I was lucky to see some of the best basketball players to play the sport. Over the span of three decades, the style of professional basketball has definitely evolved. Today we enjoy the run and gun style of the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry shooting 30-footers — I still remember the days when Kurt Rambis was clotheslined out of his glasses. Whether you are an old-school b-ball fan, hard-nosed journeyman, or a modern shooting enthusiast, basketball has something for everybody.
In terms of the gaming world, some of the most interesting sports titles of all time are basketball-related. The culture of streetball and the Harlem Globetrotters have allowed us to accept outlandish exploits in video games, seemingly much easier than any other organized sport. It is as much about style as it is about substance. That is why cartoonish b-ball titles like NBA Jam and NBA Street did so well among fans and gaming enthusiasts.
Certainly, one of the most fun thing about these games is the idea that there might be a special cameo. Whether you are a programmer or a head-of-state, you might find yourself immortalized in a basketball game. What started as a joke or gag ended up being an expectation. You cannot have a basketball video game without unlockable secret characters. Here are fifteen of them that you might have never realized existed!
15 Will Smith
Long before he became an action star, Will Smith was known as the Fresh Prince, a “clean” rapper with a major network sitcom of the same name. By entering the initials of WIL and code of YBX in NBA Jam: Tournament Edition on the Super Nintendo you, were able to play as the Fresh Prince in the most awesome basketball arcade game in the world. Would you pick his home team, the Philadelphia 76ers, or his current residence in Bel Air with the Los Angeles Lakers. It is totally up to you which team he can join. It brings back memories of those basketball-related Fresh Prince of Bel Air episodes, especially the one he dreams of playing one-on-one against Isiah Thomas. Time to pop in one of those DVDs.
14 Sarah Palin
Luckily, you don't have to win an election to be featured as an unlockable character in NBA Jam (2010). How else can you play as former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and have her take out her aggression through tomahawk dunks and vicious shoves. Beside Palin, you can also unlock George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. No sign of Donald Trump in this game, though. I guess the staff would have never predicted him as president nearly eight years ago. Surely, if they make another edition in the NBA Jam series, he will be an unlockable character, as well. Having Palin run around the hardwood is really a hoot, especially with her sharpshooting ability. Back in her high school days, Palin was running the point and co-captain of the varsity team that won the state championship. She might have not been in the White House, but she is certainly the boss of house of hoops.
13 Prince Charles
No, you cannot have Sir Charles in your NBA Jam: Tournament Edition for the SNES, but how about I give you a replacement in the form of actual royalty? British royalty, to be exact. Aside from having secret unlockable characters in the form of Presidents and First-Ladies, you were also able to play as Prince Charles. It was quite a sight to see him as a secret character. I wonder if he even knew that he was in this game or any other games, or if either of his sons actually played as their father. Regardless, there is nothing better than to have Prince Charles dunk on Charles Oakley. Take that, you bully!
Years before hip hop artists would become staples of the 2K and Live franchises, the sequel to EA BIG's hugely successful NBA Street employed the star power and basketball talents of Nelly and the St. Lunatics, with a headband and facial bandage included. In addition to Nelly, the in-game announcer DJ Bobbito Garcia and Just Blaze were also playable characters. Knowing how the hoop classic featured the music of Blaze as well as Nelly, it seemed in good taste to include them as secret unlockable players. Now, it would be a tremendous oversight to not include a big hip hop name in your basketball game. Thus, this appearance of Nelly was followed by many other famous names over the next decade or so.
11 Barack Obama
President Obama is probably one of the few people on this list who was really good at basketball. Now, it would be hyperbole to say that he was on the level of NBA star or even good NCAA players, but he was good enough to come off the bench and help his high school team win the Hawaii state championship. Since being in the public eye, Obama has always made his passion for the sport known. He might not be able to go toe to toe with Lebron in real life, but if you unlocked him in the latest reboot of NBA Jam in 2010, Barack can posterize King James quite easily. Which, let's face it, is pretty damn cool — what a cool President.
10 Mark Turmell
There were actually a list of unlockable characters based on the staff who worked on the original NBA Jam, but the one who really stands out is Mark Turmell, an important and influential designer for Midway during the early 90s. As a kid, I would look through the manual of NBA Jam noticing a screenshot of a player named Turmell dribbling the ball up the court. Who the heck is Turmell? Well, I later found out that he was part of the game designing staff of many Midway arcade classics including NBA Jam. You can access Turmell by inputting MJT as the initials and the birthday of March 22 in the original NBA Jam and Tournament Edition. He was also available for NBA Hangtime and NBA Showtime.
9 Beastie Boys
Before the Beastie Boys were unlockable in new reboot of NBA Jam released earlier this decade, MCA was actually already a playable character in the original NBA Jam: Tournament Edition on the Super Nintendo. Also, this wasn't the first title to have the guys as playable ballers, as they were also available in NBA Street. Though Adam Yauch is no longer with us, you can play as his digital counterpart in NBA Jam (2010) along with the other members of the Beastie Boys. Not going to lie, but these guys could dunk with the best of them, in the game of course. Yet another perfect (albeit it silly) addition to the video game genre.
