Many of the cultural touchstones of my childhood are sports-related. I was (and still am) very much sports-obsessed, so it makes sense that I’d fall hook, line, and sinker for just about any book, movie, TV show, or video game that leveraged my fandom in any way. Space Jam, Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, Little Big League, The Mighty Ducks movies, Happy Gilmore, middle-grade books about young athletes overcoming familiar hurdles (sometimes literally) to work out their family issues. There are more, but these are still right there at the top of my mind.
I would imagine that there are lots of twenty- and thirty-somethings out there who can say the same thing, which is why it’s a little surprising that the current re-boot-a-mania sweeping Hollywood hasn’t translated to a few more sports-classic throwbacks. Yes, we’re supposedly getting a new Space Jam, but where’s the Netflix-produced, eight episode sequel to The Sandlot featuring the kids of grownup Benny and Smalls putting together a rag-tag travel team that loses in the final game of the LLWS? Actually, uh, give me a minute while I loudly declare COPYRIGHT! like Michael Scott declares bankruptcy on The Office.
Yes, the lack of attention given to the sports-centric properties of my youth is puzzling.
Well, some of it is puzzling. The absence of one in particular, though, is enraging. Seriously, where the hell is my modern-day NBA Jam remake?
Be honest; if you’re between the ages of 30 and 40, you can probably name at least half the NBA Jam team rosters, which will, of course, include your exasperated shake of the head at having no Michael Jordan on the Bulls and no Shaq on the Magic (damn you, licensing feeeeesss).
The last edition of NBA Jam came out in 2010, which came on the heels of the excellent 3-on-3 basketball series, NBA Street. With its disappearance from the video game landscape, a whole lot of years of over-the-top, arcade-style basketball action came to an end.
It’s easy to theorize why. Gamers get bored easily, for one, and as much fun as the NBA Street games were, there wasn’t a lot of year-to-year innovation to keep devotees satisfied while bringing new players into the fold. But the bigger reason is probably the growth of the NBA 2K series, which has exploded over the last several years to become the go-to basketball game for everyone from casual gamers to actual NBA superstars. Since console technology has finally gotten to the point where a 5-on-5 basketball sim actually plays like a game of basketball (the sport has always been the hardest to digitally replicate), it’s easy to argue that the theatrics of games like NBA Jam are no longer needed to make basketball games fun.
But that’s stupid. Just because Gran Turismo has fully and accurately mapped the physics of hundreds of real life automobiles to make their racing sim as realistic as possible doesn’t mean that Mario Kart is no longer fun. The 2K series is great, but its excellence doesn’t mean there’s no place for half-court dunks, flagrant 2 steals, and fireball three pointers raining down on your opponents’ heads.
The fact is that we’re in the middle of an NBA renaissance. The league’s popularity is soaring, the quality of the talent on the court is unbelievable, and there’s no good reason to deny us the endless hours of fun we’d no doubt be having if we could run 2-on-2 versions of the NBA’s biggest rivalries and superstar matchups. The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker’s ACLs vs Porzingis and Melo. Towns and Wiggins vs The Brow and Boogie. Russ and whoever gets to stand out there while Russ does everything vs Harden and whoever gets to stand out there while Harden does everything. LeBron and Kyrie vs Wall and Beal. Steph and KD vs Kawhi and whatever’s left of Tony Parker’s aging body. The possibilities are tantalizing.
The game should, of course, feature all-time teams (’84 Celtics vs ’96 Bulls, please!) and online play and all the other features today’s gamers expect. If they did it right, it would be a hit. The world is ready. My aching sense of nostalgia is ready.
Bring back NBA Jam. For the kids. I promise I’ll let my seven year-old play too.
I mean, I’ll crush him, but I’ll let him play.
I swear that while I was writing this, I learned that a game called NBA Playgrounds, a 2-on-2, arcade-style game, will be released for PS4 and Xbox 1 next week! Early reviews are promising, although its relatively limited feature set suggests that it may be a kind of test entry for a more fully-realized game down the road. In any case, let this be a lesson to you: complaining like a grumpy old man about things is the only real way to accomplish anything.