Wayback Wednesday: Timberwolves Franchise in NBA Live 2003

Wayback Wednesday: Timberwolves Franchise in NBA Live 2003

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 my Franchise game with the Minnesota Timberwolves in NBA Live 2003.

I’ve had a number of memorable franchise and career mode games over the years. My Dynasty games with the Chicago Bulls in NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 06 are among my all-time favourite basketball gaming experiences. Likewise, I had a blast with MyCAREER in NBA 2K13, NBA 2K17, and NBA 2K19, and I’m still playing through the mode in NBA 2K14 for PlayStation 4. At the same time, I’ve had some games where I haven’t achieved completion or closure, such as my 1998 season in NBA Live 96 PC, and my Sacramento Kings Franchise in NBA Live 2002.

My Franchise with the Minnesota Timberwolves in NBA Live 2003 PC is another example of a “failed” game. Of course, labelling such games as “failures” probably isn’t the right way of looking at things. I’d actually like to delve into that topic in more depth sometime, but my Timberwolves Franchise does stand as an example of how completion is what we make it. Or, to put it another way, as long as it was fun while it lasted, it’s ultimately neither a failure nor wasted time. That Franchise was certainly memorable for me even if it wasn’t successful, so let’s take a look back…way back…

As I’ve recalled in a previous feature, it wasn’t exactly fun being a Chicago Bulls fan in the wake of the championship years. Sure, I had some very fond memories, but at the same time, the stark difference between their dynasty and the new rebuilding era stung like a fresh wound when the former had only been a few years ago. Beyond the pain of seeing them struggle in real life, they weren’t a whole lot of fun to play with in video games, either. Things started turning around for the Baby Bulls during the mid 2000s, but until then, I found myself searching for other teams to play with. In NBA Live 2003, the Minnesota Timberwolves felt like a great choice for a Franchise game.

Terrell Brandon in NBA Live 2003

After all, they’d established themselves as a mainstay in the Playoffs after they’d spent their first seven seasons in the NBA basement. Kevin Garnett was the driving force behind their rise in the standings, and KG – or The Kid, or The Big Ticket – was as awesome on the virtual hardwood as he was in real life. He was an all-around talent, and thus one of the highest-rated players in games. His skillset allowed him to be even more versatile on the virtual hardwood, as a former Forum member once tried to tell us. If you had KG on your team, you’d be racking up double-doubles, swatting shots, dunking all over defenders, and generally dominating on your way to several wins.

While KG was unquestionably the centrepiece of those Timberwolves, the 2003 squad had some other players that made them an appealing choice for a Franchise game. Joe Smith had returned the previous season, following his one-year banishment to Detroit when the league discovered the under-the-table deals Minnesota had made with him. The Timberwolves also had Wally Szczerbiak, then a rising star. Veteran guards Rod Strickland, Anthony Peeler, and Kendall Gill were also part of the rotation, and while Terrell Brandon’s career was basically over in real life, he was still on their roster. The frontcourt was shored up by Marc Jackson, Rasho Nesterovic, and Gary Trent (Sr.).

This combination of talent and recognisable names made them a great “video game team”, i.e. a fun and interesting team to use irrespective of their real life success, and potentially much better on paper and the virtual hardwood. To that point though, they are one of the more successful video game teams. In real life, that squad went 51-31, and took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games in a first round loss; a respectable effort for a team that finished top four in the West for the first time, and faced the defending champions. They could’ve made more noise had they not run into Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and company so soon…or indeed, in an NBA Live 2003 Franchise.

Kevin Garnett Was The Ultimate Franchise Player for the Timberwolves in NBA Live 2003

Sadly, I didn’t make it to the postseason, but I’ll get to that. I played enough games with Minnesota to realise that on the virtual hardwood at least, they were capable of being better than the sum of their parts. KG and Wally World could be a great inside-outside duo, and were versatile enough for big and small lineups alike. I’ve always enjoyed having familiar veterans on my Franchise teams, and with Strickland, Peeler, and Gill, I had a solid mix of playmaking, shooting, and defense. The arrival of Jay Williams in Chicago had me considering using the Bulls and overachieving with them, but top to bottom, the Timberwolves were a considerably better option.

