We NBA fans have been well serviced throughout the years, with countless games across every platform imaginable. From the pixelated days of the SNES to the face-scanning, high-def era of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, there’s been no shortage of virtual representations of our favourite sport.
With NBA 2K17 set to hit Aussie store shelves on September 17, and The Prelude already preparing us for another bout of rags-to-riches fantasies, let’s reminisce about the best NBA games ever made, and talk about what made them so special and memorable at the time.
Join me as I count down the Top 10 Best NBA Games ever made. Agree with my list? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below and let me know what your favourite NBA game is!
10. Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside
1998, Nintendo 64
Kobe Bryant was only 19 years of age in 1998, but he was already dominating the league. When he got his own game, Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, that year on Nintendo 64, he was the youngest athlete in history to have a game to his namesake. NBA Courtside being a Nintendo 64 exclusive made it a special game, as other NBA games were at the time flourishing on PlayStation and PC. It went on to sell one million copies, making it one of the most successful games on the console, and even got a sequel, NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant, a year later. From a visual perspective, it was about as good as one might expect an N64 game to be, but its simulation-style gameplay, full license and great soundtrack made it a must-have for any 64 gamer.
9. NBA Showdown
1993, SNES, Mega Drive
Unlike its predecessor in Bulls vs Blazers, 1993’s NBA Showdown had every NBA team and allowed players to play through entire 82-game seasons with full-length matches. Tecmo NBA Basketball may be considered the first NBA game to offer a full license of every NBA team, but it was NBA Showdown that really set the standard, and is arguably the spiritual granddaddy of the NBA Live series. It offered a step towards realism with its (at the time) impressive simulation-style gameplay and play-calling. Its deep statistical analysis of games and player performance also made it one of the deepest sports game ever released at the time, and considering its risky attempt at translating the popular arcade-style gameplay of the time into a tighter, more challenging experience, deserves a place on this list at No.9.
8. NBA 2K
While the NBA Live series was heating up the court on PC, Visual Concepts’ and SEGA Sports’ NBA 2K for Dreamcast set the standard on console, and arguably forced the hand of competitors to bring more sports games to the console gaming market. NBA 2K had a nice blend of arcadey speed and sim-like challenge, balancing the expectations of a diverse console market that had been neglected by NBA game makers for a number of years. Its visuals at the time were also far better than what NBA Live was offering, and as such was briefly the preferred basketball game for sim junkies and visual perfectionists.
7. NBA 2K14
2013, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14 gets a mention in this list partly because of how well it was able to demonstrate the leap in visual quality between the generations. On top of that, 2K Sports didn’t hold back with the features and gameplay, offering the same core experience that fans had come to love about the franchise, while other sports games from other publishers came to the new consoles with barebone offerings. NBA 2K14 also introduced the Pro Stick, which enhanced ball control and shooting precision with a flick of the right analogue stick, changing the face of the franchise for years to come.
6. NBA Street Vol.2
2003, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube
It took long enough, but someone finally decided to return to the ’90s craziness of NBA Jam. Two years after the release of the original NBA Street in 2001, which is a brilliant game in its own right, NBA Street Vol.2 came along and not only managed to better and expand the gameplay insanity of its predecessor, but also brought with it a stack of legendary NBA players and a superb soundtrack, which featured the likes of Nate Dogg, MC Lyte, and Nelly. It might be hard to seperate the two games apart, but NBA Street Vol.2 is that perfect sort of sequel that takes the best from those that came before it, and adds just the perfect amount of extra flavour. NBA Street Vol.3 did a similar thing, but by the time it was released in 2005, the market was saturated with copycats.
5. NBA Live 2000
Where does one start with NBA Live 2000! This game offered such a substantial visual, gameplay and features jump over NBA Live 99, that it’s hard to believe they even came from the same developer. NBA Live 2000 was the first game in the series to feature Michael Jordan, who was a playable All-Star character. The game was also ahead of its time technically, allowing players to scan facial expression for use on created players. It had a revamped franchise mode, adding a full drafting, trading, free agency, salary cap, and other management options, and also had a deep Legends mode, in which you could play with Jordan and other classic NBA superstars. On top of all of this, it had one of if not the best soundtracks in NBA Live history.
4. NBA Live 95
NBA Live 95 is so special because it blended the best of NBA Showdown and the Playoff NBA series, while bringing mod support and a stack of graphical and gameplay improvements. It being the first entry in the series is fitting, because it set a standard that would help EA Sports dominate the NBA game genre for more than a decade. It may not have been the first NBA sim, but it was certainly the start of something special.
3. NBA Live 2003
NBA Live 2003 may not have set the world on fire or reinvented the wheel, but it was a great game because it took the best of NBA Live 2000 and the rising NBA 2K series, and offered a spectacularly balanced and smooth basketball experience for gamers. Some diehard NBA Live fans argue that, while NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 2005 are very good games in their own right, there is something about NBA Live 2003 that makes it stand out from the crowd. It could be the crisp graphics, the tight gameplay, or the amazing soundtrack (which was certified Platinum by the RIAA, selling over 1,300,000 copies worldwide). Whatever it is, NBA Live 2003 represents a gaming franchise at the top of its game, and, unfortunately, the last great game in the NBA Live series.
2. NBA 2K11
2010, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Anyone that’s played NBA 2K11 knows exactly why this game is so high up on this list. NBA 2K11 continued the fantastic run of brilliant basketball games from 2K Sports, but offered up the greatest basketball player of all-time to propel the series to new heights. Everything was there in NBA 2K11: from the series’ iconic graphical realism to its punishing gameplay, and of course the depth that covered multiple modes and creation options. But it was the addition of Michael Jordan that really made this game special. Players could play through some of Jordan’s most iconic moments from throughout his career, and even unlock him as a rookie to use in career mode. For that reason alone, NBA 2K11 holds such a high place on this list.
1. NBA Jam
On a list made up mostly of basketball sims, NBA Jam has still managed to take out the top spot. There’s a reason for that: despite being more than 20 years old and having multiple sequels and a remake, the original is still the best. How many games from 20 years ago can claim to be just as if not better than the many games made after it in the time since? There’s also the multiplayer factor: NBA Jam‘s reliance on cooperative play was at the time something we’d only previously seen in beat-’em-ups, and in its ability to take advantage of the early-’90s Michael Jordan hype, it helped turn many a neutral fan into an NBA diehard.
What’s your favourite NBA game of all time? Sound off in the comments below!