The Games of Chicago: NBA Jam

When NBA Jam

hit the arcade scene in 1993, Midway Games were already enjoying great commercial success with Mortal Kombat.  During that period it would have been hard to believe that Midway would ever cease to be an entity…but that’s a story for another day.  NBA Jam‘s formula of combining the biggest stars in the NBA (save for one very conspicuous absence) with over-the-top, arcade style action proved to be a huge hit in arcades.

Heating up.

In 1993 the NBA was riding a huge wave of popularity.  Players like Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen,  were becoming household names, and the game was playing faster and bigger than it ever had before.  When Midway began development on NBA Jam, they capitalized on these facets of 90’s basketball, ditching realism for a hyper-stylized approach.  Players took control of the most notable 2 players from an NBA team, and faced off in what can only be loosely considered a basketball game.  There were no fouls, no out-of-bounds, and no penalties other than goal tending.

On fire!

While the loose rules of NBA Jam made the game suitable for arcade style play, it was really the slam dunks that stole the show.  Players could jump to absurd heights and perform multiple spins, do the splits, and even break the backboard.  The slam dunks gave NBA players a super-human quality that made playing NBA Jam a joy to play.

Someone’s missing.

NBA Jam was hugely popular despite missing the NBA’s biggest star.  Because Michael Jordan opted out of the NBA’s shared licensing agreement, he never appeared in the original release of NBA Jam.  In his place were Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.  Though this never deterred NBA Jam from being a major success, it stands out as one of the most notable instances of Jordan’s absence.

Some personal thoughts.

As a boy growing up in Chicago in the 1980’s and 90’s, it’s impossible for basketball, the Bulls, and Michael Jordan to not have a major impact on me.  NBA Jam took everything that made me love basketball at the time and jacked it up to eleven.  I remember having one of those adjustable basketball hoops in my backyard, and lowering the rim to a height at which my friends and I could attempt to mimic the insane dunks from the game.  NBA Jam represents the kind of memory that always brings joy to my heart.  Free of violence or controversy, the game took all of the best from one of my favorite parts of childhood, and made them even better.