Wayback Wednesday: The Yinka Dare Portrait Mystery

Wayback Wednesday: The Yinka Dare Portrait Mystery

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 investigating a mystery that surrounds the portrait used for Yinka Dare in NBA Live 96 PC.

Just when I think I’m done talking about portraits in NBA Live 96 PC for Wayback Wednesday, another topic comes to mind! It helps that I’ve connected with Dee to play the game over Parsec on a number of occasions, and even felt compelled to whip up a couple of minimalist roster mods for it to celebrate March Modness earlier this year. NBA Live 96 PC is one of my all-time favourite games, so between all of those hours playing it when it was new, and revisiting it in the years since, I feel as though I know the game inside and out.

Of course, I thought the same thing about NBA Jam Tournament Edition PC and NBA Hangtime for the Nintendo 64, yet I discovered oddities and had them pointed out to me over two decades later! A vague memory of a court bug in NBA Live 96 PC also prompted me to investigate further, and confirm that it wasn’t my imagination or a modding error. Since I’ve been playing NBA Live 96 PC and messing around in its rosters in recent months, I was reminded of another mystery, this time involving the portrait that was used for Yinka Dare. Let’s take a look back…way back…

First of all, a little back story on the player himself. Yinka Dare is an infamous figure for 90s basketball fans and gamers. He’s widely regarded as one of the worst players in NBA history, with career averages of 2.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 0.1 spg, and 0.0 – yes, you read that correctly – apg. Indeed, one of his most talked about “feats” was achieving the record for the most games played in a season without tallying a single assist. He finally registered his first NBA assist in his third year, in his 78th career game. It certainly didn’t help that his rookie season had been a wash, as he played just three minutes in one game, grabbing a defensive rebound and committing two fouls.

Yinka Dare Ratings in NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Not surprisingly, Yinka Dare was one of the lowest-rated players in basketball video games. He had decent ratings in the Super Nintendo version of NBA Jam Tournament Edition, but following his disastrous rookie season, he was nerfed to a rather insulting degree in the PC release. Mind you, it didn’t stand in the way of dominating with him on the virtual hardwood! The sim games also obviously reflected his status as a bust. Yinka sadly passed away in 2004 at the age of 31, and from all accounts was a kind and good-natured man, so I don’t want to be mean-spirited here. He did have a solid college career too, setting blocked shots records at George Washington University.

That led to him being selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 14th pick of the 1994 Draft. Benoit Benjamin was the man in the middle for the Nets, and while he was a solid big man, his career had undoubtedly peaked. The Class of 1994 wasn’t loaded with star big men, and the most promising frontcourt prospects were already off the board when it came time for New Jersey to make their selection. Given his success at the collegiate level, Yinka Dare was an understandable roll of the dice for the Nets. If not for the ACL injury that ended his rookie season in his NBA debut, who knows if he could’ve at least developed into a solid defensive presence coming off the bench.

Being ruled out for the remainder of the 1995 season meant that Yinka Dare wasn’t included on the Nets’ 12-man roster in NBA Live 95 PC. The developers had elected to include Brad Daugherty and Gerald Wilkins on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster despite being sidelined – and in Daugherty’s case, soon to be retired – but there was obviously more interest in playing with those veterans than the Nets’ raw rookie. NBA Live 96 PC expanded to 14-man rosters; still one short of the actual maximum roster size at the time, but enough to allow for two inactive slots and more complete lineups. Yinka Dare, healed and ready to turn to action, had now been added to the game.

Yinka Dare Player Card in NBA Live 96

As I noted when I looked back at the portraits in NBA Live 95 and 96 PC, they’re an interesting mixture as far as when they’re from. A majority of the portraits in NBA Live 95 PC were from Media Day in 1993 – hence why players such as Horace Grant are sporting outdated uniforms – and these carried over into NBA Live 96 PC. The Class of 1994 and 1995 players in NBA Live 96 obviously have newer portraits, as do newly-added veterans that weren’t in NBA Live 95. That brings us to Yinka Dare’s portrait, as pictured above. At first glance, there isn’t anything amiss – that is indeed his face – but look at the jersey that he’s wearing. That isn’t the Nets’ uniform!

In fact, it appears to be a Washington Bullets jersey, which naturally raises a few questions. Again, there are other players wearing “incorrect” jerseys in the portraits that were used in NBA Live 95 and 96 PC, but that’s because they’re outdated. They still wore those jerseys at some point, if only for Media Day before ultimately being released (as with Ashraf Amaya and his portrait in a Houston Rockets jersey). Yinka Dare never played for the Washington Bullets, nor was he ever on their roster. As noted above, he was drafted by the Nets in 1994, debuted with them in November, and played all 110 of his career games for New Jersey before departing the NBA.

This oddity is something I noticed all those years ago. I was particularly aware of it when I began making roster mods for NBA Live 96, as I always tried to overwrite players whose jerseys matched the new player’s team whenever possible. This came up again when I began working on the All-Time Teams roster this year, as the portrait made Yinka a more viable candidate to be overwritten with a Bullets/Wizards Legend rather than an all-time great Nets player. It got me wondering why I’d never really looked into it over the years, especially once comprehensive resources sprang up, not to mention Google Image Search. To that end, it was time to do some research!

