Wayback Wednesday: Tip-Off Rosters in NBA Live 95 SNES

Wayback Wednesday: Tip-Off Rosters in NBA Live 95 SNES

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 attempting to roll back the rosters in the SNES version of NBA Live 95 so that they’re accurate as of Opening Night 1993.

Last year, I tried my hand at updating the rosters in the Super Nintendo version of NBA Live 95 so that they were accurate as of the 1995 season. As you may be aware, the console versions of NBA Live 95 featured final 1994 season rosters, whereas the PC version was updated for the current year. Updating the rosters in NBA Live 95 for SNES is a cumbersome task. There are no external ROM hacking tools, rosters can only be customised in Season mode, and only starters can be traded. Ultimately, I was able to update 17 of the 27 teams with a 1995 season starting lineup.

Honestly, that was more success than I was expecting! Mind you, there were plenty of inaccuracies on the bench, with players that I was unable to trade. Reflecting on that experiment, I wondered how much accuracy I could achieve in the rosters – both the starting lineups and the benches – if I went the other way, rolling back the lineups in NBA Live 95 SNES to the beginning of the 1994 season. I don’t need much of an excuse to revisit any version of NBA Live 95, so let’s take a look back…way back…

As stated, the challenge in an experiment like this comes from the lack of in-depth roster customisation in NBA Live 95 SNES. Custom rosters are only feasible in Season mode, only players in the starting lineup can be traded, and I can only make trades involving the team I’m controlling. Since all trades must go through my team, the one I choose must need to swap at least one player, and that deal must come after I’ve exhausted every other trade possibility. Inaccuracies with jersey numbers are also inevitable, but this experiment is just about undoing player movement. With the 1994 NBA Transactions listings from Basketball Reference to help, let’s give this a shot!

Returning Derek Harper to the Mavericks

Checking the rosters in NBA Live 95 SNES against the 1994 transactions listing, there’s no need to worry about reversing any player movement after April 15th. I decided to take control of the Atlanta Hawks, as they made a very significant trade during that year, sending Dominique Wilkins to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danny Manning. Reversing that infamous trade would have to wait, as there were some other deals I needed to roll back first. I began with the trade that sent Jeff Hornacek from Philadelphia to Utah for Jeff Malone. Sean Green – also traded to the Jazz in the deal – was released in March, and thus he doesn’t appear in NBA Live 95 for the SNES.

The other trade deadline deal in 1994 was the Wilkins for Manning trade, which we need to skip over for now. Glancing back through the transactions listing, I realised how difficult accurately undoing player movement would be! A majority of the trades that occurred during the 1994 season involved bench players, or at least players who were now on the bench in NBA Live 95’s rosters. Examples include the swap of Luc Longley and Stacey King between the Timberwolves and Bulls, and the Bucks trading Frank Brickowski to the Hornets for Mike Gminski. Likewise, Olden Polynice and Pete Chilcutt are on the bench for the Kings and Pistons, leaving their trade undoable.

Switching Anthony Avent and Anthony Cook was likewise a no go. Moving on, it’s not until January 6th that there was a trade involving a starter: Derek Harper. The Knicks acquired Harper midseason, after attempts to trade for Isiah Thomas fell through (yes, really!). Dallas dealt Harper to New York for Tony Campbell, who – you guessed it – is on the Mavericks’ bench in NBA Live 95. Nevertheless, I moved Harper back to Dallas, swapping him for Fat Lever. Just two trades in, and I already had an inaccuracy! Just looking at the transactions listing again, I knew it wouldn’t be the last, and that opportunities to roll back the rosters were already getting slim.

Dominique Wilkins Back in Atlanta

Sending Johnny Newman back to Charlotte was impossible, and Rumeal Robinson isn’t in the game to complete a reversal of the trade besides. The same goes for Alvin Robertson, who missed the entire 1994 season due to injury and thus isn’t on Denver’s roster. It likely wouldn’t help even if he was, as Marcus Liberty and Mark Macon are on the Pistons’ bench, and a 2-for-1 swap wouldn’t be feasible without an inaccuracy anyway. Phoenix’s trade of bench player Negele Knight to San Antonio for a second round pick can’t be undone. That brings us right back to opening night, with the only other move I could make being the trade of Manning back to the Clippers for Nique.

In short, I was only able to accurately reverse two trades, and move one other player back to where they were on Opening Night 1993. Due to an inability to trade any of the reserves, or release anyone into a Free Agents Pool, there are more than 25 players whose trades or signings can’t be undone. On the other hand, only Dallas, Golden State, and New York were left with lineups they never fielded during the 1994 season, compared to only 17 accurate starting fives when I attempted to update the rosters for 1995. Additionally, the Warriors field an inaccurate starting five by default, as the developers sensibly elected to have Tim Hardaway active despite missing the season.

