Once Upon a Time...
the NBA Jam video games
By James Hayes
“He’s on fire!”
Ah, how I vividly remember this phrase from the nasal announcer
in the video game hallmark NBA Jam.
With such lethal combinations as Karl Malone and John Stockton
of the Utah Jazz, Rik Smits and Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers,
Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf of the Seattle Supersonics, and
Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell of the Golden State Warriors,
Akklaim-Midway’s NBA Jam provided many thrills for gamers
in the mid-’90s.
First-year physics student Dwane Valenzo, a fellow NBA Jam connoisseur
and Super Nintendo addict, has a clear cut favourite squad.
“The Kemp and Shrempf connection, man. You can’t beat
The game featured a Kingston Pen-esque style of play that included
no foul calls. As well, players were able to push and shove opponents,
sending them sprawling all over the court. After making three consecutive
baskets, the announcer would belt out a “He’s on fire!” When
accompanied by the flaming basket, it was virtually impossible
to miss anywhere on the court.
For some reason, contests always seemed to have an uncanny ability
to remain painstakingly close. With a score of 51-48 with 30 seconds
left in the fourth quarter, I frequently cursed when Reggie Miller
would characteristically nail three-pointers at opportune times.
Regardless, there’s just something about a front-flip dunk
that gets one stoked.
The game featured various other creative features such as substitutions
between quarters, a live announcer , crowd commentary and turbo
boost for players. The game hadn’t yet mastered such things
as switching players on defense, but with only a two-on-two game,
one just had to hope for enough turbo to get back on D and block
an acrobatic slam.
Also, the game offered “Coaching Tips” during breaks
in play, instructing the gamer on improving defense, passing and
“The game definitely re-kindles childhood memories,” says
first-year engineering student Andrew Langlais, also a Jam and
Super Nintendo emulator fiend. “With the [SNES emulator],
I save countless hours of studying. It sure beats being productive.”
Having been alienated from the game for many years, I decided
to swallow my pride and challenge Jam master Valenzo to a game.
Unfortunately, my Supersonics fell in a heart-breaking four-overtime
game to Valenzo’s Pacers, 103-101. Despite his previous assertion,
the “Kemp-Shrempf connection” could be beat, with Indiana’s
Reggie Miller sealing my fate with 75 points and 21 three-point
field goals. Seattle’s Gary Payton led my squad with 58 points
and a triple-double.
“It’s arguably the best basketball video game of all
time,” Valenzo says. “There’s old school players;
everyone knew them and it was before the game was all about money.
It takes you right back to 1995.”
Despite various upgrades in sports video games since its inception,
one can lament there aren’t any current games with the same
old-school quality of NBA Jam.