When it comes to sports video games, even in an age with online gaming and realistic, high definition graphics, nothing will ever compare to one of the original greats: NBA Jam. Released originally as an arcade game in 1993 and later on consoles, it quickly turned into an icon with its exaggerated style of basketball. Players jumped many times their height for slam dunks that defied all sorts of physics, while hot shooting made the ball literally catch fire and increase that player’s turbo and shooting ability, all while the announcer shouted “Boom shaka-laka!” and “He’s on fire!”.
Another reason this game was so great was that it was one of the first sports game to actually license the names and likenesses of actual NBA players, meaning fans could not only play as real people but pick and choose unique lineups from three players on each team. Even 24 years later people are still talking about this game, including Zach and Evan who virtually sat down to reminisce about the game and share their thoughts on what some of the best two-man lineups would be today.
Evan: NBA Jam was a revolutionary sports video game and was insanely popular. Did you play it much during your childhood? What team did you generally play with?
Zach: Ironically, I probably played more College Slam than NBA Jam as a kid, given that it was essentially just an expanded version of NBA Jam. Nonetheless I got plenty of Jam time in as well. I definitely used the Chicago Bulls the most, even with the egregious lack of Michael Jordan (Horace Grant draining threes anyone?). However, probably my favorite duo to play with was Scottie Pippen and secret player Bill Clinton. What about you? As a younger guy I'm curious to see how much it caught on with you.
Evan: The game came out for SNES when I was two, but thanks to my older brother it remained in our household for years to come. I probably played the most when I was five or six right during the Jordan championship years, when that's about all I knew about basketball, so like you I also used the Chicago Bulls even though I couldn't ever figure out why MJ wasn't on the game. I don't remember much else except the matches between my brother and I became very intense, though I'm sure nine times out of ten he swept the floor with me.
Did you play with the Nuggets at all? Looking at the roster available for Denver, it seems like a team from two out of Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf could actually be pretty good.
Zach: The Nuggets were my second team, I just hated playing with Mutombo honestly. He couldn't shoot to save his soul, and that was true in both real life and the game and anytime half your squad has no chance of going on fire it can severely hamper the fun factor. Rauf and Ellis though was dynamite. Perfect combo for the game, one knock down shooter and one flat out athlete to bring the boom-shakalaka.
Evan: Totally makes sense. Now, with its 2-on-2 style of gameplay, NBA Jam highlighted iconic NBA duos (think Stockton and Malone). The Nuggets have had their fair share of these kinds of duos in their history from Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe to Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. That brings us to the whole point of this article: if you found yourself in a precarious situation in which your life depended on the outcome of a game of NBA Jam, which two Nuggets players would you pick for your team? In other words, which duo from the team's history would make the best NBA Jam team? You can choose any Nuggets players in the team's history.
Zach: Man, there's such a desire to pick J.R. Smith here, he would DESTROY in NBA Jam. The first pick for me is easy, haters aside, Carmelo Anthony is the best scorer to ever wear a Nuggets jersey and that game is all about scoring. Who to pair with him those is an interesting topic. You could go LaPhonso Ellis or Antonio McDyess and I wouldn't have any complaints. For my money though I'd pair Melo with David Thompson. I mean they called the guy the Skywalker for a reason, he would be great to dunk all over opponents from half court.
Evan: Carmelo Anthony, eh? I can appreciate that choice, but I think I would take Alex English over him. Carmelo might be a more versatile scorer, but English was more efficient, consistent and averaged more points per game in a Denver uniform than Melo did (take that for data!). I wouldn't ever worry about English not catching fire, but with Carmelo I could slightly see that being a problem. As far as his partner, I think you just have to go with David Thompson. The dude was a flat out baller and he has the swag to be an unstoppable threat. How many people can claim they could beat Michael Jordan and actually mean it? I would also consider pre-cocaine Spencer Haywood, though he might not even count as he was a Rocket. And just for fun, a tandem of J.R. and JaVale McGee would make up my "wtf are you doing" lineup that actually could be pretty lethal.
Zach: Oh my god... Javale and JR would be amazing in NBA Jam!! My problem with picking Alex English is his game just doesn't feel NBA jam, smooth, graceful, and yes crazy efficient but exciting? Meh. I mean look at this footage:
vs this footage:
Which one of those has got you saying boom shakalaka?
Evan: Fair point about the excitement, but that was one of what, seven dunks Carmelo has had so far in his career? He's exciting when he's shooting lights out, but the rest of the time he can be pretty "meh".
Anyways, let's move on to the final part of this exercise. Same scenario, but you are limited to the Nuggets current roster. Who are you picking?
Zach: So this is going to be my hot take of the column, but I'm actually leaving Nikola Jokic off my roster. Again, this is NBA Jam we're talking about so exciting play is at a premium, at while Jokic has some incredible passes, his average three point shooting and, as coach Malone has put it, inability to jump over the Sunday newspaper leaves him off my roster. The obvious pick is Jamal Murray, we got real life version of "he's on fire!!" in the Rising Stars Challenge this year and he's also shown he's got plenty of ups or "razzle dazzle". I'm going to pair him with Kenneth Faried. The Manimal is the most ferocious dunker on the roster and also the best at finishing an alley-oop, another vital part of dominating your friends at the arcade. I also feel like he's just decent enough of a jump shooter for the game to overrate that ability, leaving ample opportunities for comical 10-12 shooting from 3.
Evan: I’m not sure that's a hot take at all... when you think about it, Jokic would be pretty awful in NBA Jam. I just don't think he's athletic enough where he could be seen as a dual threat on offense, and he certainly wouldn't be physical enough on defense either as no fouls are called. Maybe someday he will be, but for now I would stay far away. Your team looks great, though. Murray would be relentless in NBA Jam with his shooting, and crazy dunkers like Faried are the prototypes for this game.
I would also choose Murray if I could for your same reasons, but for the argument's sake I will mix things up. My two man lineup isn't super flashy and is a little unorthodox but I think it could still get the job done. I'm going first with Will Barton and taking a page from J.R. Smith's book. Barton is a streaky shooter but he can't miss when he gets going. And he's athletic enough to go in for a monster jam - one of the reasons his nickname is Will the Thrill. My second choice is where it gets interesting - Malik Beasley. Low key I think Malik has the potential to be the best shooter on the Nuggets AND a ruthless dunker on top of that. Not to mention, Beasley is far and away the best bench personality on the team, and possibly within the NBA. He would be great in NBA Jam.
Zach: I actually love it, especially Barton. You're absolutely right in that he is the perfect player for NBA Jam. I like the pick of Malik as well, he is sort of a Barton-lite right now (and also the obvious replacement when Brooklyn hands Barton a $20+ million dollar contract next offseason) but that dunk against the Lakers this season was all you needed to see to know he;s got major Jam potential. Its interesting neither of us picked Gary Harris. He's got the shooting ability to go en fuego, but maybe we shied away because he's best off ball and outside of finishing an oop, there's not much in the way of off ball play in 2 on 2 arcade style basketball.
Evan: Yeah, the idea with those two would be to just shoot em' up or outrun the "defense", which would be a lot of fun. I struggled with whether I wanted Harris or not because he is such a good shooter and a crazy dunker as well, but like you I just didn't feel that he had the right style for a game like this. In real life, I would pair him and Jokic together and watch other teams fall to their knees but for Jam I thought there were better options.
What Nuggets duo would make the best team in NBA Jam?
This poll is closed
Carmelo Anthony and David Thompson
Alex English and David Thompson
Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson
Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe
Jamal Murray and Kenneth Faried
Will Barton and Malik Beasley
Other - will explain below