This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at the rather unusual string of appearances former NBA player Junior Harrington made in video games.
I love finding little quirks and oddities in old basketball video games that make for interesting trivia notes. Sometimes it’s serendipity, as I find them when I’m revisiting a game for another topic altogether, and that’s immensely satisfying. Other times, an idea will come to me and I’ll have to dust off various games to do some research, and that’s always fun as well. This is how I’ve come up with lists of players who have appeared in more video games than actual NBA games, players who only appear for certain teams in games, and other unusual occurrences on the virtual hardwood.
In that vein, how about a player who tended to appear more often in video games when he wasn’t actually in the league, but was still active? That player is Lorinza “Junior” Harrington, who had a brief NBA career from 2002 to 2007. His career in the virtual NBA was quite unusual, and to date, I don’t think there have been many other players – if any – who have found themselves in quite the same situation. Let’s take a look back…way back…
A point guard who played four years at Wingate, Junior Harrington went undrafted in 2002 but later latched on with the Denver Nuggets in July that year. He didn’t make the roster cut-off for NBA Live 2003, leaving Kenny Satterfield – another point guard with a very brief NBA career – starting for the Nuggets in the game. In real life, Junior Harrington played in all 82 games in his rookie season, started in 51 of them, and averaged 5.1 points, 3.4 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal per game. Although he was released by the Nuggets in October of 2003, he made the cut-off for NBA Live 2004, and thus made his video game debut a year after his entry into the real NBA.
Here’s where an unusual trend began. After being left out of the game released during his rookie year and subsequently being added to the following title, Junior Harrington didn’t play in the NBA in 2004. After spending a year in the Continental Basketball Association, he latched on with the New Orleans Hornets in September 2004; too late to be included in NBA Live 2005. He appeared in NBA Live 06 but once again it was too late, as he spent 2006 playing in Spain. Harrington had a stint with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2007 but, you guessed it, he wasn’t included in NBA Live 07. That was his last NBA season, but he is in NBA Live 08, albeit with some incorrect bio data.
Basically, Junior Harrington alternated appearances in the real NBA with appearances in NBA Live over the course of five years. When he did appear in NBA Live, it was as a free agent in every game but NBA Live 2004, where he was still with the Denver Nuggets. He’s not the only player with a very brief NBA career to either stick around longer in video games, or miss the cut one year only to be included in the next game despite being out of the league, but the alternating years of being in and out of the real league and NBA Live makes him rather unique. For a few years there, he was never in the roster when we needed him, and always there when we didn’t.
Of course, that’s just NBA Live. What about his appearances in NBA 2K? Well, as it turns out, his history in Visual Concepts’ series is similar to his appearances in EA Sports’ releases. While Junior Harrington didn’t appear in NBA 2K3 – for the same reason he isn’t in NBA Live 2003 – he can be found on the Nuggets’ roster in ESPN NBA Basketball, the same as in NBA Live 2004. The difference is that he appears in NBA 2K5, NBA 2K6, NBA 2K7, and NBA 2K8. He was a free agent in the default rosters of all of those games, but it did mean that he was available in NBA 2K when he signed with the Hornets and Grizzlies in the 2005 and 2007 seasons respectively.
Let’s recap: despite only playing three seasons in the NBA in a professional career spanning 2002-2014, Junior Harrington appeared in five seasons’ worth of video games. He never appeared in NBA Live while active in the league, alternating his appearances in NBA Live with years he was playing in the NBA. The only time that he appeared on an actual team’s roster and not the Free Agents in NBA Live or NBA 2K was in NBA Live 2004 and ESPN NBA Basketball, but he was cut before the season began and didn’t play in the NBA at all that year. Like I said, it’s one of the most unusual situations you’ll see with a player’s appearances in video games.
Of course, this oddity is facilitated by Junior Harrington’s career path, and the timing of his signings, releases, and the cut-off dates for NBA Live and NBA 2K. The 2003 Nuggets were a woeful team, tanking for a stacked Draft class and ultimately getting Carmelo Anthony for their “efforts”. In any other year, he likely wouldn’t be starting 51 games, and his release prior to the following season wouldn’t seem as noteworthy. The fact that he alternated playing in the NBA and elsewhere over five years is also unusual. A lot of similar journeymen had brief stints that kept them in games, or as I mentioned, ended up included in the next title before being cut, never to return.
With all due respect to Junior Harrington – who after all did accomplish the goal of playing professional basketball and making it to the NBA – it is probably the most noteworthy aspect of his career. In 140 NBA games (with 66 starts), he averaged 5.2 points, 3.1 assists, 2.7 rebounds, and just under a steal per game; in other words, basically what he put up in his rookie year with the Nuggets and fairly close to his other two seasons as well. On the virtual hardwood however, no doubt franchise modes allowed him to become a star, or at least a very solid role player for many years, for quite a few basketball gamers who added him to their team’s roster.
I’ve previously reminisced about players that I remember because of video games, and Junior Harrington would be another name I’d add to that list. It’s probably in large part because I ended up always having to create him for the NLSC roster updates, seeing as how he was never available when I needed him. He’s also another player I don’t recall seeing in a full game that I sat down and watched, though you can find one clip of him playing for the Hornets on YouTube. There’s also a short snippet from a press conference, but that’s about it. Despite seeing some respectable minutes during his brief NBA stints, not much of his career is out there for basketball fans to look up.
It just goes to show how video games really do capture snapshots of the NBA. If not for games, we may not remember a player like Junior Harrington so readily. There are quite a few highlight mixes of journeymen and role players on YouTube, but he’s not among them. The all-time greats obviously retain their fame even long after their careers are done, but they make up a small percentage of the players who have played in the NBA. Though they go down in the history books too, journeymen are mostly only remembered by the most hardcore of hardcore fans. Thanks to video games however, we can fire up an old title and see them there alongside all of the stars.
I also enjoy the story behind trivia like this. Sure, Michael Jordan’s absence from most video games in the 90s is a bigger story as he’s a far more important player, but the tale is also rather straightforward: he retained the rights to his likeness, companies couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the fee, and so he was absent or replaced by a Roster Player. It’s a significant chapter in basketball gaming history and a situation that was unique to the era, but it’s not as quirky as this situation with Junior Harrington. Thanks to an unorthodox three year stint in the league, he also had an unusual career on the virtual hardwood, in the process weaving a tale about our hobby that’s worth remembering.