Current Events in Sports, from the Sofa .1. If you like basketball and videogames, you’ll know two things that have marked many of our lives, and yours too. The first, a thorn that has been lodged in our sides since the beginning of the 90’s: since the time of that “Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs”, if memory serves, there hasn’t been any videogame in which the user could play with Michael Jordan on the Chicago team (at least not the Megadrive version, round about ‘93). One of the reasons why it was always good to pick the Bulls was the fact that if you got stuck on an attack, you took the ball with Mike, you looked for an opening, and you were sure to get a basket in a very high percentage of tries. Since then, because of the issue of licences, prohibitive rights, and the exclusivity of his sponsors, and because he didn’t belong to the Player’s Association exactly for this financial reason, the figure of the best basketball player of all time disappeared radically from any game. He simply wasn’t there.
Until now. Because this is the second great story that all of the followers of this sport and of the low art of the videogame should know firsthand: Jordan has returned to consoles thanks to “NBA 2K11”, a new game from the most complete, solid, rigorous company dedicated to basketball that yours truly has ever come across, as long as I can remember and have been able to waste time mistreating joysticks and controls of all kinds. And excuse for getting crude, but since the game appeared I’ve barely been able to contain myself. I would like to meet the genius, the superman, the God who worked this miracle. I want to shake his hand, hug him for five minutes, cry on his shoulder, and thank him a million times without even giving him time to go have a piss. Because the creator of this device has not only allowed us to play with God again dressed up as a basketball player—which already seemed impossible to us, and which we weren’t going to be able to tell our grandchildren—but he has also come up with a whole series of challenges and resources to take advantage of and squeeze Jordan’s image for all it’s worth.
We can relive the key games in his career. Yes, just like it sounds. For example: we can travel to 1986, enter Boston Garden and recreate the 63 points that the player scored on the most powerful team of the NBA. Or play with a fever, like when the god of basketball dazzled the world by scoring 38 points against Utah Jazz barely three hours after getting out of bed with a terrible case of the flu. And so on up to ten memorable nights, we can now relive the living history of this sport meticulously (with commentators, teams, courts, plays, tactical movements, etc.) and a rigor that is even scary. Waiting for us are sleepless nights, endless arguments with spouses, routine insomnia, weekends of extreme isolation, screaming, anger, monumental furies, bouts of euphoria, and of course –because that’s what all of this is about– mainline, freebase doses of the favourite drug of the over-thirty crowd: nostalgia. Because beyond the technical innovations, sublime graphics, new doses of AI, options and more options, which also have their importance and relevance to the overall balance of the title, “NBA 2K11” is a feast of nostalgia, a walk down memory lane for those of us who have never overcome the trauma of having our favourite players taken away from us.Taking advantage of the release of this monster, it occurred to me to twist the knife in the retro wound and discuss the five best basketball videogames of all time. A word of warning for console browsers and fundamentalists: this is a subjective list that is motivated by personal feelings and experiences about these games, rather than by critical, analytical arguments, a selection made more from the heart than from the head. So if there is a title too many or something is missing, or if the order of the top seems insulting to you, save the complaints. I’ve got no academic or canonical intentions— I’m not trying to be the expert here. I’m sure that many of those of my generation remember these games and will relive those Saturday and Sunday afternoons driving your joystick to the brink of destruction. Oh yeah, and you will see that I haven’t included any version of “NBA Live”. It’s not an oversight, no: I always hated and detested that series.
1.-Lakers Vs. Celtics And The NBA Playoffs (Megadrive) Ok, you see it now and you start to laugh. And then you get ragingly sad, a mixture of nostalgic haze and that strange feeling of seeing what kind of game you spent hours on. Any 17-year-old will surely slag off this classic game, playing it once on any Internet knock-off, making fun of all of us purists who still vouch for it. They have grown up with the new generation of consoles and this seems prehistoric to them. And it is. This is why only those of us who were there at the time and discovered this wonder, at the beginning of 1991, can really appreciate it properly. At that time, this was caviar, the total revolution, the arrival of a new way of making basketball videogames, the new era. Being able to play with Jordan, Bird, Magic or Dumars with that graphic potential ruined many afternoons and evenings of more cultured entertainment.
2.-Tecmo Super NBA Basketball (SNES)
Overall this title is not really that brilliant, but I have a special soft spot for it because I played it to the point of boredom. The key to “Tecmo Super NBA Basketball” was the extreme speed of scrolling, even exaggerated and taken too far, to the point that you ran the risk of pissing your pants when you were playing for many hours. It was also one of the first, if not the first, title that included complete rosters of all of the competition teams, a characteristic that wasn’t exploited much then and that would end up becoming a fundamental selling point in later years.
3.-NBA Street Vol. 2 (Gamecube)
Yeah, alright: “NBA Jam” got there first. But the original version of the recreational machine was so insultingly good that it’s conversions to Megadrive and SNES got grimaces of disappointment from fans. We had to wait awhile, then, for the arrival of the “NBA Street” saga, and to be able to enjoy the great basketball arcade that I recall, especially the second title, which we could enjoy on PlayStation 2 and Gamecube. An easy target for purists because of its fantastic, hyperbolic, overdone way of approaching this sport, here we have the best possible alternative to the hyper-realistic, rigorous profile of the titles that reigned at the time, and the best possible introduction to street basketball, a mode that would later be incorporated into the menus of reference points like “NBA Live”, for example.
