There have been numerous basketball video games created since the 1970s. From the world of arcades to gaming consoles, the best NBA video games have improved dramatically over the years.
Nowadays, there are different game modes as well as stories that are immersive enough to let basketball fans feel like they’re inside the game.
Best NBA video games
The first NBA video game was NBA Basketball in 1980. It was the first NBA-licensed video game produced by Mattel for its Intellivision video game system.
Apart from this classic, there are a plethora of NBA video games that fans and critics loved. Every era has its own hot video game that was groundbreaking at that time. Here are the ten best NBA video games of all time…
NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant
Initially released on: Nintendo 64
NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant was a huge improvement from its predecessor, the NBA Courtside. The series features a young Kobe Bryant early in his Hall of Fame career.
Everything lacking in the first game was fixed here. The graphics were good, the gameplay was even better, and Kobe Bryant was involved and featured more. It may take a while for players to get used to the N64 controller but it’ll be a breeze once mastered.
The commentary in this game is the best. Phrases such as “Maybe he needs glasses!” or “Airrr ballll!!!” are on point and hilarious at the same time.
Initially released on: Dreamcast
NBA 2K1 is one of the highest-rated NBA video games in Metacritic with a 93 rating. It’s rightfully so since it was the trailblazer for the 2K series and an improvement from the initial 2K game the year before.
This game was the first one to put online gameplay via SegaNet. It also included iconic street courts such as Rucker Park, The Cage, Goat Park, and Franklin Park.
What’s more? It also added Franchise Mode which allows players to own an entire team for multiple seasons. Basically, you’re a GM who can sign, waive, trade, and draft players. This laid the foundation for future franchise modes like MyGM.
NBA Live 95
Initially released on: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
NBA Live 95 is the first game in the Live series. It showed a big improvement compared to the previous year’s NBA Showdown with its graphics, gameplay, and overall smoothness. Everything was crisp. from passing to shooting.
This game also introduced the 30-degree perspective, T-meter for shooting free throws, and the turbo button for a temporary speed boost. These features laid the foundation for the Live series.
In the SNES version, there were Create-a-Player and roster management functions. Even though it’s limited, NBA Live 95 is one of the first games to allow the trading of players. This feature was missing on Genesis, though.
NBA Live 2003
Initially released on: PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Microsoft Windows
NBA Live 2003 introduced the first-ever freestyle control in basketball video games. It was at this game that you can use analog sticks to move more freely than the traditional joypad. This game was truly a pioneer and transformed how basketball is played on gaming consoles.
For gamers, this opened an entirely new way to play basketball since they can move and do dribble moves freely. Players such as Allen Iverson and Baron Davis are monsters here since their potential is fully realized. NBA Live 2003 will be forever remembered by OG gamers due to its gameplay and how it revolutionized player movement.
Initially released on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows
Aside from LeBron James finally becoming the cover athlete, NBA 2K14 featured a lot of gameplay and graphical improvements. Basketball fans consider this game as one of the greatest NBA video games ever.
MyPark was its greatest addition. This game mode allows the player to take their MyPlayer to the streets and interact with other users on various playground-style courts. Everyone loved this new game mode since you can play with your friends casually and outside an organized basketball setting.
NBA Live 2005
Initially released on: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Windows
The introduction of the All-Star Weekend was a game-changer for NBA Live 2005 back then. It featured the annual three-point contest, dunk contest, and the All-Star game that other NBA basketball games lack at the time. This provided fans additional entertainment, apart from just playing regular NBA games.
NBA Live 2005 also featured new game modes, mechanics, and gameplay features such as the Freestyle Air. This game was innovative and entertaining at the time which basketball fans loved.
Initially released on: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3
NBA 2K16 was the pinnacle of innovation for 2K games. It featured one of the best MyCareer stories you’ll ever see. The game also introduced the iconic ProAm, MyLeague, and MyGM game modes which cater to all types of basketball fans out there.
Not to mention the major improvements in its graphics, gameplay, and AI. Its predecessors were already good since 2K9 but 2K16 elevated it further. It was at this time that the standard for a basketball video game was at its highest. 2K16 is simply one of the best NBA video games created.
Initially released on: Arcade
It’s already been two decades but NBA Jam is still one of the best classic NBA video games created. It’s the highest-earning arcade sports game—having made more than $1 billion to date.
NBA Jam featured NBA players doing gravity-defying moves such as dunking from the three-point line or doing an alley-oop high above the backboard. We also hear some of the iconic commentaries such as “Boomshakalaka!” or “He’s on fire!” which are music on the ears. It was just pure fun to see your favorite players jumping and shooting around like crazy on the court.
This game was perfect for casual gamers who don’t know anything about basketball and are just looking for fast-paced action. Until today, no game can surpass NBA Jam with its entertaining and thrilling gameplay.
NBA Street Vol. 2
Initially released on: PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox
NBA Street Vol. 2 was even a major success compared to its previous instalment, NBA Street. It featured great graphics, smooth gameplay, an amazing soundtrack, and the addition of various NBA street legends.
Basketball fans simply loved the playground-style that this game offered. There are a lot of flashy or “game-breaker” street moves that you normally won’t see in an organized basketball setting. They even added more never-seen-before dunks for more entertainment. Even up to this date, the NBA Street Vol. 2 holds up.
Initially released on: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii
Any game that has Michael Jordan as its cover athlete is expected to be good, but NBA 2K11 took it up a notch further. Its gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack were amazing at the time and still hold up to this date. NBA 2K11 was a masterpiece.
The game also included iso dribbles, the ever-difficult Jordan challenge, and some of the classic NBA teams of all time. Legendary squads such as the 89-90 Pistons, 85-86 Celtics, and 99-01 Lakers were included. For basketball fans, this game felt like a time machine. It was immersive enough to feel like you’re playing in the past era.
Combing nostalgia and innovative gameplay is a great recipe for video game success. This is why 2K11 is widely considered the best NBA video game of all time.