And of course, having a few more players with higher Overall Ratings opened up the possibility of making some major moves, if I decided that I didn’t like the team as-is. Although it was something I kept in mind when choosing the Timberwolves for that NBA Live 2003 Franchise, I actually opted to keep the roster intact, much as I had when I controlled the Kings in NBA Live 2002. Instead, I kept things fresh by trying out different lineups, especially after I dropped a game here and there. Perhaps a few trades would’ve kept things interesting longer, but I did enjoy having Rod Strickland, Troy Hudson, and Terrell Brandon “compete” for the role of starting point guard.

Speaking of that point guard rotation, beginning a Franchise with the Timberwolves is the main reason that I remember the name Igor Rakocevic! As I recall, after a rather impressive outing one game, I gave him the starting nod in the next one. I always enjoyed doing that in my Franchise games. It never felt right to have the same starting five for all 82 games – even if there were no injuries – and a player getting the chance to impress and earn more minutes, and the even the occasional start, was a fun bit of realism to inject into the experience. It’s the same reason Eric Piatkowski got a start in my NBA Live 06 Bulls Dynasty, following a clutch performance in the fourth quarter.

Igor Rakocevic, Remembered Thanks to a Timberwolves Franchise in NBA Live 2003

Everything was going well for about half a season. Unfortunately the save file is long gone and I didn’t keep any other records from that Franchise game, but I’m quite sure that I played around forty games, all on twelve minute quarters. KG was fun, messing around with the starting five kept me invested, and while we weren’t undefeated, we were near the top of the standings. The All-Star Game was on the horizon, which has always proved to be an enjoyable palate cleanser during the course of the season in franchise and career modes. Unfortunately, progress came to an abrupt halt, not long after which I appear to have discarded the save file for that Timberwolves Franchise.

I’m not sure what possessed me to do that – it’s quite possible that it was an accident, perhaps lost during a transfer to a new desktop – but I do know why I stopped playing NBA Live 2003. As I’ve said in other articles, I’ve always had mixed opinions about the game. There was a time when I listed it as my favourite in an old “getting to know you” survey in the Forum, though mostly because it seemed like the right thing to do; yes, I was once too a victim of recency bias! I’ve gone back and forth with my view of NBA Live 2003 over the years, and these days, I appreciate it for what it was. Back in 2003 though, I’d grown weary of its arcade leanings, desiring a more realistic game.

While modes are important, it’s impossible to stay hooked on them if the gameplay isn’t to your liking. Once I began to sour on NBA Live 2003’s gameplay, I didn’t feel like continuing the journey in my Timberwolves Franchise. As with other save files that I’ve lost over the years, I wish I’d had the foresight to hang onto it regardless; it would be fun to dust off now! Obviously there’s nothing stopping me from getting into a Franchise in NBA Live 2003 and using the Timberwolves again – as I said, they are an intriguing squad with great potential on the virtual hardwood – but it wouldn’t be the same as picking up where I left off, having played at least half of the season.

Kevin Garnett Dunks in NBA Live 2003

To give you an idea of how much I was into that Timberwolves Franchise before I put it aside however, I even went to the trouble of manipulating lineups for other teams, which involved DBF editing. More specifically, I had Michael Jordan come off the bench for the Washington Wizards for the first 15 games of the season, and then brought him into the starting lineup. Playing between a third and half of the season, experimenting with lineups, modding the save file to replicate real scenarios from the current season…you don’t do that if you’re not hooked! It’s just a shame that I stopped enjoying the gameplay for what it was, though I don’t disagree with my objections.

I brought up the concept of “failed” Season, Franchise, Dynasty, and other games, and noted that I didn’t think it was the right perspective. No, I didn’t make it all the way through to the Playoffs and ultimately a virtual championship, and that’s unfortunate as I certainly began the game with those intentions. It doesn’t mean that I wasted my time back then, though. Sure, NBA Live 2003 stopped being fun, but to that point, I was having fun until my grievances with the gameplay outweighed what I enjoyed about it. On one hand, it goes down in my basketball gaming history as unfinished business, but on the other hand, I got what I needed out of the experience at the time.

I’ve thrown out a number of roster mod ideas in recent years, with vague promises that I’ll give some of them a try if I can find the time and motivation. One idea I’ve had is to create a roster with all of my Season, Franchise, Dynasty, and MyCAREER teams, so that I can play with and against them in the game of my choice. It remains to be seen whether I’ll ever tackle such a project, but if I do, there’s no doubt that the 2003 Timberwolves will be among the teams that I include. Looking back, there’s no mystery as to why I chose them, or how they held my interest even as I was souring on NBA Live 2003. It wasn’t a “successful” Franchise, but it was no “failure”, either.

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