’95 Chicago Bulls for life.
Video games aren't as good as they were when I was a kid. Graphically? Sure, much better. Narratively? They've come on leaps and bounds. Thematically? Again, yes. Gameplay wise? Yeah, controls are usually much more in-depth these days, and devs can better utilise the technology to offer more variety. Creatively? The triple-A scene is becoming a blockbuster farm, but the indie scene more than makes up for it. Here's the kicker though – I'm not a kid anymore, I'm an adult, and my life is worse, therefore games are worse. This is simple mathematics, and it holds true for television shows, movies, and music too. Luckily, NBA 2K22 is there.
NBA 2K22 is not a great game. I said as much in my review, calling it a "soulless, and often joyless" experience. But it's a sports title, and a very special sports title at that. While other genres have grown more advanced and varied, sporting sims have mainly become more streamlined. It's basketball, right? Hasn't really changed for decades, and if you put out a game every year, you can't expect many changes. In fact, it's the off-the-court changes in part that have made NBA 2K feel so joyless, but on the court, or pitch, or diamond, or gridiron, sports titles remind me of being a kid like no other genre can.
NBA is particularly special though because it has classic teams included. I wish other games would embrace this idea, but it does make NBA 2K special in standing alone in this. For the past… I don't know how many years, my very first match in NBA 2K has always been the same – '95 Bulls against '03 Lakers. Two of Jackson's three-peat sides going head to head. I'm always the Bulls and I always win.
Space Jam was what first got me into basketball. I was a sporty kid, and even to this day if there's sport on television, I'd probably enjoy watching it even if I don't follow a team or even know the rules. But Space Jam was the perfect time to get into basketball. That led me to the Bulls, with the gritty determination of Steve Kerr, the competent grace of Scottie Pippen, the charismatic flair of Dennis Rodman, and of course, the indefinable greatness of Michael Jordan. The '95 Bulls versus the '03 Lakers captures the joy of routine, and is the purest distillation of what makes sports games worth my time after all these years.
"Sports games are the same every year," sure. That's what makes them great. NBA 2K22 is an average entry in the series, hamstrung by its attempt to be more than a basketball sim instead of honing in on what makes it special. The first basketball game I ever played was NBA Live 96, and like every sports game of the mid-'90s, it featured player models that were dull, inspired stick men with identical faces and body shapes, distinguishable only by a handful of differences in skin tone and the haircuts 'bald' or 'not bald'. This was true for everyone except Dennis Rodman. The Worm had multicoloured hair in real life, and was given a do in the game to match. It wasn't as sophisticated in NBA Live 96 as it was on the court – the NBA 2K22 version is a sight to behold – but it didn't matter. It marked him, and with him, the Bulls, out as something special. Something different.
Sure, they won the three-peat again, but it was NBA Live 96's respect for the team's greatness and for Rodman's uniqueness that cemented them forever as my team. Not the Bulls, specifically the '95 Bulls, and as long as NBA 2K lets me play as them, I can always keep them as my team.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
’95 Chicago Bulls for life.