In 1993 Midway came out with the game NBA Jam and it took both the basketball and video game worlds by storm. It was the only game that could even make my non-basketball friends want to play. I also feel like it was the first basketball game that was actually fun to play. The 2 on 2 format was simple and allowed the game to have much better graphics and gameplay to the 5 on 5 counterparts. Even playing out in the driveway or at school you’d start hearing people saying “he’s on fire” or “boomshakalaka”.
The game featured all 27 NBA teams (before Toronto, Vancouver and Charlotte Bobcats-Hornets) though due to licensing did not feature Michael Jordan in any capacity (Jordan owned his own likeness rights so it was separate from the NBA) and Shaquille O’Neal was not available on the home version. To this day the arcade machine gets played anytime it’s found and it can also be found for downloading in updated forms on Xbox, Playstation or Nintendo marketplaces.
The game featured 2 players from each team to comprise the 4 quarter 2 on 2 games. The players did have ratings, but they kept it simple and to the point: Speed, 3 Pointers, Dunks and Defense. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and rank all 27 teams from NBA Jam the arcade version ranked from worst to first.
27- Milwaukee Bucks: Blue Edwards and Brad Lohaus
Wow, these are some deep cuts. As a young basketball fan with no internet access at the time I had no idea who either of these players were. At the time the Bucks were a 20 win team and these selections for their representative are a clear indication of that. Glenn Robinson would be coming very soon, but I’m pretty sure nobody ever picked this team while playing, I mean ever.
26- Dallas Mavericks: Derek Harper and Mike Iuzzolino
Another player that you need to really look up in Mike Iuzzolino. Derek Harper was a solid guard at the time and was also in the NBA All-Star Challenge video game series, so he was familiar with fans. This team had a 13 win season in 1993-1994 so they did not yet get that boost of Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn that later paved way for Dallas to be a respectable team with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. This was another team that most players stayed away from.
25- Minnesota Timberwolves: Chuck Person and Christian Laettner
Chuck Person was a great 3 point shooter of the time, but Christian Laettner is really what brings the team down. The T-Wolves were a team that really didn’t catch my eye until they got Kevin Garnett and made a uniform change. I could see people wanting to play with Chuck Person, but we know the ESPN documentary about his teammate named itself “I Hate Christian Laettner” and this was uttered when the T-Wolves would be on the selection screen.
24- Washington Bullets: Tom Gugliotta and Harvey Grant
Two solid players of the time, but very far from the most exciting. Gugliotta was still young so this was before his All-Star appearance. Harvey Grant was having the best years of his career on Washington at the time, but was a scrappy player so it wasn’t the player that would come to your mind in an arcade basketball game.
23- Los Angeles Clippers: Ron Harper and Danny Manning
Looking back on this team it’s a pretty nice combination. Ron Harper would go on to play point guard for both the championship Bulls and Lakers. Danny Manning was a former #1 overall pick and during the time of the game making All-Star teams. However during this era the Clippers were usually playing in a pretty empty arena and were one of the least exciting teams in the league.
22- Boston Celtics: Kevin McHale and Reggie Lewis
This was the post Larry Bird Celtics and 1986 was a distant memory. Kevin McHale was on his way out, Reggie Lewis was the star of the team however would tragically pass within a year of the games release.
21- Philadelphia 76ers: Jeff Hornacek and Hersey Hawkins
A great pair of shooters who would also go on to play in some NBA Finals with Utah and Seattle respectively. Two guards who lacked star power on a non-playoff time was an easy pass. Not that there were better players on the roster, but for a kid not the first players I’d gravitate to when hitting the arcade.
20- Denver Nuggets: Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis
This is a great front court combo. LaPhonso could definitely throw down and Dikembe was always a defensive force. However the lack of 3 point shooting is what would make you choose another team. I feel like you put in Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf with Dikembe and this would have been one of the best teams in the game.
19- Sacramento Kings: Spud Webb and Wayman Tisdale
Spud Webb was a people’s champ! The 5″7′ dunker was definitely a player made for arcade basketball, there are few things more exciting than seeing the little guy go up with authority. Though the Kings were not the best team at the time, which definitely hurt their playability. Mitch Richmond though is a fairly glaring omission. I loved the jazz styling of Wayman Tisdale, but would have loved to see a Spud, Mitch combo.
