This phrase was ingrained in the minds and hearts of young gamers in the early 90s as NBA Jam exploded onto the arcade scene. Midway’s science experiment of taking the hardwood action of the NBA and transmogrifying it into a lightning-quick over-the-top arcade experience took the country by storm and everyone, from hoops heads to those who wouldn’t know a pick-and-roll from a slam dunk, was lacing up for the addicting two-on-two festivities.
With NBA Jam’s popularity as a coin-op it was of course a given that it would hit home consoles, and it landed on everything under the sun in 1994. My personal favorite was the Genesis version, mostly because it was the only console I had at the time, but it played great on Sega’s home console. The three-button controller was perfect for the game, giving you one button for turbo, one for shoot/rebound and one for pass/steal. The simple control scheme assured that anyone, regardless of their familiarity with NBA rules, would be able to pick it up and play with minimal effort.
While today’s sports games are all about hardcore simulators that take all kinds of factors into effect like injuries, fatigue and even the player’s MOOD in some cases, NBA Jam is completely bonkers. There are no fouls, so feel free to shove your opponent and send him flying to steal the ball. Want to leap 30 feet in the air and deliver a devastating spinning tomahawk jam? Do it up. Want to literally have the ball catch fire and burn the net with every made shot? Just another day at the office in the world of NBA Jam.
The oddball antics aren’t just limited to actual NBA players, either. With the right codes, you can play as all kinds of public figures that have no business on a basketball court, such as funk legend George Clinton and then-president Bill Clinton (no relation).
While retro games largely remain loved because of nostalgia and rose-colored glasses, the true test of a good game is how well it stands up years after the fact and NBA Jam remains as fun to play today as it was 19 years ago. Leaping from half-court, performing countless mid-air flips and slam dunking a flaming basketball so hard the backboard shatters is just a timeless experience that will resonate with players from any decade.