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Monday, October 17, 2011

NBA 2K12 Brings to Life Both the Old School and the New School NBA

As soon as I installed my review copy of NBA 2K12 on my PC--thank you, Clint Kaminska and 2K Sports--I immediately went to the Greatest Player mode and selected Julius Erving, my all-time favorite player; the Greatest Player mode enables the user to choose one of 15 all-time greats and then simulate a game between that player's team from a particular season and one of his team's top rivals. If the user wins the game then he "unlocks" at least one other team featuring that player. The game with Erving pits his 1984-85 Philadelphia 76ers versus the Milwaukee Bucks and the "telecast"--ably hosted by play by play man Kevin Harlan alongside color commentators Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr--has the look, sound and feel of a mid-1980s NBA game (a really cool thing about NBA2K12 is that the Greatest Player modes for 1960s icons like Bill Russell and Jerry West look, sound and feel like 1960s TV telecasts, with black and white visuals and old school time/score graphics).

While calling the action, Kellogg and Kerr also provide historical context. Kellogg calls Erving a "stat sheet stuffer" whose all-around prowess is sometimes overlooked because of his high-flying acrobatics; Kellogg notes that Erving averaged 8.5 rpg and nearly two steals and two blocked shots per game (2.0 spg and 1.7 bpg to be precise) in his 16 year professional career--and I am thrilled that 2KSports did the right thing by counting ABA stats, thereby giving Erving full credit for his ABA championships, MVPs and statistical accomplishments. Kerr, emphasizing the defensive numbers that Kellogg mentioned, adds that Erving was "a fantastic defender." Far too many fans--and even some commentators who should know better--don't realize or have forgotten that Erving's Philadelphia teams were among the best defensive squads in the NBA in the late 1970s and early 1980s; the 76ers ranked second in defensive field goal percentage in 1978-79 and led the league in that category in both 1979-80 and 1980-81, with Erving playing a major role in that success (Erving ranked in the top ten in both steals and blocked shots in 1979-80--a rare accomplishment for most players but one that Erving pulled off a record six times during his ABA/NBA career--and, as Kellogg noted, Erving consistently put up excellent numbers in both categories).

Even though the 76ers-Bucks game emanates from Julius Erving's Greatest Player segment, Kellogg and Kerr also talk about other stars, including Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings. Fans who only know Don Nelson for coaching gimmicky, undersized offensive machines in recent years might be astonished to hear Kerr say that the 1985 Bucks--coached by a younger, fish-tie wearing Nelson--were "arguably the best defensive team" in the NBA; indeed, the Bucks led the league in both points allowed and defensive field goal percentage that season.

The downside of including so many statistics and so many factual nuggets is that some inaccuracies will almost inevitably creep in if there is not a rigorous editing process; for instance, Kellogg and Kerr rightly praise Erving's tremendous college career--mentioning that Erving is one of just five Division I players who averaged more than 20 ppg and more than 20 rpg for an entire varsity career--but Kerr incorrectly says that Erving averaged 32 ppg for the University of Massachusetts; Erving averaged 26.3 ppg in his 52 game varsity career with UMass. I hate to nitpick when NBA2K12 evinces such an obvious appreciation for even some relatively obscure aspects of basketball history but, on the other hand, I have to be consistent with the message that I have always delivered here: there is no excuse for journalists and/or media companies to get the basic facts wrong. The folks at NBA2K12 clearly put in a lot of effort to make the game an authentic experience, so hopefully the few errors in the current edition will be corrected in subsequent versions of the product.

The 15 players available in the Greatest Player mode--listed in the order NBA2K12 provides their names in the downloadable User Manual--are Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Isiah Thomas, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton and Karl Malone. Those are not necessarily the 15 greatest players of all-time but they are certainly 15 of the greatest players; I don't have a major problem with who was selected or who was left out mainly because I think that NBA2K12's goal was to represent the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as opposed to definitively ranking the 15 greatest retired players. However, I am somewhat puzzled by some of the teams/seasons chosen to represent these players. For instance, why is Erving represented by the 1977 76ers and the 1985 76ers? The 1977 team ultimately inspired the infamous marketing slogan "We Owe You One" after blowing a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals; the 1985 team was the last excellent Philadelphia team of the Erving era, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time in six years but proving to be no match for the defending champion Boston Celtics. It seems obvious that Erving should be represented by the 1983 76ers--a championship team that went 12-1 in the postseason--or even the 1976 New York Nets squad that won the last ABA championship.

The other strange thing about the inclusion of the 1985 76ers is that the NBA 2K12 roster for that team does not accurately reflect that squad's actual rotation; Andrew Toney started 65 games at shooting guard and ranked third on the team in scoring (17.8 ppg) but he does not appear at all in NBA2K12 (reserve Clint Richardson starts for the Sixers in NBA2K12). Bobby Jones only started eight games for the 1985 76ers but he is the starter in NBA2K12, replacing rookie Charles Barkley (Barkley started 60 games as a rookie but is not even on the NBA2K12 roster, a stunning omission considering not only Barkley's greatness as a player but the fact that he is still highly visible now due to his TNT duties). Perhaps the inclusion/exclusion of certain players has to do with licensing issues. The game is very enjoyable the way it is but for true students of the sport's history it would be even more enjoyable if it were completely accurate.

