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DBB on 3: Talking video games since the real thing seems so far away

As games get more realistic do they actually get better?

Knicks Gaming v Pistons Gaming Team Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

We are all going through NBA withdrawals, and with even passing day bringing a record number of COVID-19 cases in Florida, I am starting to get worried that the NBA won’t return for real until 2021. The NBA and its partners are doing their best up to and including more expansive coverage of e-sports and the professional 2K league.

I won’t get into specific about just how poorly the Pistons Gaming Team is doing (hint, they have a lot in common with the real-life Pistons). But I have been thinking more and more about video games lately, even though I haven’t actually played a game since Super Mario Galaxy 2, and I haven’t played a basketball video game I don’t even know when.

Basketball is the hardest major sport to pull off in a video game because it’s so much about fluid movements and working together with your teammates in a dynamic way. That’s probably a definite old man take, and I’ll own it since, lord help me, I’m approaching 40.

I decided to hit people up to get their video game thoughts, and I’m curious what people think about the state of basketball video games today, their favorite classics, and their go-to players.

1. What is the best basketball video game of all time, and what makes it the best?

Laz: NBA Jam, because it’s the original arcade basketball game, and you could throw three-quarter court alley-oop dunks to Shawn Kemp every possession, which seven-year-old me thought was literally the greatest invention ever.

Ben: NBA Jam TE

Brady: Hoooo boy, this is tough. If you give me three PBR tall boys and a few dollars in quarters and I’ll play NBA Jam all night. But, I’ll be honest, my favorite basketball game was either NBA Street Vol. 2 or NBA Live 2003. I spent way too much of my early teenage years playing those, and loving every minute of it.

Ku: NBA2K16. Perfect combination of tremendous multiplayer/online experience and fun gameplay.

Justin: NBA Live 03 for me. And it is purely because of the nostalgia factor. We got it before a family vacation for GameCube and me and my brother brought it in the car with a janky setup to play GameCube in the car and played that game the whole 14 hour drive. We put so many hours into that game just playing random games with random teams against each other.

David: I didn’t think I’d see this take in there, but I have to agree 100% with Brady. Admittedly, I’m not a huge gamer anymore, but in my teenage years I was HYPED about the release of the NBA Street games (vol. 2 is the superior game). And NBA Live 2003 was my “realistic” basketball jam.

Ben Q.: NBA 2K5 because it’s what got me into basketball and the Pistons. Also, NBA 2K11 because that had a really good MyCareer element without unnecessary storylines and every year since 2K has tried and failed to make it better.

Sham: NBA Live 2005 for me. It was the first sports game I ever owned. Loved the simplicity and realism (at the time). Plus our Pistons were one of the best teams in the game ;)

Joe: NBA Live 2000. Game was incredible. The Shaq/Kobe lakers were the ultimate final boss of any season. The soundtrack full of late 90s hip hop goodness. Anytime you clicked something on the menu it made a little beat box sound which was sweet. You could totally customize literally everything in the game and it was full of historical teams.

2. What is the biggest change you would make to modern basketball video games?

Laz: 2k tried real hard with the newest MyGM (I give LeBron a hat and sign him to an expansion team? Get real) but the feel of running a team from the ground up is just... lacking. It’s hard to get player development to translate into the experience - even with a MyPlayer you just pour VC (read: Money) into them and get better animations.

Ben: A solution to getting locked in animations. Sometimes the game is playing me.

Brady: I’ve always been a sucker for the franchise mode. I feel like game developers have shied away from adding depth to that mode in favor of the pay-to-win modes. I don’t want to buy anything, I bought the game, I just want to make the Detroit Pistons good again with a deep franchise mode, is that too much to ask??

Ku: Have developers and the ones making the game actually listen to what their fan base wants.

Justin: Focus more on gameplay mechanics and less on graphics and other features. Modern basketball games are way too buggy and have a lot of weird gameplay mechanics. Those need to be fixed before worrying about the realistic sweat on players.

David: I’m too uninformed to have a worthwhile opinion.

Ben Q.: Animations are the absolute worst in this era. You’ll try and do something but because the computer has already decided to do this 3 second animation of a stumble or push it ruins the rhythm of the game and you have to wait for it to die. Getting caught in an animation is the game playing you.

Sham: I’ve owned NBA 2k games for the past 7 years or so and each year the game becomes less and less about basketball and more about microtransactions and online play. Players who excel at the game are the ones who can time a jumpshot the best or sit behind some cheesy moving screen and hit shots. It’s not realistic and knowing more about basketball than your opponent does not give you any sort of edge.

Joe: Its cliche but get rid of all the microtransactions. NBA Live 2000 arguably had more features in the base game than the newest 2ks do. The simple truth is that almost all sports franchises at this point are unashamed rip offs year after year. I feel like its enough of a rip off making people buy the same game over and over but people keep buying VC so I guess it works.

3. Who was your go-to player when you were growing up?

Laz: Tim Duncan. No weaknesses, automatic from midrange, stand near the paint and press jump to block everything in sight. Love me some Tim Duncan.

Ben: Roster Player, aka Michael Jordan

Brady: This is going to sound crazy, but I scored 59 points (yes, I remember) with Tyronn Lue in an old NBA Live game. I’ll never forget that.

Ku: Rudy Gay. He was considered “light skin LeBron” in the older 2Ks because he was like a 84 overall but played like a 99.

Justin: For NBA Live 03 it was Chauncey Billups. For NBA Live 05 it was Carmelo Anthony. I would always try my best to player lock onto those players when playing games against my brother.

David: Taking this back to NBA Live 2003 (Jason Kidd cover edition), my go-to-player, other than my make-a-player, was Ben Wallace. I remember going 63-0 on season mode, and simming ONE game to an under .500 Mavericks team and losing. I immediately turned off the console to stop from saving.

Ben Q.: These are dumb answers, but I found Brandon Jennings and Patrick Patterson automatic in 2K. That is all.

Sham: I once scored 107 points with Minnesota Timberwolves legend Wally Szczerbiak on NBA Live 2005. I love my shooters!

Joe: My go to player was Mitch Richmond. I always played franchise mode as the Wizards for reasons that only 8 year old me can know and Mitch was the man. My fictional Mitch Richmond had constant duels with Kobe Bryant in the conference finals to help further cement my hatred of the Lakers.