Retrospective: NBA Jam

NBA-Jam-RetrospectiveDuring the early 1990’s an arcade machine would grace the gaming world with a new style of sports title different than anything that had been seen before. It was a fast paced physical basketball game that anyone could pick up and play. The game was NBA Jam and the year was 1993. Midway had created a masterpiece and Acclaim did a great job of porting it over to home consoles shortly after. Acclaim was not known for creating great games but its arcade ports were usually on point. Although NBA Jam started out in the Arcades, in America the Sega Genesis port was king. This was probably due to the fact that the Genesis was always known for its great arcade conversions.

Another reason why the game fit so well with Sega is because neither the Genesis nor NBA Jam felt the need to follow the rules that society had set forth. The Genesis always fought back against the family friendly censorship style of other video game developers and NBA Jam took the game of basketball and stripped down the rules until there were only a couple left. But this piece is not meant to compare the different ports. It is meant to look back in time to discover why this basketball title may have been more popular than any basketball games before it. NBA Jam was one of the most influential basketball games to be ported from the arcade to the consoles of the 90’s because of the two on two street style of play, the competitiveness of the game and how it was easily accessible to people who did not know much about the sport.

Comparing NBA Jam to Professional Basketball….

The street basketball style of play made NBA Jam one of the most popular sports games of its era. As if kids in the 90’s needed another reason to stay inside instead of getting exercise, they now had a game which replicated the two versus two type of basketball that would usually be played outside with friends. The strategy of this basketball game was extremely different than the professional sport. In professional basketball there are larger squads which make it possible to use double teams and attempt different kinds of defensive tactics to disrupt the opponent. Conversely, In NBA Jam it is critical to play man defense, mainly because the teams are not big enough to do anything else. It makes for an interesting battle between the two teams as it forces the player to use their size to block shots but also rough up the opponent in an attempt to steal the ball.  

Another reason NBA Jam relates to a more street style of basketball is the fact that there are less rules overall. The only true fouls in NBA Jam are the shot clock violation and goaltending. The shot clock violation is basically going over the allotted time that the player is allowed to hold onto the ball without shooting and goaltending is the act of interfering with the basketball when it is most likely going in the basket. Other than enforcing these two rules the game allows the player to do whatever they can to win. This includes attacking the ball handler with some pushing and shoving to try and knock the ball loose for a turnover. In a nutshell, anything is permitted when attacking or defending the basket whereas professional basketball games did not allow such a relaxed outlook on NBA rules.

A Look at the Competition….

The style of basketball that is played in NBA Jam could undoubtedly create an ultra-competitive atmosphere. It was one of those early games that caused a lot of frustration for young gamers. The main thing that brings out the competitive nature of people is the fact that when a person is losing, it feels as if they are getting cheated. Because of the lack of rules the opponent can keep knocking a player down and stealing the ball. This can get extremely frustrating especially if the opponent is really good at stripping the ball and attacking the ball handler. Add trash talking to the situation and emotions can escalate quickly to the point of fights, broken controllers and all sorts of other crazy situations.

Not only can the opponent trash talk, but the game rewards the gamer who is playing better by giving them the ‘on fire’ tag. After making a certain amount of baskets in a row a player gets hot and his percentages of knocking down shots increases exponentially. The player who is on fire gains a boost of confidence while the losing player feels the burn. It is just the way the game adds insult to injury and takes the idea of competition to another level.


Lastly, although the game could get extremely competitive, it was also very accessible to gamers who didn’t know much about basketball. As long as it was understood that the focus was to get the ball in the basket at all costs then it was possible for anyone to pick it up and play. This would have been tougher with other games, which had stricter guidelines on following the official rules of the NBA. If a gamer wanted to get a little more technical they could pull out the manual and learn a couple of extra moves. This game also incorporated the use of the multi-player adapter so gamers could get on some four player action if they were not playing the arcade version.


Overall, this game brought basketball into the homes and lives of kids who may have never thought of following the sport. It is hard to argue against the idea that NBA Jam may have been just as influential on promoting professional basketball as the NBA’s greatest players. Sometimes the rules of a sport can hinder someone’s ability to understand the game but that was not the case for this sports game. It was fast paced, extremely fun, and easily accessible to anyone. It led to many other franchises including NBA Hangtime which was another arcade game that featured an amazing port on the Nintendo 64. NBA Jam is easily one of the most influential games of all time and had every kid in the playground screaming ‘He’s on fire’ after sinking a shot into the hoop.  

Last Updated ( 14 August 2016 )  


(Link to this comment) oldgamerz 2016-11-28 01:22
Well Written I have high like toward NBA Jam. For both the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis and the SNES. I found that the Sega Mega Drive port is a lot harder and more frustrating then the SNES version in my opinion I however no longer have the SNES port but I do currently have the Sega port. It is a fun game but it can get frustrating because you really need to be in the zone to play it and win :-)
(Link to this comment) bassanddestroy 2017-08-17 22:15
This game was the reason why I got into the sport in first place.

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