A Look Back at NBA Street

With the relatively recent release of NBA Playgrounds, the name NBA Street has been thrown around a lot as a point of comparison. At first, I was hopeful that Saber Interactive would be reviving a style of arcade basketball that is long overdue for a return. Instead, I was disappointed to see that the comparisons were way off base. NBA Playgrounds is much closer in nature to NBA Jam than EA’s brilliant baller. Using NBA Jam as a template is fine, though it makes me long for NBA Street‘s triumphant return.

Unlike NBA Jam, NBA Street was a 3-on-3 arcade basketball game with some fundamentally core differences. For one, this takes the NBA world off of the hardwood and onto the playgrounds. With head-nod-inducing beats, hip commentary and art direction that reflected the world of early 2000s hip-hop, this game had swag for days.

What put NBA Street over the top was its gameplay. While Jam was a rudimentary game about flashy dunks and flaming jumpers from beyond the arc, NBA Street introduced a whole new trick system into the mix. Players had access to dozens of different dribble moves, which players were encouraged to break ankles. When done in combination with sweet shots or high-flying dunks, you’d build up a special Gamebreaker meter. Once full, you could attempt an ultimate shot that would give you extra points while taking points away from your opponent.

Because of its modern sense of style and a gameplay engine that was far deeper than anything NBA Jam could muster, NBA Street is the true peak of arcade basketball. My favourite entry in the series was Vol. 2, which added way more dribble moves, as well as NBA Legends such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and a rare video game appearance from Michael Jordan. NBA Street Vol. 3 on the Gamecube was also fantastic, as it added Super Mario, Luigi and Peach to the mix.

Sadly, after NBA Street: Homecourt, the series was shelved by EA Sports. With EA having struggled mightily to gain any sort of traction with its NBA offerings over the last few years, the likelihood of its return is slim. That said, with NBA Playgrounds being a modern, yet weak alternative, I would love to see the king of the court come back and show everyone how arcade basketball should be done.

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