zophar53's Blog

Posted on Nov 3rd 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Review, books, Boss Fight Books, NBA Jam


Unlike most kids my age in the 90s, I wasn't a big sports fan. I liked watching them just fine, and knew the teams and rules of most major sports, but it was just never that important to me, and coupled with a home team as legendarily crappy as the Cleveland Browns, I didn't have a lot of motivation to develop an interest. In 1994, I saw a sports game unlike any I'd seen before. It was big, bold, and unrealistically over-the-top in a way that was completely unexpected. That game is the subject of the next entry in Boss Fight Books continuing look at the video games that have shaped the landscape of the medium.





For this book, writing duties have been given to Reyan Ali. I'm not familiar with his work, but his credits include sites like Wired, Spin, and The Atlantic. While he was born in Dallas, TX, he grew up in Pakistan, and as such, is a great example of one of America's biggest contributions to the world being pop culture, and NBA Jam was certainly popular enough to be part of that influence.

Coming in at just over 250 pages, NBA Jam is one of, if not the, longest tomes in the BFB lineup. That said, it doesn't take long to see that the book is both a quick, fun read, as well as extensively informative. Ali's writing chops and research show themselves early, and the further into the book I got, the more I appreciated its scope. The Jam franchise and its developers have their roots in some of the most memorable companies and games in history, and over the course of those 250 pages, we're treated to histories of many people this community will recognize, such as Mark Turmell, John Tobias, and Sal DiVita.

I loved me some Double Dribble in my day, but NBA Jam was faster, more realistic looking, and way more over-the-top fun.

More than any other BFB I've read, this one reads like a full-on documentary, not just of the people involved with the game's creation, but the companies involved as well. If one were to give this book a subtitle, "The Rise and Fall of Williams/Bally Midway" would be an appropriate choice. As someone who was a teenager (and huge gamer, of course) throughout the 90s, there were few things here that didn't spark nostalgic memories and bring to light fascinating details.

Ali is able to capture the video game boom of that era in an exciting and organized way, and in the first few chapters, before even getting to the title game itself, brought a smile to my face as I started to see so many names I recognize slowly follow their individual paths in the start of their careers. Eventually all finding their way to Williams/Bally Midway to work on games I loved like Smash T.V.. The team that would come to bring us NBA Jam and, later, NFL Blitz had a lot of overlap and collaboration with the Mortal Kombat team, and Ali doesn't leave them out of the picture either.


Another thing contributing to this book's length is the number of people interviewed. As the middle chapters get into the development of NBA Jam itself and its massive popularity, we hear from people like Tim Kitzrow, who did the announcer voiceover, Roger Sharpe, who negotiated the licensing deals with the NBA and NFL, even Kerri Ann Hoskins, who was working at Playboy magazine when she agreed to come to Midway's digitization studio and have her likeness put in the game as a cheerleader. Beyond the development team, Ali was also able to score interviews with some surprising people who shared a love of Jam, like John Romero and Shaquille O'Neal.

Midway's relationship with Acclaim and Iguana, who handled the home ports, was fantastic. Until it wasn't.

The latter third of the book picks up the pace a bit, as the changing landscape of the video game industry meant massive shifts and challenges for the developers. The pacing in the later chapters seems a little compressed at times, as the rising power of home consoles, declining popularity of arcades, sequels, competition in the genre, and corporate mergers all contribute to a dizzying mess of events. This is probably the point in the story that feels least like an NBA Jam book, but with the increased look at Midway as a company and the franchise as a whole, it never feels like irrelevant or uninteresting information, especially when Ali is able to bring the narrative around cleanly with the series' re-emergence in 2010 on then-current consoles. As the final chapters come to a close, time is given to a bit of "where are they now?" info, and while most of us probably already know things didn't end well for Midway as a company, I found it heartwarming and satisfying to have that kind of closure to the primary players in the NBA Jam saga.

I never played the 2010 reboot, but I kind of want to now.

Overall, I found NBA Jam highly enjoyable. It doesn't retain as much of the "love letter" feel as some of the Boss Fight Books from its early seasons, and Ali's writing doesn't quite reach the heights of Chris Kohler's nostalgically-endearing prose in his Final Fantasy V book, but it more than makes up for it with an exhaustive, documentary-level look at one of the biggest game franchises of the 90s, and does so while lovingly giving the people, companies, and cultural impact their proper due. NBA Jam as a game franchise hasn't really been relevant for close to a decade now, so I'm not sure how much there is here for younger gamers to latch onto, but for those who fondly remember the shock and joy of sitting with their friends as Bill Clinton somersaulted a flaming basketball through the hoop, this is an easy recommendation.

NBA Jam is available in ebook format now and in paperback format starting November 15 on bossfightbooks.com, Amazon, and various bookstores around the country.

**Note: I was provided a complimentary ebook advance review copy of NBA Jam for the purpose of this review. I have purchased several Boss Fight Books, but do not contribute to their Kickstarter campaigns.


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Comments
 
Awesome book report Adam! As someone who also loves NBA Jam and retrospectives on gaming In going to have to add this to my wishlist.

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