Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I spent a long time on my column this week. I reminisced about my favorite basketball video games. If I missed any, please let me know. Enjoy!

Larry Bird vs. Dr. J (Atari and the Computer)

There was something special about pretending to be Larry Bird and draining 3s. But the highlight of this game was breaking the backboard with a Dr. J dunk. I think Bird could do it as well, but let’s get serious. The graphics were terrible and the game got pretty monotonous after a few times, but it still had Larry Bird and Dr. J: a classic 80’s item.

There was also a sequel: Jordan vs. Bird where you could compete in the dunk contest (w Jordan) and the 3 pt contest (w Bird.)

**This game reminded me of 80’s show that I used to love. Back in the day, I swore by them, but when I watch them today, I shake my head and cringe. Is this really the same show? see: Different Strokes, Mr. Belvedere, Three’s Company, Voyage of the Mimi.**

1985 NCAA Basketball (Computer: Apple 2e)

Not many people have played this game, let alone heard of it. My brother had a handful of games on his Apple 2C+ computer (Choplifter, Zorc, Strip Poker, and 1985 NCAA Basketball.) I used to sneak in and play strip poker—if you won enough hands, (it took about 3 hours) the game would unveil a blurry black and white image of a naked woman. That got old quick so I moved on to 1985 NCAA basketball.

There were no graphics—only statistics. It had every stat of every player at every college for the 1985-86 season. Because of this game, I now know useless information like: what college did Joe Dumars, Dan Majerle, and Bill Wennington go to? (McNeese St, Central Michigan, and St. Johns.)
You would select 1 of 6 defenses (2-3 zone, match-up zone, man 2 man, 1-3-1 press, etc.) On offense, you would have a choice of pass or shoot. The computer would calculate the odds of hitting that shot: “you have a 36% chance of scoring, pass or shoot?”

You could substitute guys in and out based on foul trouble, stamina, and matchups. Once again, there were no graphics; only text. It was completely strategic. The highlights of the game were some of the quotes from the computer. If you missed a shot badly it was known as a “Greg Kite brick.” And if you got a dunk, the computer would boldly write: “A fucking monster dunk.”

I particularly enjoyed simulating games between Villanova (Ed Pinckney was a monster) and Georgetown—a game I’m sure the Hoyas would like to replay.

This game was basically the bridge between strat-o-matic and video games. It deserves to be honored. If anyone has access to 1985 NCAA basketball, please let me know.

Double Dribble (Nintendo)

Who could forget the first game to really capture the dunk? If you got close enough to the basket, the game would cut away to a tight shot of your player dunking: windmills, double pump, statue of liberty. Very cool.

It’s definitely got one of the strangest titles for a basketball game; double dribble—why would you name a game after a violation? That would be like calling a football game, False Start (still better than 10 Yard Fight), or a baseball game, E-5. But when the game was loaded and the computer announced “Double Dribble”, we all got a little excited.

Another great part of the game was the secret spots on the court. If you bombed a 3 at the right point, it would almost always go in. And the crowd would go crazy.

Best memory: Summer camp, circa 1992. A bunkmate, XAM, somehow snuck in a TV and Nintendo into the cabin. We set up an intricate tournament with a bracket and our whole bunk participated; even stuttering BIF played. I think I was ranked #5. Games took place on the top bunk where XAM resided for the summer. People talked trash, and crowds would hover by the top bunk to get a glimpse of the game. It was very intense.

All was good until stuttering BIF jumped onto the bed to get a better look; the impact caused XAM's TV to bounce off of the edge of the mattress. I still remember XAM screaming as his TV dramatically crashed to the floor and shattered. We were heart-broken. Guess that’s why you don’t bring TV’s to camp.

Arch Rivals (Nintendo)

Another classic from the Nintendo Entertainment System. This was a regular basketball game except for one little twist: you could beat the shit out of each other. Players threw jabs, uppercuts and haymakers to try to steal the ball. It was kind’ve like the Bill Laimbeer Pistons versus Miami and New York of the 90’s. Characters included Blade, Hammer, Lewis, Mohawk, Moose, Reggie, Tyrone, and Vinnie. My favorite was Lewis because he wore goggles, had a nice jumper, and threw a nasty right jab.

NBA Live 95 (Sega Genesis)

I’m not going to go too in depth with this one. It was a pretty good game; I liked that you could see your player's stats at halftime and at the end of the game. Also, certain players had special moves—Tom Chambers had a sick 360 dunk. I liked the 95 version on Sega. I recalled having battles at EG’s house growing up. (EG had the best basement of all time: Sega and Nintendo, Pop-a-shot, a mini-hoop, and a ping-pong table. Wow! Nobody liked the kid, but we all befriended him because of his basement. Just kidding, EG.)

