New Book Alert: NBA Jam

What’s the statute of limitations on coin fishing? Nothing I did per say but I sure benefited from it. Back in the days of my reckless youth there was a quick stop convenience store, a kind of Kwik-E-Mart behind our high school. They had an Indiana Jones pinball machine which is still one of the greatest pinball machines of all time and they had NBA Jam along with Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II.

In hindsight I probably violated a number of loitering rules as well. Somebody in our gang…it felt like a gang—we were a bunch of loud sarcastic punks; I mean we couldn’t be cool if we went out on a Fall day without a jacket—had the X-Men mutant ability to coin fish.

This is when you tape a long string to a quarter or loop a string through a small hole in the quarter. You lower the quarter into the slot ever so gently like all an black dressed Tom Cruise in that first Mission Impossible movie…don’t make a sound. And in the slot that receives the quarter you deftly flick up your wrist to dunk the quarter like a chicken nugget in bbq sauce. You do this enough times you can fool the machine into 50 free plays for the price of 1 quarter. That’s a good deal. Ah how simple the 90s seemed.

In My Summer Lair interview with Reyan Ali he brings up a crucial point. NBA Jam instantly sparks warm nostalgic good vibrations. It’s associated with good time and friendship and hanging out and most importantly 90s NBA.

All the interviews in NBA Jam?Reyan Ali’s book on the classic arcade game from Boss Fight Books?from Shaq to DJ Jazzy Jeff to the design team at Midway offer an unvarnished authenticity and an infectious passion for the game.

Really short of having The Wonder Years narrator It is hard to articulate in any sort of meaningful way just how profound and incredible 90s NBA is and was and will always be.

1990’s NBA was defined by sound. Marv Albert exclaiming: “a spectacular move by Michael Jordan!” in 1991. John Tesh’s transcendent NBA anthem Roundball Rock. The Alan Parsons Project song Sirius. Finally just as important as all of them is Tim Kitzrow the scornful voice of NBA Jam who gave us the ability to articulate so much of what we were seeing on games broadcast on NBC.

“He’s on fire!” “The nail in the coffin.” “Boom Shakalaka!!” and so many more comical and handy expressions that neatly fit into real life. (Honestly? These are not phrases so much as free time machines to take us back to a glorious period of the NBA.)

On page 5 of NBA Jam Reyan writes: “Their arrival produced zero fanfare. No one really cared or understood who made arcade games. Customers were only interested in the games themselves, and they were eager to try NBA Jam.” He’s writing about the Midway Team who designed NBA Jam testing out the game at an arcade in Chicago. (The game came out in 1993…Midway designers were watching Jordan’s unparalleled greatness so I don’t doubt they were inspired.)

Reyan Ali is correct: I like the general public don’t know where Mortal Kombat came from or how Street Fighter versus Marvel happened. But as you begin to read the book he spent 4 years researching the stories are captivating because the characters are compelling.

Thankfully the seven designers at Midway made significant and critical decisions along the way…for example did you know that Big Head Mode was going to be the game’s default mode? That would have never worked.

Often some of our best pop culture was created and designed with little understanding of how they would impact our lives and stir our imaginations. Stan Lee had no way of knowing just how big Spider-Man or the X-Men would become. With Kirby and Ditko he designed and release them into the world and hoped for the best. They were the best.

NBA Jam is a wonderfully dense biography covering a variety of topics. Do you have any NBA Jam feelings? Read this book. Do you have a lot of 90s NBA and Michael Jordan feelings? Read this book. Want to learn about the video game business…maybe you got video game feelings? Read this book. Do you miss arcades with all their noise and optimism and friendships? Yes. Read this book.

I appreciate the way back playback and that a core element of the 90s was recognized and in a way enshrined via this NBA Jam book. I dunno if they’ll make NBA Jam games in the future; perhaps it’s good to leave it the way it is. Hard to imagine future editions will go Kaboom!


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