Continuing a recurring series on media-related aspects of sports video games, Sports Media Watch takes a look at one specific feature of NBA 2K12.
Considering the current state of the NBA, perhaps it is a good thing NBA 2K12 comes with a retro feature. Certainly, nostalgia breeds a rose-colored look at the past. What constitutes the “good old days” is fraught with bias and rarely reflects either the reality of the time or of the present day. That said, there is something appealing about forgoing the doldrums of the present day NBA, even if past decades were marked by many of the same problems the league faces today.
The NBA’s Greatest feature in NBA 2K12 is very much a celebration of past players. Announcers Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr offer stats and personal anecdotes about players from years gone by, several of which Kellogg and Kerr competed against during their respective careers. Despite being called NBA’s Greatest, the announcers do not focus solely on NBA legends — and that may be its greatest strength.
Most already know everything possible about Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson and Larry Bird, but players such as the Bucks’ Paul Pressey, the Nuggets’ Bryant Stith or the Rockets’ Otis Thorpe are lesser known among younger fans, if known at all. These more obscure players get their due from Harlan, Kerr and Kellogg throughout the games. For younger or casual fans, the announcing could constitute a bit of a basketball history lesson.
To be sure, the majority of comments are positive. After all, it should not be surprising that Kerr and Kellogg were not willing to blast their former colleagues in the course of recording video game dialogue. Even so, the announcers do not completely shy away from player weaknesses or past controversies. In a 1970s Lakers/Bucks game, the announcers took note of Oscar Robertson‘s 1970 antitrust suit against the NBA, which paved the way for free agency. Additionally, during a 1990s Nuggets/Rockets game, Harlan noted the controversy surrounding Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf‘s decision not to stand for the American flag during the 1995-96 season and how that may have hurt his career. The announcers did not discuss every controversy; Vernon Maxwell‘s precursor to the Ron Artest brawl was not mentioned in same game.
Not all the dialogue works. Minutiae about the Nuggets and Rockets once sharing the same name or the Bucks’ old green uniforms may be good for a mild head nod of interest, but not much else. Other stories have been told so many times that they were not worth rehashing again, such as the Nuggets’ upset of the Supersonics in 1994. In addition, some of the notes about the players can come off as if they were just read from the players’ official biographies.
Though the announcing is solid — especially thanks to the addition of Kerr — the feature really shines with the actual look of the games. The further back one goes, the actual footage itself becomes more and more faded. It is the rare case when the more grainy and degraded the footage looks, the better; the normal quality footage of the 1990s games took away from the retro feel. 2K Sports did a good job of replicating the look of the graphics used on NBA broadcasts in past decades, especially those in the early days of sports television. Considering all the 1990s nostalgia 2K Sports has utilized over the past few years, perhaps adding John Tesh‘s Roundball Rock would be a good way to go next year.
The retro feature was by far the most enjoyable aspect of NBA 2K12. Other features in the game seemed frankly too similar to last year’s product, with some small annoyances from past games still present — for example, the abundance of fake coaches with recycled headshots during the game’s franchise mode.
More importantly, with NBA providing more controversy and acrimony than enjoyment, it does not hurt to put on the rose-colored glasses and retreat into the idealized days of yesteryear. Certainly, it would be naive to argue that the state of the league was any better in past decades. Anyone upset by the NBA’s supposed big-market domination would have not been pleased by the Celtics’ and Lakers’ domination in the 1960s and 1980s. Fans angry over LeBron James‘ decision to leave Cleveland for a ‘bigger market’ in Miami may want to avoid playing as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who demanded a trade from Milwaukee to either Los Angeles or New York (interestingly, Marv Albert played the Chris Broussard role during Kareem’s trade request). For those left with a bitter taste in their mouth from the lockout, playing as Patrick Ewing or Oscar Robertson would seem to be out of the question, as both players were labor leaders during some of the most heated conflicts in NBA history.
Then again, the great thing about nostalgia is the ability to pretend the problems of today did not exist yesterday. The times were not much simpler in past decades, but it is nice to pretend that they were.