Comparing Yinka Dare & Mitchell Butler in NBA Live 96

An interesting discovery while browsing the NBA Live 96 portrait files to import Dee’s updates suggested a possible explanation. However, I wanted to rule out the possibility that in lieu of an NBA Media Day portrait, the developers had to use a photo from Yinka’s time at George Washington University. A quick Google search confirmed that the school’s colours don’t match the Bullets’ branding of the 90s, nor did they back then either, as evidenced by a photo of Yinka in his college days. It would’ve been a somewhat underwhelming solution to the mystery, and with that explanation debunked, we can return to the one NBA Live 96’s portrait files suggest.

The shoulders of Mitchell Butler’s portrait are almost identical to those on Yinka’s headshot, right down to the Bullets jersey that Butler was definitely supposed to be wearing. It’s something that I’d never noticed before, probably because I never really saw the two portraits in close proximity to each other. Dare and Butler were never on the same team – in college or the NBA – nor were they ever traded for one another. However, in the work-in-progress All-Time Teams roster, they were now both on Washington, and being replaced by team legends. While importing Dee’s portrait updates, I happened to see the originals back-to-back, revealing their similarities.

I exported both portrait textures so that I could easily flip back and forth between them. The result reminded me of the portraits in the Super Nintendo version of NBA Live 95, wherein the player faces are placed on a set of common shoulders that match the skin tone. On teams where a couple of the starters have the same skin tone and use the same shoulder model, if they’re next to each other in the lineup, you can produce a comical effect by going back and forth to switch their faces. I was able to achieve the same effect flipping between the portraits for Yinka Dare and Mitchell Butler. As the saying goes, seeing is believing, so here’s a GIF replicating the results of that exercise.

Yinka Dare & Mitchell Butler Portrait Swap

Furthermore, a closer look at Yinka’s portrait reveals that it appears very “pasted on”, overlapping the right shoulder of the jersey and leaving remnants of Butler’s neck and upper chest. The skin tone has been altered slightly to match Yinka’s headshot, and there’s a transparent spot on the white part of the trim. It may not be as obvious as Kevin Edwards using Blue Edwards’ portrait in NBA Jam Tournament Edition – since it is actually Yinka’s face – but once you’ve seen it, it’s impossible to miss. It really does appear that the Yinka Dare portrait in NBA Live 96 PC was created by pasting his face onto Mitchell Butler’s headshot, erroneously leaving the Bullets jersey.

Assuming this is the explanation for Yinka Dare sporting a Washington Bullets jersey in his NBA Live 96 PC portrait – and all evidence seems to point to it being the case – we’re still left with the question of “why?” Considering the game is recycling portraits that are at least two seasons old, and that a handful of players are missing portraits, it’s possible that they didn’t have a suitable headshot on hand. Butler’s shoulders might’ve seemed like the best fit for the headshot of Yinka that they did have at their disposal, and they simply forgot (or didn’t have time) to swap the jersey for a Nets uniform. In lieu of an official answer from the devs, that seems to be the most likely explanation.

Out of interest, I fired up the PlayStation version of NBA Live 96, since it was a later release that added some missing players and portraits. However, he’s using the same portrait in that version, too. Meanwhile, NBA Live 97 uses the same headshot, but his jersey has been corrected, further suggesting that it was a matter of oversight or a lack of time with NBA Live 96. Considering that NBA Jam TE did use a real portrait, it seems strange that EA didn’t have it on hand. Whatever the case, it seems that a quick or unfinished Photoshop job using Mitchell Butler’s headshot as a base is the likeliest explanation for Yinka’s mysterious and erroneous Washington Bullets portrait.

Yinka Dare Portrait in NBA Live 97

I’d still be interested in an official explanation, but for the moment, it seems that the mystery has been solved; at least as far as the origins of the Bullets jersey. Although details like this are ultimately inconsequential – again, Yinka Dare wasn’t a prominent player, and it’s just a cosmetic error in his portrait – they’re nevertheless fascinating. It’s funny how we can overlook these details, or just come to accept them, without ever looking into how they came to be. If not for being given some old trading cards many years ago, I might not have ever made the connection with all of the outdated portraits in NBA Live 95 and 96 PC, and delved into where they originated from.

I’m not sure if I’ll discover any more interesting details in NBA Live 96 PC – errors or otherwise – but I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled in future sessions. Once again, this is a fun part of going back to old games many years later. Not only do I get to create some new memories on the virtual hardwood, but I’ll notice oddities and the like, and then go down a rabbit hole while researching them. It isn’t always easy to get answers, and I’m sometimes left to speculate as to what happened and why. I’m quite confident in my assertions this time around though, as the serendipitous viewing of Yinka Dare and Mitchell Butler’s portraits back-to-back does reveal several obvious similarities.

As for the late Yinka Dare himself, he does have an unfortunate legacy in real and virtual basketball alike. Like I said, it’s not my intention to be mean-spirited towards someone who passed away tragically young. Simply making it to the NBA is a big accomplishment, and who’s to say that he couldn’t have become a solid role player if not for his knee injury. Still, even players with dubious distinctions have a way of sticking in our minds, often because of licensed products such as trading cards and video games. They’ve certainly helped me to remember Yinka, and an oddity in his NBA Live 96 portrait that after all these years, I’m seemingly finally able to explain.

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