8 Drazen Petrovic
Before the influx of European-born players in the NBA during the 90s, the man who blazed the trail for them was a Croatian baller named Drazen Petrovic. Sadly, Petrovic passed away due to a fatal car accident right after an amazing stint with the New Jersey Nets, which saw his average over 20 points a game for two straight seasons. After that tragedy, there was an urban legend containing reports that NBA Jam cabinets were haunted by the ghost of Petrovic and would occasionally yell out “Petrovic!” much to the fright of patrons. He and Reggie Lewis, who also passed away before the classic was ported to home console, were removed from those versions. In the new NBA Jam that was released on the Nintendo Wii, Petrovic was finally playable on consoles after completing 21 games against a human player.
7 Michael Jordan
For most of the 90s, Michael Jordan was considered the best basketball player on the planet, but one of the few guys in the NBA who chose to retain the rights to their likeness, which led to him being absent from every NBA Live title during his playing career with the Chicago Bulls. There was a method to get Jordan and several other legends by utilizing the Create-A-Player mode in NBA Live 96. If you edited a dummy player and changed their name to something like Jordan or Barkley, it allowed you to obtain a preloaded rating for that player, as EA seemed to have coded them it anyway. Unfortunately, this was the first and last time this happened either due to the threat of litigation.
Back when the 2K franchise was a part of Sega Sports, Redman earned a spot on NBA 2K1 for the Sega Dreamcast as a substitute for the Mo Cap team. Of course, there was plenty of star power in earlier basketball video games, but the inclusion of Redman sort of began the cameos of celebrities and rappers in the NBA 2K series. Interestingly enough, none of his buddies in the Wutang Clan made it to the unlockable roster in this game. Maybe they should have just included him in their group. Though, I have no idea how you would actually gauge their in-game ratings. Other than a handful of charity games and playground stints, there isn't really much research the developers could do to give each rapper their proper justice.
5 Kanye West
If you view Kanye West's basketball credibility beyond his sneaker designing capabilities, be sure to prove it to your friends by playing as Mr. Kim Kardashian and father of North West in NBA 2K10 in NBA Blacktop. The playground-oriented gaming mode featuring numerous famous hip hop personalities including West himself, Asher Roth, Pitball, Twista, and David Banner. Throughout the past decade, basketball games have featured much more than just typical game simulation. Music and other aspects of popular culture has made their way into the NBA 2K and Live franchises. The inclusion of NBA Blacktop is just a part of this movement.
4 John Elway
People in Colorado knew one thing for certain. If you lived in Denver during the 80s and 90s, the Broncos were your team, and John Elway was your man. As great as he was as a quarterback, Elway was actually drafted in front of Padres legend Tony Gwynn in the 1981 professional baseball draft. Coming out of Stanford, he was a duo-sports threat. Even though we never heard of Elway on the hardwood, he was featured as an unlockable character in NBA Jam Extreme for the Nintendo 64. By typing in the initials of WAY and birthday of 9/30, you were able to pair him off with other Nuggets greats in the 90s. Well, there aren't many. Maybe including him on that team in real life might have allowed them to win a few more games.
Remember when Chauncey Billups was torching defenses in his prime? If so, then you also remembered that he was the cover start for the game NBA Ballers Phenom, which failed to reach the success that the original NBA Ballers. Within the game, you were also able to play as Ludacris, as well as Chingy and Jin. Ludacris would become a mainstay of numerous other console games like Def Jam Vendetta, Def Jam: Fight for NY, and the final Def Jam-related fighting game called Def Jam Icon. If you can't get enough of Ludacris in your life beyond a fighting game, be sure to pick up NBA Ballers Phenom. But in all honesty, don't even bother. This one is a stinker.
2 The Street Legends
The Street Legends was a group of amazing playground ballers who acted as bosses in NBA Street, a game that honored the streetball culture as well as merging it with NBA licensing. The formula for this game was so successful that EA went on to create other “street” oriented sports titles like NFL Street and FIFA Street, with varying success. These titles stressed the importance of style, where players gain points and charge their Gamebreaker gauge by performing tricks successful, rather than just outscoring the opposing team. Each of the Street Legends was a tribute to actual famous basketball players. How can you play as them? By entering special codes, you can unlock the Street Legends team along with Team Dream, Team Big, and the NYC Legends team.
Can't get enough “Hotline Bling”? Neither can I. Before Drake was famous for his music and hitting up Toronto Raptors games, he played a basketball player named Jimmy Brooks in a Canadian teenage drama series called Degrassi who eventually lost the use of his legs after a gunshot wound. Quite fittingly, he would play another basketball related role during his rise to stardom. If you missed the days when Drake was balling people up as Jimmy, be sure to pick up NBA 2K11. In the game, he was available in the NBA Blacktop mode along with Bow Wow and Snoop Dogg. You can play as famous hip hop artists without picking up that terrible Rap Jam game from the 90s. Lucky you.