NBA 2K12 has an almost overwhelming number of options, features and modes. A user can create his own player and, if the user is skilled enough, develop that player into an NBA superstar by elevating his status with good results in the Rookie Showcase, effective interviews with team officials and strong performances in actual (simulated) NBA games. A user can also simulate games between current NBA teams, go to Training Camp to hone his NBA2K12 skills with tutorials from NBA legends and compete with other users online; the tutorials are not only useful for anyone who wants to become better at NBA2K12 but it is fun to watch a virtual Michael Jordan teach moves to a virtual Kobe Bryant--the simulations of both players are quite impressive.

Although NBA2K12 works just fine in the PC format with keyboard controls (the only way that I can play the game since I do not have a game console), I am sure that it is easier to play the game with a joystick instead of furiously hitting various keys. I am a novice gamer at best, so my skill set (or lack thereof) undoubtedly does not enable me to fully appreciate all of the various features and modes but I think that anyone who loves the game--past and present--has to appreciate NBA2K12's craftsmanship: the visuals are stunning, the music is cool (hearing Kurtis Blow's anthem "Basketball" took me back to my junior high school days) and, despite the few quibbles noted above, NBA2K12 is remarkably authentic both in terms of historical awareness and in terms of the way that the players perform, eerily capturing the trademark, distinctive mannerisms of a wide variety of players from the past five decades.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:33 PM



At Tuesday, October 18, 2011 11:27:00 AM, Blogger Derrick said...

I do not normally comment, but I thought you would find this tidbit interesting. The choice of Philadelphia team for Julius Erving was a creative decision. The developers originally wanted to display the team that had both Dr. J and Charles. However, for undisclosed reasons, a licensing agreement with Charles was never reached, so he had to be omitted from the game.

At Tuesday, October 18, 2011 3:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I assumed that licensing issues had something to do with the exclusion of Barkley but that still does not explain the omission of Andrew Toney--or the fact that a Greatest Players mode featuring Erving's best team and/or greatest moment should focus on 1983 (or 1976 or even 1974) as opposed to 1985 when Erving was past his prime.

At Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:17:00 PM, Anonymous The Don said...

David, first off, I love your writing style, and your analysis, to me, is spot-on a lot of times.

Interesting that you're picking up gaming - 2K12 is great, but like you, I wish Barkley and Toney were there. And the Fo, Fo, Fo Sixers should have been unlockable, at least.

Plus, some of the old-time greats per decade that they used to include, like Mikan, Cousy, Rick Barry, Reggie Miller, etc. But I guess that's what Create A Player is for...

Not sure if you've noticed, but Kobe's just been ranked #7 by ESPN -- what's your take on all this?

And while we're at it, your Pantheon series notwithstanding, who would be your greatest 12 players of all time (in ranked order), and what would be your weighted criteria for ranking them (e.g. contribution to wins, position dominance in era, peak vs longevity, skill set, etc)? Perhaps a column or two or three to tide us through the lockout, no?

At Wednesday, October 19, 2011 1:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Don:

I have not paid any attention to ESPN's most recent player ratings--I have no idea what criteria they used or who voted, nor do I particularly care. However, I did respond to Chris Palmer's player ratings here.

I listed my top five 2011 NBA MVP choices--plus my All-NBA Team, All-Defensive Team, etc.--in Selecting NBA Award Winners: The Battle of Stats Versus Storylines Versus Logical Analysis.

As I indicated in my Pantheon series, it is very difficult--if not impossible--to select one player as the greatest of all-time or to even rank the members of the Pantheon in a particular order; it is one thing to divide the greatest players into tiers/groups consisting of 10-15 players based on statistical impact, peak value, etc. but it is another thing entirely to rank players within a given tier/group, especially since many of the players in a given group did not play against each other and in several cases they played in different eras with vastly different rules and vastly different playing conditions.

At Wednesday, October 19, 2011 4:22:00 PM, Blogger Derrick said...


2K Sports only needs to get a licensing agreement with the NBA to use any names and likenesses of any active player. However, I believe that 2k Sports needs to procure an individual license agreement to include the name and likeness of any retired players. This is the reason why MJ has been missing from the series' classic players roster for years. It was also one of the reasons his inclusion was such a big deal for last year's game. From what I remember from the developer interviews, it was a "creative" decision to choose the team with Dr. J and a rookie Charles. For whatever reason, they wanted a rookie Charles. (I do not know why.) They fully planned on getting licensing for all the players, however a deal was never reached for both Charles and Toney. Truly sad.

My guess would be that the producers assured them they would be getting the licensing, so they stuck with the team. That got frozen too far in the process to revamp, but they had no licenses. Last minute changes, it went gold, we got this product. This is all too common an occurrence in the video game industry.


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