I grew up playing video games in the ’90s, on my NES, my Super NES and many other consoles along the way. There was a time where Michael Jordan (aka the greatest basketball player of all time) decided not to be in any popular basketball video games, and it was just accepted by the masses.
Imagine today, NBA2K21 drops and Lebron James just happens to not be in it. The internet would explode, people would go crazy. Fans would burn his jersey (again). He would receive horrible death threats on Twitter. He would even lose some sponsors. It’s unheard of for a well-known athlete, let alone the best athlete, to not be a part of sports video games.
Even fun arcade-style basketball games like NBA Jam didn’t have Michael Jordan. And no one really complained, we just thought it was normal (I’m sure people complained, but the internet wasn’t around to give them a voice). NBA Jam didn’t have every single NBA player, only the best players from each team. Yet, the best player in the league was still missing.
*Side Note: Let’s bring back games like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz and Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey. We got two NBA Playgrounds games, and both were very mediocre. Since we can’t have our Triple A sports franchises fully-optimized for Nintendo Switch, I’m good with some fun arcade-style sports games.
Michael Jordan did make his own games, or allow publishers to make games using him as the main selling point, but they just happened to not be very good games. They may have gotten the rights to use MJ in their games, but that may have cost so much that they had nothing left to create a great (or even a passable) game.
I have always been a Miami Heat fan, and I mostly play sports games with my own team (Heat, Dolphins, Marlins, Chelsea). I can’t imagine what it was like growing up a Bulls fan and not being able to use MJ in games. Even beating the Bulls in NBA Live felt like you didn’t really beat “the Bulls” (not without MJ). I would have freaked out if Shaq wasn’t on the Heat in NBA2K6 or NBA Live 2006.
It’s great to see MJ in the newer NBA2K games, but it’s still strange that the kids that grew up watching him play weren’t able to play with him in their video games, while these kids that only know him from The Last Dance, Space Jam, old photos and basketball highlights get to play with him and not even think about a time where that wasn’t possible.