Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Magic Johnson. There are countless names that have invoked a sense of wonder and awe in the world of basketball. Fortunately for us, video games exist so that we can have a taste of what these professional athletes do on the court. Now anyone can dunk, shoot a three-pointer, or block 7-foot players through these basketball video games. With a simple twitch of your fingers, you can make your favorite NBA player do what you tell him to. You can even become a player in the NBA through these video games.
Basketball video games have become increasingly popular over the past two decades and for good reason. These video games host either arcade-like physics or simulation-style matches, so there's a little something for everyone. If you like to throw caution to the wind and perform gravity-defying dunks, titles like NBA Jam are probably suited for you. If you want to simulate a more realistic match of basketball with real teams and players, the NBA 2K franchise is probably more your speed.
There are a wide variety of games in the basketball genre, but there are definitely hit-and-misses among them. If you're looking for the next basketball video game to invest in, here are 8 of the best basketball games we've ever played and 7 of the worst ones that you need to steer clear of (in no specific order).
15 Best: NBA Street Vol. 2
NBA Street Vol. 2 is the follow-up to 2001's NBA Street and a very good follow-up at that. In this game, 25 NBA legends bring their talents to seven authentic urban courts to battle it out. Winners earn bragging rights, while losers go home. It's that simple. This title deserves the "Best" moniker because it's one of the most worthy homages to streetball ever created. Featuring 25 NBA legends, six street legends, and 145 NBA players, you can jump and soar through the air as you take on your own basketball heroes.
Both basketball fans and non-fans will enjoy the simplicity of the gameplay, along with the complexity of the moves you can pull off. This title finally lets you do all of those crazy moves that your coach would have punished you for on the court. If you don't like basketball, this will convert you into a believer.
14 Worst: NBA Live 06
Now let's take a look at one of the worst NBA titles in gaming history. NBA Live 06 was a huge letdown. Beyond the graphics (which still had their own set of problems that made gameplay pretty hard to sit through), the game offered nothing of substance and fell short of being something greater.
The control scheme was borrowed from the previous NBA Live 05 title. It's a little odd to have the dunk and shoot buttons on separate buttons, but that's just where it starts. The free throw shooting mechanic is also ridiculous, both to learn and to use. There's no feedback about whether you did it right or wrong and it's generally clunky in a way that frustrates players to no end. NBA Live 06 definitely missed the mark.
13 Best: NBA 2K17
The latest basketball game on the market, NBA 2K17 is worth every penny. No seriously, this game is one title that I can safely say performed above and beyond what was expected. When these basketball games first started getting popular, it was always a battle between EA and 2K Sports over whose game was better. Unfortunately for EA, their Live series took a bad turn. Fortunately for 2K, they did things right.
The gameplay in this title is polished and easy to understand. This is made better by the fluidity in the game's offensive control system, as crossovers and spin moves are easier to pull off and creating space for yourself no longer feels like an ineffective tactic. Shooting and dribbling mechanics have also been updated and polished. Team management and more simulation-focused gameplay are also better implemented.
NBA 2K17 is one of the hardwood's best.
12 Worst: Slam City With Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen is a six-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and a Hall of Famer. Where he's been very successful in basketball, he really messed up in basketball video games.
Enter Slam City with Scottie Pippen, an embarrassing attempt at creating a hit basketball game using full motion videos as a narrative technique. This Sega 32X game stars you, Ace, as you take on four challengers in an endless game of one-on-one to go head-to-head with Scottie Pippen. You can go for a hook shot, jump shot, or break away from your defender and slam it into the hoop with your 80 inch vertical (I'm just estimating because Ace basically has the gift of flight in this game). You'll be lucky if you can manage this though, as the game doesn't seem to follow their own rules or logic, making it a frustrating and terrible experience.
11 Best: NBA Live 2000
NBA Live wasn't always a poor representation of basketball in video game form. However, NBA Live 2000 did very well in implementing different game modes like exhibition mode, season mode, and playoff mode. They even went above and beyond with extra game modes like 1-on-1, 3 point shootout, practice mode, and NBA Legends mode.
The great thing about NBA Live 2000 is how well-rounded it is with different features. It offers players the simulation style of gameplay, as well as an Arcade mode if you like to throw players to the ground while performing dunks reminiscent of Space Jam. The key feature of NBA Live 2000 is its Season Mode though, which simulates a realistic NBA experience in the game.
NBA Live 2000 did plenty of things tight, and while it's sad to see the series faltering, this game reminds us that things weren't always so bad.
10 Worst: NBA All-Star Challenge
NBA All-Star Challenge was a pretty sad excuse for a video game and, just for clarification, this game isn't the All-Star Game, it's the All-Star Challenge.
What that means is that this title boils down to a couple of mini-games held together by 27 teams, each of which consists of their best player on the roster at the time. There are four game modes: Three Point Shootout, Free Throw Shooting Contest, One-on-One Challenge, and HORSE. All of these game modes are poorly made and developed. There's no reason anyone should try each mode more than once, that's how much the game is lacking.
This is probably one of the worst titles you could get for basketball. It's not even worth the nostalgia factor.
9 Best: NCAA Basketball 09
NCAA Basketball 09 had a unique selling point as the only college basketball game available during that time and, with several fixes and changes to gameplay that resulted in a more solid experience, NCAA Basketball 09 deserves a place in the Best list.
