NBA Live '97 - A Gaming Memory
NBA Live '97 may appear an unusual subject choice for a blog post, but it has provided me with as much entertainment as any game before or since. I had owned and thoroughly enjoyed a Master System and Mega Drive years before the arrival of NBA Live '97, but this was the first title that inspired extended gaming sessions and sewed the seeds of what would become, in later years, a passion for video games.
I first bought this particular installment of NBA Live on the SEGA Saturn back in 1997, from my local HMV. The release date was constantly being postponed and I had all but given up on having the opportunity to play it on my beloved Saturn. I remember calling game shops every week to confirm when exactly it was coming, but they were as ill-informed as I. Then one day, when perusing the shelves of my local HMV, there was Mitch Richmond, the cover star, staring back at me. I almost lost control of my bowels. Even the £44.99 tag didn’t dampen my spirits; a ludicrously high price in retrospect. I proceeded to play the game non stop for the next year, doing very little else that idyllic summer except playing basketball in the sunshine and then coming inside for some NBA Live action.
My first venture into the world of Live was a full 82 game season as my favourite team, the Phoenix Suns. It was the days of Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd and Rex Chapman and I knew their stats off by heart. I played every single game, with each lasting around 40 minutes, and as a stat geek I went to great lengths to ensure that each player’s contributions reflected their real life output, with the exception of some stat padding for my favourite player, Kevin Johnson. We steamrolled through the playoffs and won the championship, though the final result was never in question, as after playing that many hours the reset button would ensure my eventual victory.
Once the season was over, and I had given myself a well deserved pat on the back, I started all over again, taking the New York Knicks all the way in another 82 game marathon. The game enthralled me, and was the beginning of a long relationship with the series. I was so enamoured with it that when I finally sold my Saturn, peripherals and all my games a year later, I couldn’t bring myself to part with my copy. It still sits, obsolete, on my living room shelves.
Being an NBA fan in England was tough back in 1997. I had to make do with an hour a week of Channel Four’s excellent magazine show - come back Mark Webster and Scoop Jackson - my basketball cards and Teletext. NBA Live 97 was a window into the game I loved, allowing me to control the players that I had seen so little of but knew so much about. When I could find time during my demanding regular season schedule, I would play my brother in an ongoing playoff style tournament. We argued nearly as much as we did during our rough and tumble games on the backgarden hoop - the spongy grass and uneven ground made dribbling a difficult prospect, which suited my clumsy handle just fine - and rarely reached the second round.
NBA Live '97 also looked great. I recently checked out a contemporary review from Gamespot, which claimed that: “The animations are so smooth and realistic that you'd swear you were watching a real game”. Of course, considering how NBA video games look nowadays, this quote seems absurd, but it seemed pretty special at the time. The level of presentation was high, the stats and rosters exhaustive and the difficulty well balanced. You could also make custom players, which was the only way you were going to play as Michael Jordan, and it allowed for full roster customization. I pumped hours into making sure my rosters were up to date, long before the days of automatic patches, striving to make sure that the Chris Gatlings and Tony Massenburgs of the world were where they should be each week.
Rummaging through a bargain bin at the tail end of my time in Japan, I spotted a PlayStation copy of '97, and although it was in Japanese, I couldn’t resist picking it up. Once I arrived home I wasted no time in throwing it on. The character models were horrible, the game mechanics were random and it looked very dated, in a way that only sports games can. Nevertheless, it brought a big smile to my face. I sat there and played the full four quarters, and it reminded me why exactly I love video games.