10 March 2010
Do you, dear reader, remember that fantastic scene in "Swingers" where Vince Vaughn's character is playing NHL 94 against the boy named Sue using the Chicago Blackhawks' superstar center Jeremy Roenick? If not, here's another reminder. "I'm gonna make Wayne Gretzky's head bleed!" That scene was my favorite from the film at that time. It encompassed my way of life as a freshmen/sophomore in college. My group of close friends and I played NBA Jam while getting our pre-party on before going out on the town or hitting up whatever party was going to have the hottest college ladies in attendance. I first learned of the game when I worked in an arcade fresh out of high school. At this arcade, there were three huge games. Each one had its own big screen and each one always attracted a crowd. Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam. Eventually NBA Jam made its way onto Sega Genesis and that's where my buddies and I played the hell out of it. There were a few obvious omissions from the game, like Michael Jordan and Shaq, but the game consisted of some really good twosomes from all of the NBA teams. Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning on the Charlotte Hornets, Patrick Ewing and John Starks on the New York Knicks, but for me, the fearsome duo of Horace Grant and Scott Pippen of Chicago Bulls fame were my team of choice. That's not an easy thing for me to say considering I am a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan. But, the Lakers on NBA Jam were more like the real life Clippers, just plain terrible. The Bulls team was awesome. Scott was the best all around player in the game. He could bomb threes and dunk on most players. Horace was big enough to block most dunk attempts and he could dunk. I always felt that the best combination of players/teams in the game consisted of one outstanding offensive player who was still big enough to buck smaller players and one defensive stud that could block shots. I think NBA Jam stressed defense more than offense. NBA Jam allowed goal tending as well as gave players the ability physically knock and manhandle your opponent while stealing the ball, an act we lovingly referred to as buck or bucking. The game also dictated defensive style, depending on which direction you played. You could goal tend almost every shot thrown up if you played in one direction while the opposite direction made you rely upon bucking. Of course, you did both defensive actions regardless of direction, but it was sort of like home court advantage (it might have been actually, though I am not sure). If you defended the basket going in one direction, you had the advantage. To score, you had to play creatively on offense. You couldn't go up and dunk the ball or stand beyond the arc to shoot threes. You had to pass the ball, look for you AI team mate, hit the outlet passes and rain home a quick three or fake your defender into jumping too early or late and then bang on him with a massive dunk. When we played it wasn't unusual to see a final score of 15 to 14 or a 21 to 18 game. The way we played NBA Jam - defense ruled over offense. To play against us, you either played great defense and took advantage of mistakes or you got shellacked.
What I also loved about the game was that it lent itself to taunting. With our scores being so low, if you were able to go on a run and score three baskets and hear those glorious words strung together – "He's on fire!" – it was a badge of honor. It was even better if you could get at least one bucket while you were flaming hot. If you had thrown down several seriously massive dunks you might be able to simultaneously back your opponent's virtual backboard and his morale at the same time in the 4th quarter. If you could hold your opponent to zero points in one quarter and you didn't even have to say a word.
Years later, there was a failed attempt at a franchise revival, and I played it on the PS2, but the game had lost something. Or maybe I had grown up and wasn't in the same carefree time (college) to enjoy it, plus I no longer was surrounded by the same great bunch of guys, but the original NBA Jam will always be my favorite game ever.
By Jim Redner