18- Charlotte Hornets: Larry Johnson an Kendall Gill
The omission of Alonzo Mourning is very difficult to get by. I know licensing and such at the time was different, but LJ and Zo would have been one of the teams on the top of every kids list. The Hornets jerseys were rad and were just a fun young team to get behind. Larry Johnson was doing his “Grandmama” with Converse and showing up on Family Matters. Kendall Gill was a solid player, but not the first guy you would have thought of (even for video games you would thing Mugsy Bogues or maybe even Dell Curry). So they just lacked the buzz you were looking for in the game…
17- Miami Heat: Glen Rice and Rony Seikaly
Glen Rice was a sniper, but Rony Seikaly was uh Rony Seikaly. Luckily you could not get the pixels to really encompass the look of Rony. He was one of the many players that you loved watching Shaq dunk on. The Heat were a team that was still not really playoff material. Glen Rice would really hit his peak a few years later once he was traded to Charlotte and Rony went to play for a bunch of whatever teams, but the legacy of his hair will live on forever.
16- Cleveland Cavaliers: Mark Price and Brad Daugherty
These are some fairly underrated players. Mark Price was on Dream Team 2 and Brad Daugherty was a former #1 pick. The Cavs were another team that was seemingly always struggling. Both players did have that name recognition that would get your attention when choosing your team and offered the balance of guard and big. Funny enough Daugherty would end up commentating about NASCAR.
15- New Jersey Nets: Derrick Coleman and Drazen Petrovic
Drazen Petrovic tragically passed shortly after the games release. At this time with the Nets Drazen was finally getting a chance to really show off his game. When we look back now Drazen was an insanely underrated player who never got the full chance he deserved to shine. Derrick Coleman was another Dream Team 2 selection, #1 overall pick and did see his one All-Star appearance during this time. After leaving NJ Coleman never saw the same success, however did have a lengthy NBA career. You do like the balance the team had and today would make a very fun combo,
14- Los Angeles Lakers: James Worthy and Vlade Divac
Definitely a time of transition for the Lakers. Magic Johnson was retired so the team was heading in a new direction. James Worthy is a Hall of Fame player, but transitioning his way out of the league. Vlade was a good player, but would go on to have more success later in Charlotte and Sacramento. Vlade did have a few years with the Lakers as his team to lead, but I think the Lakers were pretty happy when they were able to get Kobe Bryant in exchange (along with Shaq in free agency). Though the team was not the Showtime Lakers, they still at the end of the day the Lakers and it’s hard to say no to wanting to play in purple and gold.
13- Chicago Bulls: Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant
This was definitely one of the most played teams in the game. At the time the Chicago Bulls were the biggest team in Basketball and you’d see Bulls merchandise everywhere. Michael Jordan was the king of basketball and had taken the game to the highest level, everybody in the world knew Michael Jordan. Though as mentioned Michael Jordan was not in the game (also this was around the time of that first retirement). If everybody in the world knew Michael Jordan, a good percentage would know Scottie Pippen (who was also a legit star) and if you casually followed the league you would know Horace Grant and his signature goggles. Definitely a good combo to play with, but games like this do not do either player true justice. Even today though it’s one of the first teams I run to.
12- Orlando Magic: Shaquille O’Neal and Scott Skiles
Shaq would not be available in the console versions, so you would need to get to the arcade to play with him. Scott Skiles was a point guard who could definitely drop some dimes, but was not the compliment to Shaq that Penny would become. Shaq was the young star of the league, so that would definitely make you want to choose the Magic. However at the end of the day in a game like this Shaq’s dominance was easily neutralized (since all players are super human in an arcade style). In games like this you’re really looking at dunking and shooting and Shaq can do the dunks for sure, but the lack of shooting would hurt at the end of the day. Shaq would also become a player during this time that was not always in video games due to licensing, so sadly Shaq-Fu was the only video game some of his fans could play with at home
11- Seattle SuperSonics: Shawn Kemp and Benoit Benjamin
Shawn Kemp the reign man! The man was one of the best dunkers in the league and if you have Kemp you know you need to have his partner in crime Benoit Benjamin… Umm yeah the lack of Gary Payton is hard to swallow, but the inclusion of Benoit Benjamin is even harder to swallow. I mean if you had to put a C in the game from the Sonics, why wasn’t it Sam Perkins!? Super strange choice of Benoit Benjamin, but even with him, Shawn Kemp was such a beast in the game he could have just played by himself.
10- New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley
This was an era where the Knicks were a tough team. They played a real hard nosed style of basketball worthy of New York. Ewing and Oakley were both tough players. The lack of balance is tough as both are post players, but they were two of the best in the time. Plus in a game where you go out and just shove people it seems like having Charles Oakley would be essential. The dude was made for bowling players over. The fact that it’s just 3 Point Shooting as rating is what can make this team harder to play with. Though picking this guys makes you feel tougher yourself, so it gives you the swagger needed to win.
