Post by KostaAndreadis @ 06:10pm 20/03/22 | Comments
To celebrate the release of the gripping new sports drama Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on Binge, we take a look back at the earliest days of basketball videogames.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, the new series from the acclaimed director of The Big Short and Don’t Look Up, takes a fascinating and gripping look at the NBA team and era that changed the game forever. From the Lakers superstar line-up that included Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to its rivalry with other teams like the Boston Celtics, through to its enigmatic coaches and management; the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s set the tone and spectacle for what we now know as professional basketball.
Commonly referred to as the “Showtime Era”, it’s where personalities and teams and spectacle -- in excess -- sat alongside fundamentals and running a good defence. You can’t have a good breakaway without having a good breakdance, if you catch our meaning. And with Winning Time’s brilliant dramatic retelling of NBA history we’re taking a look at some of the most iconic basketball videogames from the same era; notable releases that shaped digital basketball, and how the same Lakers Dynasty played an important role in getting us to where we are today with NBA 2K22.
The First Digital Baskets
Basketball's popularity in the 1980s exploded thanks to teams like the Lakers, a trajectory that mirrors the rise of videogames into the mainstream. With the likes of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), early home computing (PC), and a few other platforms on the rise it wasn’t long before basketball games began to show up to capitalise on the sport’s growing popularity. One of the very first was for the long-forgotten Intellivision console from 1980 simply called Basketball, which actually nabbed an official NBA licence. But being 1980 the game was a collection of stick figures running around and the official licence resulting in little more than the NBA logo on the cover.
Konami’s Double Dribble (1987) on the NES was groundbreaking though, in how it actually depicted 10 players on the court plus how it featured slam dunks and buzzer-beating three-pointers.
Primitive graphics, especially when stacked against what we have now, define the 1980s when it comes to videogames. For basketball titles this means teams of two or three on screen at most, and very few games going as far as actually licensing teams or personalities. Konami’s Double Dribble (1987) on the NES was groundbreaking though, in how it actually depicted 10 players on the court plus how it featured slam dunks and buzzer-beating three-pointers. Arch Rivals from Midway and Rare went the other route, by mixing basketball with combat and ‘80s excess. Both titles, though, didn’t feature any real-world NBA teams or players.
The Magic Arrives
Magic Johnson was one of the NBA’s first true superstars; a player that would pave the way for the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. A larger than life figure that quickly became a part of popular culture. Plus, he was elevated as a personality through numerous commercials and sponsorships at a time when that wasn’t really a thing. And with videogames sitting firmly in that pop culture realm it was NBA stars as opposed to NBA teams that drove the success and popularity of early basketball games.
Magic Johnson's Fast Break hit the scene in 1988, and although its two-versus-two bball was not particularly memorable, having a digital Magic pop up on the screen to give kids and players a quick pep talk definitely was. Plus, it has some awesome 8-bit era menu music. It was games like this, alongside Jordan vs. Bird: One on One (1988), that defined the early years of basketball gaming. Plus, even the Lakers enigmatic coach Pat Riley (played by Adrian Brody in Winning Time) got in on the action with Pat Riley Basketball (1990) for SEGA.
The Lakers Take the Court
Of course, no trip down basketball videogame memory-lane can be written without a mention of the smash-hit NBA Jam (1994), an over-the-top rendition of basketball that was all about dunks and personalities and attitude. A more (for the time) modern take on the “Showtime Era” Arch Rivals.
The release of Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs (1989) though, is the iconic moment in the history of basketball games for a number of reasons.
The release of Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs (1989) though, is the iconic moment in the history of basketball games for a number of reasons. It was the first to feature full teams from the NBA -- a pretty big deal in its own right, but it also depicted the real-world rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics. And that of iconic players Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Second, it was the first realistic basketball game from Electronic Arts, a publisher and studio that would go on to create the NBA Live series of games.
Like the Lakers we see in Winning Time, this gem kicked off the journey to where we are today. And it’s fitting that NBA 2K22, a realistic, accessible and brilliant take on basketball, pays homage to the classic teams depicted throughout the history of basketball gaming. The Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, and of course the Los Angeles Lakers. Which you can take to the court today thanks to NBA 2K22’s inclusion of one of the Lakers Dynasty’s all-time great line-ups -- the 1986-1987 team.
This feature is brought to you by Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on Binge. New to Binge? Get a 14 day trial at binge.com.au