Michael Jordan turned 50 years old on Sunday, and it seems like only yesterday that the Bulls were holding championship parties at Grant Park and giving those now classic public service announcements encouraging Bulls fans not to riot. Ahh the glory days.
In the years during and after his playing time, “Air” Jordan has appeared in several video games. Older gamers most likely will remember Jordan’s absence from many basketball video games (such as the NBA Live series) throughout the 1990s, a result of his decision to opt out of the NBA Player’s Association’s (NBAPA) shared licensing agreement. That meant video game companies had to negotiate with Jordan separately in order to get his rights, and the price for Jordan was usually too high to put him in some games (particularly ones that had both the NBA and NBPA licenses). The following is a look at some of the video games Mr. 23 has been featured in, starting with a classic rivalry from the late 1980s.
Jordan vs. Bird: One on One
Years before “The Showdown” Super Bowl commercial aired, there was the Electronic Arts (EA) title Jordan vs. Bird: One on One. Released in 1988, the JvB only featured the two titular athletes for play against each other in a game of one-on-one. The game debuted on the Commodore 64, PC (MS-DOS) and Nintendo Entertainment System, with later appearances on the Game Boy and Sega Genesis (as Jordan vs. Bird: Super One on One). It was even a Tiger electronic handheld.
In addition to the half court one-on-one mode, JvB features two more modes: Michael Jordan’s Dunk Contest and Larry Bird’s 3-Point Shoot Out. The Dunk Contest mode is noteworthy because it features a number of different dunks that required precise timing and button presses. This was the type of mechanic that would eventually become standard in future basketball games like the NBA Street series to give players more control over their dunks.
The NBA Playoffs Games
Is that Will Perdue?
Before EA created the NBA Live series (which Jordan wouldn’t officially appear in until NBA Live 2000) , there was the NBA Playoffs series, which recreated some of the playoff series of the time. The first game in the series was 1989’s Lakers vs. Celtics, and the others were Bulls vs. Lakers (1991) and Bulls vs. Blazers (1992). Unlike most current basketball games, the NBA Playoffs games focused strictly on the post-season experience; only teams in the playoffs for the specified season were included in them.
The NBA Playoffs games were known for their advanced graphics and sound, which allowed for such things big, detailed character sprites (which included player idiosyncrasies such as Horace Grant’s goggles) better quality in-game music compared to other basket titles, and later crowd cheers.
Jordan appeared in a spin off of sorts (at least in terms of game engines) in EA’s Team USA Basketball, which starred the 1992 USA Olympic Basketball squad affectionately known as the “Dream Team”. Team USA Basketball was covered earlier here on the Chomp in the Olympic Summer Games special.
NBA All-Star Challenge
First released in 1992, NBA All-Star Challenge was developed by Beam Software and published by LJN (and Acclaim Japan in Japan), for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Boy. This title featured Jordan as one of several All-Stars (one from each team in the league) who compete against each other in a series of one-on-one challenges, such as H-O-R-S-E, a free throw challenge, and a tournament mode where the superstars compete against each other for basketball supremacy! Hmm, that was perhaps a little over dramatic.
Michael Jordan In Flight
Developed and published by EA exclusively for MS-DOS, 1993’s Michael Jordan in Flight is one of the first 3-d sports games ever. In Flight features Jordan as the only NBA player; the game does not have any other NBA players or teams.
The game features three-on-three matches on a court that seems to be held in some empty arena in Chicago. The camera is positioned behind the player character’s back and rotates as the character moves. Some film footage of Jordan is available, and he does provide some audio clips as well. Here’s some footage of the game to get a sense of what’s like. It’s always a little creepy to hear the crowd but never actually see them.
Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City
Of all the titles covered today, this one is perhaps the black sheep. Developed and published by EA exclusively for the Super Nintendo, 1994’s Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City is actually a side-scrolling action title, not an actual sports game. As Jordan, players are tasked with rescuing Jordan’s teammates (who were set to participate in a charity All-Star game) from the clutches of Dr. Max Cranium (no relation to Max Headroom).
Jordan fights against Dr. Cranium and his cronies by using powered basketballs that give him the ability to wield fire or create earthquakes. This game wasn’t much of a hit, and I don’t remember seeing it much as a kid. It did, however, have a cool basketball card.
Mike from deep… deep space that is.
Developed by Sculptured Software and published by Acclaim, 1996’s Space Jam is based off the blockbuster movie of the same name. Jordan and a rag tag team of Looney Tunes characters (known as the Tune Squad) as they attempt to beat the Monstars, an alien team of bruisers who stole their basketball abilities from NBA players. Released for DOS, Playstation, and Sega Saturn, players can chose either the Monstars or Jordan and the Tune Squad for either a two-on-two or 3-on-3 game of basketball. There were minigames (such as a space race and finding the pieces of Jordan’s uniform) as well as multiplayer play.
The main draw of this game was being able to play as Michael Jordan alongside characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, which sounds fun itself. Apparently it was difficult to keep record of any real progress in the console versions of the game because it lacked support for memory cards.
NBA Street Vol. 2
EA’s NBA Street series began in 2001, with the release of NBA Street, a game that combined the superstar talent of the NBA with the trick-style wizardry of street basketball. By using a series of various button presses and directional movements, players can perform a variety of different moves, including head fakes, crossovers, and signature moves like Shaquille O’Neal’s spin move or Julius Erving’s dunk. Jordan appeared in the first two NBA Street titles, but it was his appearance in the second game of the series, NBA Street: Vol. 2, that was one for the ages.
Released in 2003 for the Gamecube, Xbox, and Playstation 2, NBA Street Vol.2 features three different incarnations of Michael Jordan: two from the Bulls (1985 and 1996 seasons) and his final season with the Washington Wizards. All three versions of Jordan could be placed on a single team, which was as fun as long you weren’t the one guarding it.
Sometimes a shrug says what words can only hope to.
Of all the games covered, this one is least retro, having been released in 2010. Developed by Visual Concepts and published by 2K Sports, NBA 2K11 was released on all major video game home and portable consoles of the time, including older systems such as the Playstation 2. A basketball simulator, 2K11 contains all of the NBA teams and players of the time, as wells as some classic teams like the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boy” squad. But the highlight of the game was the career of its cover athlete: Michael Jordan.
NBA 2K11 features two modes based on Jordan’s career: “Jordan Challenges” and “MJ: Creating a Legend”. The Jordan Challenges recreate ten hallmark moments from Jordan’s career–from his 69 point game to “Flu game” against the Utah Jazz– tasking the player to put up the same stats Jordan did in those games. In “MJ: Creating a Legend”, the player guides Jordan throughout his career (from rookie to retiree) on any team of his or her choice.
In addition to those two modes, players are able to collect Air Jordan sneakers with the “My Jordans” feature. Jordans can be earned after achieving certain accomplishments, and each pair have their own special attributes.
Thanks for the memories, MJ! Until next time.
Peace & Pixels