Should ‘NBA Jam’ Be in the NBA Hall of Fame?


“I grew up in Pakistan, and the NBA just wasn’t a thing there in the ’90s,” he explains. “Nowadays, of course, you can keep track of it through social media, but my first exposure to basketball was NBA Jam… it was so captivating and interesting that I got fanatically into the NBA.”

Another major aspect of NBA Jam’s lore was the sheer number of actual NBA players who were obsessed with it. Michael Jordan—whose personal licensing deal famously kept him off arcade rosters—requested a unique cabinet made just for him in which he was a playable character. Famous ’90s all-stars such as Shawn Kemp and Larry Johnson, among a host of others, owned cabinets. And Shaquille O’Neal would bring a SEGA Genesis with him on road trips, playing with teammates and betting on their games on a near nightly basis.

“Shaq used to play the game as a type of wish fulfillment,” Ali says. “He’d always play as a three-point shooter, guys who could do things that he couldn’t do in real life. I found it all so funny: Kids at home were wishing they could be Shaq, while Shaq was wishing he could be Chris Mullin.”

And from a broader perspective, a Hall call for NBA Jam would also be significant for video games in general. According to Carly Kocurek, an arcade historian and assistant professor of Digital Humanities and Media Studies at Illinois Institute of Technology, recognition from Springfield would be “a moment of traditional sports acknowledging the importance of video games as part of people’s experience of it.”

She adds, “Games are often viewed as derivative, lesser things, but there are also times when they’re a massive part of popular culture. NBA Jam is important not just for games but for sports, sports marketing, and how we think about business and licensing.”

Although there hasn’t been a new NBA Jam game in more than a decade, the series seems far from over. A documentary is set to be released later this year, and Turmell says that he is frequently approached about ideas to revive the series or create newer, modern versions.

“Things have changed so much in the arcade business,” he says. “Everything is a big showcase kind of piece now, but I could imagine a big, triple monitor thing… huge screens like at Dave & Buster’s. I look forward to taking on a project like that at some point.”

And Kitzrow says that he’s been having revived talks with Hall-of-Fame executives, who are exploring some possibilities.

“I think they get it,” says Kitzrow, who today also lends his voice talent to NBA teams in addition to a host of other video-game and TV projects. “This was an important moment of two different billion-dollar industries coming together… You could set up an exhibit with the old artwork, the blue-screen videos, all the Homage t-shirts, all the subsequent licensed video games that came out. Imagine the draw of that.”

In the meantime, Kitzrow will continue to spread the gospel of NBA Jam at retro gaming conventions near and far (he even officiated a wedding of an NBA Jam superfan last fall). And whether or not a Hall call ever truly materializes for the arcade classic, he says he’s most happy just hearing kudos from the game’s adoring fans.

“They tell me, ‘Thanks for the happy memories,’” he says. “That’s a pretty cool feeling—a pretty cool legacy to have.”



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