NBA Live has improved each year and is now considered top-of-the-line along with the NBA 2k series. But my problem with today’s version is that there’s just too many buttons, and it’s too damn complicated. (It’s like the current Madden vs. Tecmo Bowl; I’ll take Tecmo Bowl any day of the week!) So the whole time I’m trying to enjoy the game, I just end up asking questions and complaining. Triangle jumps? Nooo…it’s the trigger button. So what does triangle do? Triangle…jukes. Three more questions later, and I’m down 24-0. Good times. I’m just too old for the updated version, but NBA LIVE 95 is still one of my favorites.

NBA Jam (Arcade Version)

This is my favorite basketball game of all time. This was the first game that combined NBA basketball and fantasy. It took all of the best highlights and multiplied them by a million: the fancy passes, the crazy dunks. Players could do flips in the air, make full length behind-the-back passes, break the backboard, and if you scored 3 consecutive baskets, actually catch on fire! NBA Jam also featured one of the few announcers that wasn’t annoying. “Boomshakalaka!” and “He’s on fire!” became popular catch phrases…well, until Stuart Scott over-used and killed them. You could pick real NBA players that actually had their likeness. Stats were revealed every quarter and at the end of the game you smiled when you accomplished the elusive quadruple double.

Personal memories: I remember going to the arcade and playing this game non-stop. Whether it was with my friends from camp or my buddies from my hometown, a part of our childhood was NBA Jam. The goal was to get 4 players involved because then the winning team could stay on for free. My buddies and I entered in trick codes which unlocked secret parts of the game (giant heads, different uniforms, hidden characters.) If you entered SAL as your initials you could play with Sal Divita, one of the creators. Since he helped make NBA Jam, his skills were wicked nice; he was the best 3 pt shooter in the game.

One day in 7th grade, I was at the arcade, and I ran out of money. I toggled the controllers hoping for something to happen. Amazingly, NBA Jam transformed into Atari’s BattleZone free of charge. When I beat enough levels, I actually got a free game of NBA Jam. It was a miracle! (I actually just googled this to make sure I wasn’t insane. Apparently, the makers of the game created some complicated code just for fun and I happened to stumble upon it. I felt like Matthew Broderick in WarGames: except I didn’t start nuclear warfare; but I did get to play NBA Jam for free!)

Sometimes, when I wander by an arcade today, I still poke my head in, hoping to find an NBA Jam. I feel like Josh Baskin looking for Zoltar. I want to be a kid again.

NBA Street Ball (Playstation II)

This was a hybrid of NBA Jam and the ubiquitous (fancy word, huh?) And1 culture. It was one of those games where you could have the slightest idea what you were doing, but if you pressed all the buttons at once, something cool would happen. Plus you could build your own guys—my friend’s most famous character was Mambo, a giant yeti-type creature.

Favorite memory: In LA, we had a guy named AA stay with us for 3 months. He and I invented a drinking version of this game. We found a secret code which turned the basketball into a beach ball (if you can create a giant yeti, why not have a beachball too?) This created a whole new strategy to the game. The most coveted play was the pass-off-the-backboard dunk. It was the most difficult to accomplish because the beach ball usually sailed over your head. But once in a blue moon, one of us pulled off the dunk—the result: the opposing player would have to chug his beer.

I still remember my roommate JC coming back one night with his date. He begged us not to embarrass him. Unfortunately for JC, me and AA were in a heated game of a drinking basketball. When AA forced me to chug 2 beers in one game, there was pandemonium: screaming, shouting, dancing. JC’s date could only put up with us for 5 minutes. (Did I mention that I was also shirtless?) She exited in a huff and was never heard from again.

That's all I got. If anyone wants to play NBA Jam sometime, just let me know.

*Please write in and share some of your favorite moments in video game basketball history. I’m sure you guys will have a lot to say too. Peace.*


Anonymous said...

1985 NCAA Basketball!!!! I can't believe you played that. That thing ruled. I actually went into the code, and changed it to say "A Josh Mermelstein brick" instead of "Greg Kite brick"... good stuff. Great column.

Anonymous said...

I love the shout outs to two unheralded classics: 1985 NCAA and Arch Rivals. When I played PC in NCAA, I would frequently be Indiana State, which had Larry Bird's brother on the team and he was god-awful, just terrible. Great game though. Very very underrated and way ahead of its time.

Che' Gallardo said...

I'm too young to remember 1985 NCAA. I have to admit that the first basketball game I ever played was on Sega Genesis. Bulls vs. Blazers. I believe that was 1993, I was 11. Only then did I really get into basketball games. I do remember playing most of these games later on though.

Thanks for the roadtrip down memory lane.

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I remembered these games and they are super fun!