Best Basketball Games of All-Time

In the ’80s, the popularity of basketball in America had begun to rise. Simultaneously in the ’80s, the video game industry had also begun to rise, and who would’ve known two separate but parallel forms of entertainment would later quickly interwind. Sports videos games are a major seller, and much like all games have evolved from the days of pong, basketball game continues to develop and improve on a yearly basis. Much like the real-life counterpart, basketball video games have progressed from just a dribble, pass, and shoot game to a crossover, spin move 360 windmill dunking game. Let’s take a look at the top ten retro basketball video games.

10: Double Dribble 

The grand-daddy of basketball simulation games, “Double Dribble” is as good as it is bad but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best. Although it’s much easier to get called for an actual in-game double dribble than to score a basket, you can always count on one of the most entertaining game glitches of all time, the never-ending corner three. Equivalent to the “Tecmo Bowl” Bo Jackson cheat, the corner three is the most dynamic weapon in your basketball arsenal. Down ten to the CPU, no reason to panic just speed on over to the corner for a couple of running threes and you’ll be back in the game in no time. 

9: Kobe Bryant In NBA Courtside

From an Adidas contract to rookie sensation to his own signature video game, Kobe Bryant showcases his marketability in “Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside.” Left Field Production jammed the future Hall of Famer and five-time NBA Champion as the signature spokesmen for their N64 basketball title. With all the elements of “Double Dribble” including action cutscenes for rim-rocking dunks and a smoother transition game with an uptempo pace, it’s like they revamped and renovated the NES classic. 

8: NBA In the Zone

“NBA In the Zone” rocks the rim with a jumping in-game soundtrack, yes a basketball video game with an actual in-game soundtrack. The game is filled with ’90s montage music from the opening intro to the main menu and to the actual exhibition games itself.  Giving off the vibes of ’90s basketball movies like “Celtic Pride,” White Men Can’t Jump” and “Blue Chips,” “NBA In the Zone” will keep you locked in for countless hours of fast action gameplay.

7: NBA Shootout

NBA Shootout feels very much like a park or rec league game on an NBA court, but that’s what makes it even more fun. The gameplay is fast paced, up-tempo and as charismatic as Walt Clyde Fraiser’s NY Knick commentary. You can zip and dip through the lane to take one-foot two-handed jump shots through contact and forward two-handed double clutch leaners.  When a shot goes up, not one computer-controlled player attempts to rebound. Each player just turns in place waits for the ball to bounce off the rim then it’s off to the races like a thoroughbred in the Kentucky Derby.

6: NBA Hangtime

Midway’s “NBA Hangtime” is the follow up to NBA Jam after Acclaim gained complete licensing rights to the “Jam” name. Pretty much an exact replica of Midway’s “NBA Jam,” but with even more over exaggerated acrobatics and catchphrases. The added flavor in “NBA Hangtime” makes the game even more entertaining than its predecessor. With this title, Midway’s arcade basketball is still funky, still flashy and still on fire. 

5: NCAA March Madness 2000

With better defensive mechanics and Dick Vitale on the mic, “NCAA March Madness 2000” is nothing but energy. EA sports developed a beautifully crafted college basketball game with all the college basketball elements. Being the home team is in full effect with the loud crowd noise, bright color schemes, clean and clear graphics with amazing detail to the college courts. The in-game on court Carolina Tar Heel blue is such a rich powdered blue it’s like MJ himself once graced this very floor. Much like EA Sport did with “NBA Live 2000,” “NCAA March Madness 2000” also uses the crossover mechanics and animations to give that primetime college point guard that real-life ball handling ability.

4: NBA Live 97

In just two years after “NBA Live ’95” was the first of the Live franchise to be released, EA Sports delivered a solid gem with “NBA Live ’97.”  There was something a bit more flashy like a no-look pass about the ’97 release compared to the simple bounce and chest passes of its predecessors.  Even though the gameplay is pretty much the same as the previous two titles, “NBA Live ’97” feels a tad smoother and faster. There is also a slight change in graphics, making the game brighter and with deeper color saturation. Even though there are no distinct differences in the character models, just the fact that Patrick Ewing and John Starks both have a high top fade makes them easily recognizable aside from the numbers three and 33 on their backs.

3: NBA Live 2000

For the first time ever the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) Michael Jordan checks into the game as an “NBA Live 2000” exclusive player. Though Jordan is only a playable character after you beat him in the one on one mode, having him in the game is enough to make the “NBA Live 2000” better than the “Live 99.” In previous Live titles each year Jordan was dubbed roster Player 96, 97, and 99, but in “NBA Live 2000” Mike Jordan is more than ever like Mike. In addition to MJ, “NBA Live 2000” introduces the crossover dribble to the franchise for the first time. 

2: NBA 2K   

With the release of the Sega Dreamcast, the Sega Games company introduced the gaming industry to a new world of simulation basketball with a key emphasis on presentation. Though the graphics and gameplay are pretty solid, despite the elbow and corner three-point glitch reminiscent of “Double Dribble,” the games biggest asset is the real NBA feel. Even though the EA Sports “NBA Live” titles would have a starting line up for both teams before tipoff, the “NBA 2K” starting line up is a whole different beast. Both team’s lineups are announced by a PA announcer, dull for the visiting team and overhyped and emphasized for the home team along with cheers from the crowd and a laser light show.  The game also introduces sideline referees throughout the game (other games at the time only had refs to start the game or during certain action scenes.) “NBA 2K” is also the first game to get the arena crowd involved during free-throws. If you were the home team you could use the controller back buttons to get the crowd to wave thundersticks while a player was shooting. The “NBA 2K” presentation blueprint is a well-drawn up game-winning shot, which future simulation sports titles would later follow. It is, without a doubt, a game that makes you feel courtside in an NBA arena.

1: NBA Jam   

For 26 years, NBA Jam has been on fire and triple somersault dunking it’s way into the memories of millions. As the most influential basketball game created, it paved the way for other arcade-style sports game. Much like Midway and Acclaim’s other arcade phenomenon “Mortal Kombat,” “NBA Jam” coined many catchphrases like “He’s heating up!” and “He’s on fire!” Since it’s 1993 release,  it is easy to catch a line or two from the infamous title in all forms of entertainment from sports, movies, tv shows, and music. Most recently referenced on one of R&B star Chris Brown’s hit singles “Privacy,” the line “Boom-Shakalaka,” which is used in-game when throwing down an emphatic two-hand jam, is a major line in the songs hook. The line was also referenced in a 2005 Dave Chappelle comedy sketch on the “Chappelle Show,” and can be consistently heard being used on ESPN broadcast. With players ridiculously jumping into the roof high over the backboard to catch alley-oops, the no foul calls with intentional pushing for steals, “NBA Jam” would later cause other developers to create other sports games in similar fashion. Without NBA Jam there is no “NBA Streets,” “NFL Blitz,” “MLB Slugfest,” and the most recent “NBA Playgrounds.”

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