured in NBA Jam TE – namely Rex Chapman to Miami on the 28th and Spud Webb to Atlanta on the 29th – are not accounted for.

Ron Harper in NBA Jam TE

We can also see the impact of the Expansion Draft, which was held on June 24th, 1995. The SNES and Genesis versions of NBA Jam Tournament Edition feature B.J. Armstrong on the Chicago Bulls, and Gerald Wilkins on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Toronto Raptors selected Armstrong with the first pick in the Expansion Draft, and while his refusal to play for the new club led to him being traded to Golden State, it did result in his phantom stint appearing in NBA in the Zone. Given that NBA Jam TE for PC and PS1 were updated beyond June 24th, we can also safely assume that Armstrong being picked up by Toronto is the reason he was replaced by Ron Harper.

That decision also provides a great example of how those original NBA Jam games fudged ratings for balance. Ron Harper’s ratings in the PC and PS1 versions of TE have some notable differences to his ratings in the arcade version, where he was on the Clippers (Harp doesn’t appear at all in the 16-bit console versions). Indeed, a couple of them resemble Armstrong’s ratings, essentially allowing him to fill the same role on Chicago’s squad. Interestingly, his three-point rating of eight – which you might assume he inherited from Armstrong – matches his arcade version attribute. Of course, that still comes down to fudging ratings to balance every team’s abilities.

Gerald Wilkins, taken by the Vancouver Grizzlies with the 20th pick of the 1995 Expansion Draft, was also subsequently removed from the Cavaliers’ roster as their substitute. Hot Rod Williams, originally unlocked with expanded rosters, was moved up to be the third player alongside Mark Price and Brad Daugherty. This left the Cavs with only three players, making them an underwhelming team to use after unlocking the expanded rosters. Wilkins and Daugherty both actually missed the entire 1995 season due to injury, but were too prominent to replace; at least until Wilkins was no longer on the team. Daugherty was also still officially under contract through 1996.

Grant Hill and Bill Curley

Toronto’s selection of Oliver Miller with the 27th and final pick of the Expansion Draft should’ve likewise removed him from the Detroit Pistons’ roster in the PC and PS1 versions of NBA Jam TE. However, the two unlockable Pistons were rookies Grant Hill and Bill Curley, who appeared on the Rookies team until the tournament was beaten and it became an All-Stars squad. Veteran Hot Rod Williams could easily replace Gerald Wilkins in Cleveland, but without Miller, the Pistons would’ve had to feature either Hill or Curley prematurely. In hindsight, bringing back Lindsey Hunter from the arcade version would’ve been preferable, but that was possibly unfeasible.

After all, the PC and PS1 ports appear to have been developed using assets intended for the 16-bit versions. This is evident from Kevin Edwards mistakenly using Blue Edwards’ portrait, an error that could be found in the prototype for SNES. The PC and PS1 versions also reused Dennis Rodman’s original portrait with black hair, another remnant of the prototype. Oliver Miller had already been added for the home ports, rather hurriedly as he has identical ratings to teammate Terry Mills. With all that in mind, it was probably easier to just ignore that he’d been picked up by the Raptors, since he couldn’t be replaced as easily as B.J. Armstrong and Gerald Wilkins were.

It’s also interesting to look back and observe which players were available by default, and which ones were relegated to being unlockable in the expanded rosters. It made sense that the Class of 1994 rookies weren’t immediately playable on their original teams, owing to the inclusion of the Rookies squad. However, the other unlockable players are a mixture of key role players, regular starters, and multi-time All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. To that end, you could definitely argue that certain players should’ve been part of the default trio, or alternatively among the unlockables, based on their importance to the team, popularity, and how exciting they were to unlock.

Multiple Versions of NBA Jam TE Lead to an Interesting Timeline

Once again though, the choices were likely made due to balance. Chris Mullin was still one of the best players on the 1995 Warriors, but had he switched places with Rony Seikaly, they’d be left without a big man in their default trio. Terry Porter has better ratings than Rod Strickland – and certainly more accurate ones, too – but Strick was starting for Portland at that point. An aging Jeff Malone is an underwhelming player to unlock for the 76ers, but that makes him a poor candidate to replace Shawn Bradley, Dana Barros, or Clarence Weatherspoon. In the absence of Charles Barkley, Danny Manning was the best choice for the default frontcourt player on the Suns.

The lockout that delayed the true beginning of the offseason obviously stood in the way of potentially updating the game for the 1996 season, and the arcade release of NBA Hangtime was looming besides. Still, if not for that barrier, 1996 rosters would be viable. Dan Majerle and Hot Rod Williams can easily switch places. Dana Barros can replace Xavier McDaniel in Boston, while Spud Webb can be moved to Atlanta. Dennis Rodman and Robert Pack can be moved to the Bulls and Bullets respectively. Otis Thorpe would replace Oliver Miller in Detroit, and Terry Porter can join the Timberwolves. With Rex Chapman in Miami, Khalid Reeves could be removed.

That would leave all teams with at least three accurate players, and that’s not even getting into the addition of the Class of 1995. Just talking about it makes me even more wistful that we’ve never been able to mod NBA Jam TE for PC! It’s still a blast with its end-of-season, pre-Draft 1995 rosters, though. And of course, the outdated elements combined with the snapshot of that specific moment in time – from rosters to the impending logo changes – make it fascinating to dive into the timeline of NBA Jam TE for PC and PS1. Throw in some comparisons to the 16-bit console and arcade versions, and there’s even more fun trivia on top of the fantastic on-court action.

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