NBA Jam changed the lives of millions of American males.
It took the game of basketball out of its rigid world of fouls, rules, and established laws of physics and dropped it into the world that exists deep in the mind of every guy.
The world where the ball actually catches fire when you're on a roll. The world where jumping to dunk takes you fifty feet skyward. And the world where one's own maneuvers merit a rousing BOOM-SHAKALAKA.
While the Madden games reinvent themselves each year with new rosters and a revitalized dedication to realism, NBA Jam remains an anomaly frozen in time—a rebellion against the world as it is, and an argument for how it ought to be.
The question begs to be asked: Who would grace the NBA Jam hardwood today? And in turn, which team would go all the way?
The construction of NBA Jam rosters is not as clear-cut as it first seems. Some pairings are undeniable—Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, or Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.
Some teams, enviably, have too many stars, meaning that the Ray Allens of the world get cut to allow a KG/Paul Pierce duo.
Finally, some teams have the opposite problem, having apparently inadequate roster talent to even field a decent two-man team (names intentionally omitted).
That said, I present the 2009 NBA Jam rosters.
|Cleveland||LeBron James||Mo Williams|
|Boston||Kevin Garnett||Paul Pierce|
|Orlando||Dwight Howard||Rashard Lewis|
|Atlanta||Joe Johnson||Josh Smith|
|Miami||Dwyane Wade||Jermaine O'Neal|
|Philadelphia||Andre Iguodola||Andre Miller|
|Chicago||Ben Gordon||Derrick Rose|
|Detroit||Rip Hamilton||Allen Iverson|
|Indiana||Danny Granger||T.J. Ford|
|Charlotte||Gerald Wallace||Emeka Okafor|
|New Jersey||Devin Harris||Vince Carter|
|Milwaukee||Michael Redd||Richard Jefferson|
|Toronto||Chris Bosh||Andrea Bargnani|
|New York||Al Harrington||Nate Robinson|
|Washington||Gilbert Arenas||Caron Butler|
|LA Lakers||Kobe Bryant||Pau Gasol|
|Denver||Chauncey Billups||Carmelo Anthony|
|San Antonio||Tim Duncan||Tony Parker|
|Portland||Brandon Roy||LaMarcus Aldridge|
|Houston||Yao Ming||Tracy McGrady|
|Dallas||Dirk Nowitzki||Josh Howard|
|New Orleans||Chris Paul||David West|
|Utah||Deron Williams||Carlos Boozer|
|Phoenix||Steve Nash||Amare Stoudemire|
|Golden State||Stephen Jackson||Jamal Crawford|
|Minnesota||Al Jefferson||Randy Foye|
|Memphis||Rudy Gay||O.J. Mayo|
|Oklahoma City||Kevin Durant||Jeff Green|
|LA Clippers||Zach Randolph||Baron Davis|
|Sacramento||Kevin Martin||Andres Nocioni|
A few comments before we get to the playoffs.
The Pistons present a particular challenge. Rip Hamilton is clearly an NBA Jam starter, but who takes the second spot? Traditionally it would be Rasheed Wallace, but his numbers were down significantly this year. Tayshaun Prince is next in line—but can you really exclude Allen Iverson in a video game world? He made my Detroit team, even though in my mind he's retired.
The Wizards tied for the second-worst record in the league this year, but when you cut the roster to two (and disallow injuries), they actually become a contender. Gilbert Arenas with... Antawn Jamison or Caron Butler, take your pick. Even Jamison/Butler is still competitive. And now this is officially the most I've said about the Wizards since a certain MJ finally retired.
Who do you put on a Suns team? Shaq and Jason Richardson both got excluded to include Nash and Stoudemire. I don't feel good about that.
The most compelling duo on the list is Denver's Chauncey Billups/Carmelo Anthony. Both players are going to have high marks across the board (threes, dunks, defense), creating the NBA Jam superplayer—cf. Nick Anderson, of the NBA Jam Orlando Magic. While he was never even an NBA All-Star, he's responsible for a few thousand NBA Jam championships.
For the playoffs, it seems fair to use the 2009 playoff seedings. The first round would play out as such:
1. LA Lakers vs. 8. Utah — Lakers win, but in 7. Both of these Utah teammates played on the USA Olympic team... and they're the only team that sent two.
2. Denver vs. 7. New Orleans — Nuggets in 4. True point guards aren't that useful in NBA Jam, plus Chris Paul needs better help.
3. San Antonio vs. 6. Dallas — San Antonio takes this on Tony Parker's speed and Tim Duncan's digitally-enhanced knees. Sure would be fun to play as Dirk, though. Spurs in 6.
4. Portland vs. 5. Houston — Rockets in 4. Sorry, I like Portland too, but Yao/T-Mac is a great combo.
1. Cleveland vs. 8. Detroit — Much more competitive in NBA Jam than in real life. Cavs in 5.
2. Boston vs. 7. Chicago — Much less competitive. Celtics in a brutal 4.
3. Orlando vs. 6. Philadelphia — Nice matchup. The Sixers are well-rounded, but outgunned. Shard adds the outside shot, which you badly need when you fall behind in a game that does not feature defense.
4. Atlanta vs. 5. Miami — This is a great Miami team, since O'Neal can't get injured. Heat in 5.
Round two is pretty similar to how it matched up in real life, with just a couple of exceptions.
LA Lakers vs. Houston — Both teams have a great one-two punch. LA's is better, though not by much. Lakes in 7.
Denver vs. San Antonio — Denver, Denver, Denver. Billups and Melo don't bother matching up with the big man, and they win big because of it. Nuggets in 4.
Cleveland vs. Miami — Miami has a better team here, but I'll pick the Cavs since they both have a 3-point shot. Mo Williams is probably like Kevin Johnson in the original game, who quite simply could not dunk. Cavs in 6.
Boston vs. Orlando — The Celtics take this one. While Dwight Howard is an offensive weapon, he doesn't have more than KG... so the victory comes from Paul Pierce outdoing Lewis. Boston in 5.
LA Lakers vs. Denver — Sorry, LA. There's just too much here. Kobe's clutch meter is maxed out, but the Nuggets can kill you from anywhere. It's a great series, though, just like in real life. Nuggets in 6.
Cleveland vs. Boston — Last year's conference finals - and this year's too if KG was healthy. Here's where the Cavs falter — Mo is a good player but he isn't a star. He certainly doesn't match up with Pierce. You can definitely win with the Cavs, and LeBron's gonna have some spectacular dunks... but the Celtics head to the Finals. In 7.
And, the Finals!
Denver vs. Boston — This matchup is rated four stars, since that's how many stars are on the floor. Unfortunately for Boston, though, this is where KG's intensity turns out to be a human-only characteristic, and his unbalanced player ratings become a weakness.
Chauncey and Melo alternate dunks and threes all night to give Boston major headaches. And in the end, that's what wins it. Denver in 5.