#SunsTBT: NBA Live 95 is the Greatest Basketball Video Game of All-Time

by Ben York

The Suns will celebrate the team’s rich history during Throwback Thursday on Thursday, March 19 when the Suns play host to the New Orleans Pelicans at US Airways Center. In that spirit, Suns.com takes a look back at NBA Live 95 - one of the best video games ever.

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It was the summer of 1995, and my brother and I were absolutely, unequivocally addicted to the Super Nintendo version of NBA Live 95. Nearly 20 years later, we still talk about the amount of hours in our lives that game consumed from May through August.

“Didn’t we add it up one time?” I asked my brother recently.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think it was somewhere around 250 hours each – something ridiculous like that.”

“And it still didn’t feel like enough,” I replied.

We never really played each other, though. We’d take turns playing our own respective seasons with the Suns. Our days consisted of playing basketball on our hoop outside for the majority of the morning in the 115 degree heat, going swimming in the afternoon and ending the day with several hours of NBA Live 95.

This is neither here nor there, but that’s word for word what I’d do with my life if I ever won the lottery.

But it’s more than nostalgia that makes the game so great. Rather, NBA Live 95 changed basketball video games forever.

Looking back now, the graphics are fraught with hilarity. But at the time, they were groundbreaking. For example, the 30-degree diagonal camera view allowed you to see more of the court and, thus, more of the developing plays. In turn, player spacing was infinitely improved which fostered actual game strategy.

The players all looked relatively the same, but there was just enough customization (like A.C. Green’s flat top) that made you feel like you were controlling the actual player. Couple that with animations like players pointing their fingers after a vicious dunk (relatively speaking) or behind-the-back passes in the air and this game had everything.

The aesthetics of NBA Live 95 were unlike any previous basketball game ever made. The fan noise felt real. (Even the one random fan who would scream “Three!” every time you took a shot from downtown.) The bounce of the basketball didn’t seem manufactured. The sound of the ball going through the net was crisp and believable. The clang of the rim was spot-on.

The actual gameplay was even more impressive - namely the ability to call legitimate offensive and defensive sets. You could control match-ups, whether you wanted the player to dunk it or lay it in, and featured players routinely cutting to the basket. That is to say, everything seemed intuitive. Certainly, it wasn’t as intricately crafted in terms of detail as we find on current NBA video games, but it was just enough to equal the play-calling ability that was found in NFL video games at the time which were dominating sports gaming.

I'd only play as the Suns, as if being another team would somehow trigger the Apocalypse. NBA Live 95 featured the 1993-94 roster (minus Charles Barkley due to licensing issues). It was rare that I controlled someone other than Kevin Johnson, but when I did it was Dan Majerle. With seemingly unlimited range - not unlike real life - as soon as Thunder Dan crossed halfcourt I felt he was open and shooting the ball would be a good idea. Because NBA Live 95 is awesome, most times the gamble paid off.

When I played with KJ, I'd take the point guard position a bit more seriously and ran pick-and-roll sets every time, drawing the defense in and then kicking to the open player. That is, if you were actually able to get the ball to him. Inevitably (and frustratingly), most passes on the fly would go to a completely different player than the one you intended the pass for since you'd have to select a direction on the control pad while also pressing B. Admittedly, with limited buttons on the Super Nintendo controller there is only so much you could do.

Recently, after accepting with certitude the fact that I'm a nerd, I dug out my old Super Nintendo for a wild and crazy night of gaming. Amazingly, NBA Live 95 was still in the console. It was at this moment that the heavens parted and a bright beam of light began to shine down upon me. "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright miraculously started playing. Obviously, this was a sign from above and I figured I had to drop everything I was doing and reacquaint myself with the game. If I'm honest, I didn't have a choice in the matter. This was fate and I take fate seriously, people.

It took me a while to find the right adapters and cords to fit a modern, flat TV. To my great delight, the game worked just as beautifully as it did 20 years ago. 

The little kid in me smiled. Two...err...well...four hours later, I was fully immersed in an entire Suns season. For those wondering, KJ averaged about 30 points, 20 rebounds, 15 assists and 12 steals (and, yes, I kept track).

I guess some things never change.