The game's physics are run on the same game engine as EA's NBA Live Series. With that, the developers put a lot of attention to the details and the graphics are impressive. For a college experience in basketball, you can't go wrong with this one. A total of 400 chants are included in the game, with half of them being school specific. They even made team-specific playbooks in-game so that the virtual version of the teams played the same way as their real-life counterparts.
If you're itching for a collegiate basketball atmosphere, this title does not disappoint.
8 Worst: Jammit
Jammit belongs somewhere other than your Super Nintendo library. With a measly three players to choose from, Slade, Chill, and Roxy bring nothing to the court other than trash talking antics and subpar moves.
The one-on-one match modes are interesting in concept, but underwhelming. The CPU players are tough and not in a good way. Scoring in this game is odd and the way they transition the screens when you're going in for a dunk is one of the most infuriating experiences I've ever had with a basketball title. A lack of content and failure to make the gameplay interesting leads me to believe that this game is just not worth the price, unfortunately. If you have it in your game library and haven't tried it yet, it might be better to sell it or trash it.
7 Best: NBA Jam
NBA Jam was the ultimate arcade-mode basketball game. The classic art style and gameplay was enough to get you pumped every time the ball was dunked by your bobblehead player.
The game is all about being outrageous. From the high-flying dunks to the ridiculously-proportioned heads of each player, NBA Jam prided itself on the enjoyment gamers got from these crazy antics. The commentary provides many laughs and you'll feel a sense of awe every time you go in for a dunk because you know it'll be spectacular. If you played the game growing up, there's no doubt you lived to hear the commentator say "He's on fire!"
NBA Jam is an easy game to recommend, as it's easy to pick up and even people who don't really care about the basketball game will love it.
6 Worst: NBA Live 14
If you didn't think the NBA Live series could sink any lower than NBA Live 06, you're dead wrong, as NBA Live 14 is easily considered one of the worst basketball titles made to date.
The sim-mode on this game is not worth anything and provided little value in terms of entertainment. Experiencing basketball through this game feels like you're moving through slow-motion. The reaction of your character in relation to the inputs you give them is slow enough that you'll feel sudden urges to toss your controller out the window.
The game has some promising features, but they are overshadowed by the underwhelming gameplay and disappointing presentation. Hopefully, EA can look at NBA Live 14 and change their approach, because if this is the direction of their Live series, I won't be seeing a Live title on my shelves anytime soon.
5 Best: NBA 2K11
NBA 2K11 was great for several reasons, but the main reason was how much effort they put in bringing back NBA Legends and teams to the court.
One of NBA 2K11's main draws is the ability to relive 10 of Michael Jordan's most famous games. You could even create your own version of Michael Jordan's career through their "MJ: Creating A Legend" mode. They also allowed you to access some of the NBA's greatest teams since 1985, giving you a really wide range of experiences in gameplay.
NBA 2K11 also featured a new IsoMotion Dribbling Control, Shot Control and a more customizable My Player mode, all of which were amazing and cutting edge features that brought the game to life. This is easily one of the best basketball video games ever made.
4 Worst: Super Slam Dunk
Super Slam Dunk, licensed by Earvin "Magic" Johnson, is not magic in any way, shape or form. This basic basketball game doesn't feature Magic Johnson as an actual player, as he just provides commentary to the basketball match. None of the teams in the game are referred to by their actual logo or team names, which is also a shame.
Super Slam Dunk also offers very little in terms of game modes. You can only play a single exhibition game or a playoff showdown, which features eight teams (using their city names), and you then play up the ladder to the best of your abilities. The pacing of the game was frustrating to deal with and having Magic talk in a box on the left corner of your screen does nothing to alleviate the sadness you feel while playing this game.
3 Best: NBA 2K1
NBA 2K1 is an incredibly refined basketball game that features some of the best game modes and animations ever. The game also accurately utilizes a player's stat in controlling the outcome of a game, though it also delivers some ridiculous physics when it comes to the gameplay. Even so, NBA 2K1 is a delight and kept me entertained throughout the span of its life in my library of games.
The game had a very strong online presence on the Sega Dreamcast and the offensive AI was wonderfully made to give you a sense of actual basketball gameplay. Transition offense was a thing of beauty in 2K1 and is one of my favorite aspects of the game. The replay value of NBA 2K1 is through the roof and we'd recommend it day in and day out.
2 Worst: Double Dribble
If you're looking for an 8-bit hoops simulator that scratches your itch, Double Dribble is not for you. The game only has four different teams for you to use and all of them are equal in skillm but are portrayed with different colors and jerseys.
Double Dribble very poorly portrays what basketball is supposed to feel like and it's painfully obvious to anyone who's ever stepped into an arena during game time. The CPU players in this game are deadweights, especially the ones on your team, making it a one-man show of epic proportions when you're trying to win games. The audio in this game is also severely underwhelming and you'll often forget that there's a crowd in the background that should be cheering.
1 Best: NBA Live 05
NBA Live 05 is the best Live title in EA history.. The game featured the best freestyle control scheme ever and the game modes provide a lot of replay value.
Dynasty Mode and All-Star Weekend Mode really brings out the best of this game and kept you entertained for hours on end. The commentary and realistic arenas give off one of the best basketball atmospheres you could ask for and the actual basketball gameplay was something else. NBA Live 05 might have made it too easy to block players, but it makes up for that with one of the best Slam Dunk Contest modes ever made in basketball video game history.
If you want a game that runs deep with features and doesn't just throw them in there for aesthetic value, NBA Live 05 is a great value.