Since I’d gone to the effort of undoing a couple of trades involving starters, I wanted to see what kind of results it produced in simulation. As it turns out, the sim engine had an absolutely wild take on undoing the Wilkins for Manning trade. The Hawks went 82-0, while the Clippers went 0-82; a highly unlikely result to say the least! Meanwhile, losing Harper completely tanked the Knicks’ season, as they went 31-51 and missed the Playoffs. After that, I ran a test with the default rosters, just to ensure that I hadn’t forgotten about a common sim engine bug. This produced a more realistic result of 55-27 for Atlanta, while New York went 61-21 with their real lineup intact.

Isiah Thomas on the Knicks in NBA Live 95 SNES

Figuring that I should try some “What If” scenarios, I fired up Season mode again and took control of the Orlando Magic. I traded Isiah Thomas to the Knicks, and returned Derek Harper to the Mavericks. The Pistons got Fat Lever, which has no connection to any real life lineups or rumours, but it balanced things out here. I also swapped Sean Elliott and Robert Horry; a cancelled trade that I’ve covered before, as it was included in the fourth revision of the arcade version of NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Finally, I sent Anfernee Hardaway back to the Warriors, so that I could pair up Chris Webber with Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando as the Twin Towers That Almost Were.

Interestingly, both the Magic and Warriors fared about the same as they do when simulating with the default rosters, going 55-27 and 53-29 respectively (both went 50-32 in the actual 1994 season). The Knicks were much better with Thomas, going 68-14 compared to 57-25 in reality, while the Rockets improved slightly on their actual 58-24 record, going 61-21 with Elliott instead of Horry. Detroit bottomed out, going a dismal 4-78 with Horry and Lever instead of Elliott and Thomas. Unfortunately, there’s no facility to simulate Playoff games in NBA Live 95 SNES, so it can’t predict any champions. My money would be on the Rockets, Knicks, or the 66-16 Bulls.

I was tempted to go deeper down the rabbit hole and see what else I could create in the rosters of NBA Live 95 SNES, from retro teams and all-time lineups to future “What Ifs”, such as the nixed Shawn Kemp for Scottie Pippen trade. As I dabbled, I tried combining these ideas with trades that happened in 1995 and beyond. It turns out that it’s feasible to cobble together some starting fives from the 1996, 1997, and 1998 seasons, or some odd combination thereof. Every idea hit a wall however, owing to players I’d need to remove, and bench players that I couldn’t move around. You can set up some wild scenarios for a Season, but it’ll likely be a mishmash of concepts.

Atlanta Hawks Go 82-0 in NBA Live 95 SNES

There’s something tantalising about trying to get those ideas to work in NBA Live 95 SNES. Even though I’m aware of the limitations, I enjoy the challenge of making something new with the content and customisation features that are available. At the end of the day, it’s just another form of minimalist modding, and there’s always appeal in that. Not only is there creative satisfaction in making an idea work with the limited resources at your disposal, but if it does all come together, you’ve got a fun new way to play a game! NBA Live 95 SNES isn’t a regular in my rotation anymore, but if I could create a Season with custom rosters I’m satisfied with, I’d play it more often.

Unfortunately, the lack of lineup reordering and being limited to trading starters make it virtually impossible to completely overhaul the entire league with fantasy rosters. As I’ve demonstrated, even a more straightforward idea such as updating the rosters for the 1995 season, or rolling them back to the beginning of the 1994 campaign, can only be done in a limited way, and with some inevitable inaccuracies to boot. It’s still fun to try, and there’s novelty in playing or simulating with the new lineups. Seeing the Hawks go 82-0 and the Clippers go 0-82 after undoing the Wilkins/Manning trade was worth it alone. Of course, it’s not realistic, and quite insulting to Danny Manning!

It was also interesting to discover that even without the Class of 1994 rookies, it’s easier to update NBA Live 95 SNES for 1995 than it is to go from final 1994 season rosters back to Opening Night 1993 lineups! It speaks to how there was some major movement involving prominent players in the 1994 offseason, whereas most of the preceding midseason deals involved bench players (or players who were coming off the bench by the end of the year). Even though the idea “failed”, I’m not disappointed. I’ll take any opportunity to see those menus, hear that familiar soundtrack, and fully dive into one of the titles that helped cultivate my passion for basketball gaming.

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March 26, 2023 6:26 am

Soooo them Hawks had a good season then haha

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