NBA JAM by Reyan Ali (Boss Fight Books)

BOSS FIGHT!

I remember first hearing about Boss Fight Books, a few years back. I was listening to a podcast featuring a writer of a Boss Fight Book, Alexa Ray Corriea (Kingdom Hearts II). Boss Fight Books publishes books about gaming. Each book in their collection focuses on one specific game. Books focus on any topic from a games historical journey, game design, how a game impacted the author’s life or pretty much anything else.

The Boss Fight library is now up to 28 books, featuring writers with a variety of backgrounds (comedians, game designers, musicians, voice actors, journalists…). When I first heard about these books there were only about 10-12 available. In that first collection there were only two based on games I was sort of familiar with (Super Mario Bros 2 and Galaga), but I wasn’t too excited about them.

Cut to a few years later…

I stumbled across Boss Fight Books once again, and there was now a book about a game that I grew up playing, NBA Jam (book 21). I was excited to finally read my first Boss Fight book. I ordered the NBA Jam book almost immediately, but it sat on my shelf for a few months. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I spilled coffee all over a bunch of my books that I remembered this one, and that’s when I finally decided it was time to read NBA Jam.

My NBA Jam History

Sports-based video games were always a huge part of my gaming life as a kid (and up until a few years ago). Today, I’m into all sorts of games, and I enjoy more fantasy sports type games like Rocket League (aka Soccer Cars). Basketball sims were always my top priority. I owned most NBA Live games until EA stopped making them. I owned plenty of the NBA 2K games starting on the Sega Dreamcast and my last one being NBA 2K20 (on both, PS4 and Nintendo Switch).

But, before basketball sims were the main thing there was a totally different type of basketball game — the arcade basketball game. And the one that started it all was NBA Jam. NBA Jam was a huge influence on so many other games from my childhood. I have always remembered some of NBA Jam’s successors like NBA Street and NBA Hangtime, but this book brought back so many memories with forgotten games: NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC, NBA Hoopz, NBA Ballers. Of course, other sports followed in the footsteps of the NBA Jam and the arcade-style sports game (NFL Blitz, FIFA Street, MLB The Bigs, Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey).

I always knew that NBA Jam started off as an arcade game and later came to console. I didn’t play much NBA Jam on an arcade cabinet because I did not grow up with an arcade nearby, so my gaming was mostly done on consoles. This book went over the history of Midway and Acclaim (two big names featured on many of my SNES game cartridges). Midway had created NBA Jam, while Acclaim ported it to consoles. I actually found a few of my old Midway/Acclaim games and other games mentioned in this book:

NBA Jam (The Book)

The book begins during the arcade craze of the early 90s. It’s crazy how many arcade cabinets sold back then and how much money these games made just one or two quarters at a time. As I said earlier I wasn’t big into the arcade scene, but everyone who owned a SNES or Sega Genesis owned NBA Jam. So, we had plenty of NBA Jam tournaments at all the houses in my neighborhood, without spending any quarters.

For me, playing an arcade cabinet was a special occasion at the movies, a restaurant outing, while my mom was getting her haircut. It’s crazy that I always thought of NBA Jam as a game made by Acclaim, when they were just the company that had ported the game from coin-op to home consoles. They also ended up with the license at the end of their partnership with Midway.

If Midway would have survived and kept the NBA license I could see there being a lot more arcade-style sports games today, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s a different time and people don’t want that anymore. Look what happened with NBA Playgrounds, it was a mega flop (they had to give us Shaq Fu for FREE after the failed release of NBA Playgrounds). I tried playing NBA Playgrounds many times and it just never felt right. Maybe I was just looking for more NBA Jam and they were trying to do something different.

There were many great tales (real or fake) featured in this book. Shaq owning his own NBA cabinet and having tournaments with his teammates. Michael Jordan not being in the game, but also wanting a cabinet for his home with him in the game just for himself (click the link to read my article about MJ not being in games when I was growing up). Glen Rice beating his kids in NBA Jam. All of the secret players that made it into the game (from developers to actors to presidents).

There’s some good stories about Mark Turmell (creator of NBA Jam) the self-taught coder who made his first game as a teen, Sneakers. He even made it so that when the Pistons (his home team) played the Bulls (their rival), in the final seconds of the game the Bulls shooting percentage would plummet so that his Pistons would always have a chance to come back.

I remember us all punching in random button combos during the pregame loading screen, just to see what cheats we’d unlock. Big Head mode, Juice mode and Power ups for different attributes. This was a big thing in many of Midway’s games (and arcade games in general), mashing buttons in the pre-game loading screen just to see what you could unlock. It was a thing in Mortal Kombat and most of NBA Jam’s successors.

Finding my copy of NBA Jam and all of these other games has really made me want to plug in my SNES and see how these games hold up. And I may do that soon.

If you find a book in the Boss Fight Books library about a game that meant a lot to you, I definitely recommend you read it. It’s cool to see what the game may have meant to other people, or learn about it’s strange history (because let’s face it, most games do have strange histories).

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