4.-Kobe Bryant In NBA Courtside (N64)
The great forerunner of the 2K saga, this is a title forgotten and underappreciated by history and the memory that laid the groundwork for the new generation of videogames as we know them today. You could play an entire regular season, the degree of realism was better than ever, the characterisation of the players showed serious mannerisms, and the graphic section, although today it looks weak and schematic, marked the coming of a new era in its day. And another added merit: “Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside” was by far the best basketball game manufactured for the competitive Nintendo 64. If anybody wants to know, my favourite console of all time: thanks to “GoldenEye 007”, “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”, “Mario Kart 64”, “International Superstar Soccer 64” and “Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside” itself; at the end of the 90’s, the games lasted until the sun came up, without a single blink of the eyelid or a sleepy yawn.
5.-NBA 2K11 (PlayStation 3)
And so on until the present. The experts and those knowledgeable about the subject will have to declare whether “NBA 2K11” is the best of the saga. There are technical aspects that are beyond me, and at this point, comparisons require a more sybaritic perspective. Personally, I’ve played with every version of this series and I have no doubt that we are looking at the most solid update so far. But besides that, I insist, the Jordan factor gives this title a special value, unique and different, that takes it to the top and crowns it as the most addictive, fascinating title that we have played in 2010. Honourable Mentions:
“Double Dribble” (NES)Maximum respect goes to the pioneer, the father, the seed, the origin. Let’s situate ourselves and we’ll understand it all: 1987. An 8-bit console. You couldn’t ask more of the machine or of a game. A major classic. “NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC” (Dreamcast)
This was one of the star sports titles for Dreamcast, review of the manners and the modus operandi of “NBA Jam,” but with a better graphic proposal and an even more exaggerated, extreme view of that crazy, almost doped-up basketball that characterised it. “TV Sports Basketball” (Amiga 500)
Amiga never had a great basketball game in its catalogue, but what I remember the most is “TV Sports Basketball”, the basketball version of the magnificent “TV Sports Football”, perhaps better-done and more consistent.
2. About basketball. These days, basketball has given us three news items that deserve to be commented on at length in this column. The first, the European tour of the Los Angeles Lakers. The situation is nothing new: for some time now, every time an NBA team visits the old continent, the same loop is made. A team that is still in pre-pre-pre-season loses to another that is in the middle of its competition, already in shape and going strong, and the European media starts to measure and fantasise about the possibilities of a Euroleague team in the context of the best league in the world. This year it happened in Barcelona, with the victory of Regal Barça over the Los Angeles team in a tense, heated match. Ok, it was a win that was deserved, worked-for, it had merit. But from here to thinking that Barcelona could make it to the NBA Playoffs–ideas that have appeared these days in the Spanish and European press—there is a long stretch that can’t be reduced to such a simplistic analysis. Looking no further, last season the Spanish team reached the end of the ACB League totally burnt out, off their game, and exhausted, handing the series over to Caja Laboral without even putting up a fight.
If we do some quick figuring, we’ll see that playing all of the official games possible in a European season (it got to the finals of all the possible competitions), Regal Barça didn’t even play seventy matches, reaching the end of the season with little energy to spare and thinking of a long vacation. If the regular NBA season is 82 games and the Playoffs can go up to thirty games, it’s not hard to imagine that there is a fundamental, important difference in physical potential between one league and another. The physical planning is simply in another dimension. They can’t be measured by the same standard. In the European leagues, they don’t play more than two games a week, while in the NBA they might play up to five, and almost consecutively. It’s hard to imagine that a roster with the characteristics of Regal’s could stand such a strict, severe, demanding regime, with as much moving around, and the additional NBA rules and regulations, at least during its first two seasons of hypothetical coexistence in the league. And then other aspects outside of sports would also come into play separating the two worlds, such as commercial and publicity commitments, total and complete complicity with the media, and company and team structures. The problem is generating a hypothesis like this based on a simple friendly game in which the physical level and degree of motivation of the two teams are light-years away from each other, and which could never serve as a reliable, rigorous barometer to measure the real distances between the two models of basketball.On the other hand, the second big news of the month allows no hypothesising or harebrained theories: the DVD appearance of the documentary “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals”. That is to say: you can buy it, steal it, or download it, but any NBA fan will need to savour this film as the occasion requires, with a big meal, good company, and your cell phone turned off. It is produced and directed by HBO, which as usual has no problem when it comes to making its sports documentaries significant, serious, rigorous, and solemn film-wise. And this one is no exception. It’s a spectacular review of the most important rivalry in American sports during the 80’s, and the production also reviews the careers of both figures, with testimonies on both and dozens of personalities who coexisted with this media and sports phenomenon. There are archival images from their beginnings, and it recreates once again the fratricidal battles between the Lakers and the Celtics. It’s a new feast of nostalgia to break down in tears and damn the passing of time once again, along with the progressive devaluing of everything that marked our childhood and adolescence. Impressive.
And the third item, with which we will close this column for the month, is anything but impressive. The channel ESPN has put out a new edition of its ESPN The Magazine “Body Issue”, which is an already-classic annual publication, in which a series of athletes and sports figures from very different sources pose semi-naked. Up to here, there’s nothing that we didn’t already know. The news came when we saw the photo of Amare Stoudemire, just signed on by the New York Knicks for this season. The photo has dropped like a bomb on basketball lovers and, of course, among the chronically distressed Knicks fans. In the image, we see the player in his birthday suit, covering his privates. The thing is that he covers them with a finger. Not with both hands, not with an XL sock. Not even with one hand. No, no. With a single, solitary finger. And you can tell, too, that he only needs one finger, the middle one, because it’s the only one that is pressing on it. Dramatic. Bruce Willis’ micro-penis in “The Colour of the Night” looks like a porn-star’s compared to this. How can Stoudemire face the locker room after this photo? And even worse: this is the guy who’s supposed to save the Knicks from another disastrous season, with that little chocolate-covered peanut between his legs? Hard times are obviously on the way for the Big Apple.