9- Atlanta Hawks: Dominique Wilkins and Stacey Augmon
Dominque was one of the best scorers and dunkers of this era. Everybody wanted to dunk with Dominique and Stacey Augmon was a decent player. It’s tough that that there was not really another star to go with Dominque, but again in his prime of dominance he could carry any team.
8- Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer
The “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons played every game like they thought no fouls would be called. Some of these players waited their whole lives for a game like NBA Jam. No Joe Dumars, but you need the big guy like Laimbeer to compliment Isiah. Both players were towards the end of their careers, but they had just what you needed for the game. Their biggest problem were that most fans sided with the Bulls and thought the Pistons were a bunch of jerks. They were not wrong, but it was fun living out the “Bad Boy’s” dream of just shoving everybody at will and using Isiah to run them off the court.
7- Golden State Warriors: Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin
The “M” or “Run TMC” was gone, but there was nothing wrong with T & C. Tim Hardaway was the master of the killer crossover and one of the most fun PG’s to watch in the league. Chris Mullin was a Dream Team player who was super skilled. Though they lack the big toughness, they have what you want in a video game, speed and shooting. You could imagine the NBA Jam pace also being how Don Nelson would like to have it. Though the team never got to the finals they were definitely one of the most fun teams to watch at the time. Chris Mullin is also one of those players who would be fun to see in the modern era as well.
6- Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller and Detlef Schrempf
Reggie Miller loved being the enemy and if the enemy of your enemy is your friend, this was the perfect team to play with. Shoving and shooting also played in to Reggie Millers strong suits. Detlef Schrempf was a well rounded player who gave a little of the toughness you would want to see, while still being a competent shooter. Detlef would go on to have some strong years in Seattle a few years later, but again would be an interesting player to see in the modern era. For the sake of video game it would have been awesome to see the monstrous Rik Smits running alongside Reggie.
5- Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter
This was the team I would play with the most because the Blazers are my team. Clyde and Terry are two of the greatest players in the history of Rip City. This is one of my personal favorite backcourts in NBA History as the Blazers is how I learned about basketball. Clyde was actually a pretty decent rebounding 2 guard, but it’s hard not having a big guy to along side like Clifford Robinson or Buck Williams. Though there is nothing like the Porter, Drexler Combo. There was not another good game to get to play for me to really take control of Rip City at that time. If we were to hop on to the sticks right now, there is a good chance I will take the Blazers
4- Phoenix Suns: Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle
Charles Barkley was a player that did not always appear in video games due to his licensing. Having him in the game was huge as these were the peak years of his career and he was really one of the best players in the league. Thunder Dan was also a solid player that would serve as a good compliment. Kevin Johnson would have also been a solid choice to go along with Sir Charles. Definitely one of the most popular teams to pick and one of the best as well. Sadly Phoenix only made that 1993 NBA Finals, but during this era they were definitely a fun team to watch.
3- Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon and Kenny Smith
The Rockets would win those back to back titles in 1994 & 1995, so this was a team you’d gravitate too. Hakeem was as dominant as it could get, though sadly there has never been a video game that could encompass the “Dream Shake”. His running mate of Kenny the Jet is a decent choice given the time. Vernon Maxwell would have been a fun choice and Robert Horry would become a legend for his playoff heroics, but it was early in his career. Hakeem could have played with anybody and still be a top choice given how great he was at this time.
2- San Antonio Spurs: David Robinson and Sean Elliott
The Admiral was at the top of his game and his running mate of Sean Elliott was also an All-Star at this time. The well rounded ability of both of these players makes them a top choice. It’s a real coin flip between San Antonio and Houston, but I give San Antonio the edge with Sean Elliott. Though Houston would get a title first, the Spurs would get their chance in 1999 to get their first title. David Robinson had the Spurs always gunning for the finals and the one year he gets hurt and is out all year is also the very same year they won the draft lottery to get Tim Duncan.
1- Utah Jazz: Karl Malone and John Stockton
The pick and roll, give and go masters are the number 1 team in NBA Jam. The perfect balance of a team with the Malone as the hard dunking big and Stockton as the quick shooter. Though a game like this does not allow for the subtlety of the pick and roll, it still establishes that they were both great players. Also the flashy over the top dunks fit right in for Karl Malone who even had his signature “Pretty Boy” Dunk. The Jazz never got a title, but had some great battles with MJ’s Bulls in the Finals. When you really wanted to win the game and beat your friends the Jazz were the team you needed to play with.
NBA Jam still is a great game to introduce friends and family to basketball. So if you find it at the arcade get those quarters in the machine and start playing!