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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #35: NBA Jam


The golden age of arcades was largely over by the time I was old enough to hang out at the mall with my buddies. The early-90s were a time when it was easier and cheaper to hang out at someone's house and play on the Sega Genesis or Super NES. But I'd still occasionally wander into a Dream Machine or Chuck E Cheese's or bowling alley game room, and when I did, my quarter-sacrifice of choice was usually NBA Jam. This game was a two-on-two format, and was novel for its exaggerated realism and its inclusion of real teams and players for the first time in a basketball video game. Did I choose to play my hometown Boston Celtics? I did not. This was the post-Larry Bird mid-1990s, and the Celtics were terrible. Plus, my favorite player of all time, John Stockton, was available to play in a Hall of Fame due alongside fellow legend Karl Malone, so I almost universally played as the Utah Jazz.

(An interesting, if morbid, aside here. Two players who appeared in the arcade version were yanked from the home release because they died: Reggie Lewis and Drazen Petrovic.)

This game was fluid and challenging and perfectly suited for a knob-topped joystick and two buttons. Man, I loved using Stockton's thievery skills to steal the ball from an opponent and then jack up a deep three or lob it to Malone for a thunderous dunk. NBA Jam deliciously included a breathless play-by-play man who loved exciting plays, declaring at times that a player was "in the zone" or even better, "lightheaded in the zone!" Your efforts might unlock a special state of existence for a player, that of being "on fire", at which time his shot would actually render the net into burning flames. Quoting from the snarky SportsCenter verbiage of the day, the announcer might actually declare the player "en fuego". Good times. It took a quarter to start and then an additional quarter for each...well, each quarter. At a dollar for a full game, modest teenage paychecks could be liquidated fast, so I rarely played more than a few at a time. But sometimes it was worth it to be in the zone.

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