Friday, June 17, 2011
The Live '97
I likely bought NBA Live '97 at FuncoLand (now GameStop) at some point in 1998 or early 1999. I got the version for the original Playstation. I did not start right in on a season with this one like I did with '96, choosing to dawdle around with the game quite a bit first.
This season, I really began to think about the fascinating philosophical question of where your skill level should be at when you start a sports game season. One should not just jump right into a season without becoming familiar with the controls and gameplay, because then one would be horrible in the beginning. On the other hand, one should not practice so much that one is already blowing out the computer in every game from the start. Where is that happy medium?
At first I thought that your skill level should be such that you are capable of beating the best ranked team in the game, playing as the team you are going to play as for the game length that you are going to play. So in other words, I would have to beat the Chicago Bulls (the number 1 team) using the Knicks in a 48 minute exhibition game. I soon realized that this wasn't optimal, because theoretically it might not be possible to beat a team better than you. I remembered reading in video game magazines that with some football games it was no longer possible to beat "any team with any team", and I took the lesson to heart.
So my theory was modified. I decided that you merely needed to be able to beat your own team in an exhibition game. Knicks vs. Knicks - the game allowed you to do this. I started a tradition of the annual "Knicks vs. Knicks Exhibition Game". How such a game can happen in the continuity of my dynasty in what is supposed to be the real world, I have no idea, but I still imagine Mike Breen or Marv Albert announcing it.
This solution was later modified further in future seasons, but that's the gist of it for now.
Live '97 was significantly harder than the prior two games. My hope (and fear) was that this would ensure a tough season with a legitimate possibility of failure, where I would possibly lose to the Bulls or another team in the playoffs when all was said and done.
As I wrote earlier, I putzed around a lot with this game before finally following through with a season. Some of this had to do with the first game. It was against the Raptors in Toronto. In real life, I remembered watching the game and it was some sort of NBA anniversary thing (perhaps the first NBA game ever was a Toronto team versus the Knicks or something like that), with the teams wearing classic jerseys. It was also the very first game of that NBA season. Because of how "special" it was, I had an OCD thing where I wanted to score the first bucket of the season and also win the game. I had to restart when I didn't, and even restarted the entire season several times once I got deeper, perhaps after as many as 10+ games. I don't know what my thought process was there.
The opening game that finally "counted" was one where I was up by 1 at the closing seconds, and Patrick Ewing blocked the potential game-winning Toronto buzzer shot from the free throw line.
The real life time frame for the early part of the season is hazy, but it was probably the fall of '98 or winter of '99. There was one game that I was playing in my living room. My sister had a friend over, and the friend's brother had arrived to take her home. To get to the side door, she had to pass in front of the TV where I was deep into a game. She attempted an acrobatic leap over the controller cord, caught her foot on it, and pulled the entire system off of the chair it was resting on in a devastating crash. The girl was probably around 13 and was in shock at what she had just done, having possibly destroyed some stranger's Playstation. A long stream of drool came out of her mouth as she stood agape, and it was a fairly disturbing sight. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it before now, and I don't know if anybody else saw the drool (there is also a slight chance I was seeing things, but I doubt it). I hurriedly tried to reassure her, saying "it's okay, it's okay..." several times while picking up the system.
The Playstation was none the worse for wear.
The season went on, but unlike '95 and '96 I did not have much dedication. I took long breaks between games, going in spurts and then not playing for months at a time. My record was probably always just about tops in the league, but I lost my fair share of games. During the summer of 1999, I had a small stretch of games that were all very close and exciting, alternating between wins and losses. One was the game that, according to the real NBA schedule for that year (http://www.databasebasketball.com/teams/teamscores.htm?tm=NYK&yr=1996&lg=N), took place on January 23, 1997 in Indiana. My Knicks were up by 1, but Reggie Miller the Knick Killer himself hit a well-contested 18 footer at the buzzer to sink us. This aggravated me enough that I put the game away again for months.
Fall of '99 was my first semester away at college. Towards the end of September on a lazy weekday afternoon in the dorm room, I decided it was time to continue the season. The game was at the Charlotte Hornets (who had the prettiest court, with the honeycomb lane) on January 24, 1997. As the game drew to a close, I was once again pissed off - I was down by 6, headed for another frustrating loss, and ready to shelve the game again for a month. With less than 10 seconds to go, Allan Houston hits a three pointer from the right elbow. Down 3 now, but still a long shot. Houston goes for the foul on the inbounds pass...and manages to steal the ball. I nearly panic and shoot the open lay-up, but quickly catch myself since I need a 3. There are now only 2-3 seconds left on the clock, not even enough time for Houston to run behind the line and throw up a prayer. As is the norm with the AI, my teammates were all back on the other end of the floor.
But then, of all people, none other than Patrick Ewing himself comes barreling down the court. He's headed for the far corner. I throw it to him before he even gets to the spot. He plants behind the three-point line, turns, jumps, catches, and shoots all in one motion, the buzzer sounds, and...BANG! Patrick Ewing ties the game at the buzzer, in one of the most improbable endings in NBA history. Replays confirm that Ewing shot at the last possible tenth of a second - the ball was still in his hand at 0.1. We win easily in overtime, and this blows my season wide open, sparking something like a 27 game winning streak.
After that I got my suitemates rooting for me, and they would often sit to watch games or listen to recaps. It was a shame that I hadn't told them about it before the Charlotte game so that I could celebrate publically. There was a game late in the season against Orlando where I was down by 3. I invited my suitemates Roger and Casey into the room to watch the closing moments, despite it being midnight with my roommate John trying to sleep. I brought the ball up with Chris Childs and took the potential game-tying 3, missing it. Roger criticized my play, telling me that you're not supposed to shoot in that situation with the person who brings the ball up court. Not sure if that makes any sense, but certainly I should have had Houston take the shot at the very least.
At some point I caught wind of the fact that my roommate (the suite was made up of 3 rooms of 2) was annoyed by my late-night playing.
At the end of the regular season my record was probably in the ballpark of 67-15, similar to Live '95. I ran into the dreaded Chicago in the 2nd or 3rd round. I lost one game to them, and when I told my friend Casey about this he said "son" in a disapproving tone and shook his head in disgust, walking away. He knew as well as I did that towards the end of the season I had become unstoppable, and would probably not have lost a game in the playoffs unless I was basically trying to lose. He was probably right.
On being unstoppable - after playing dozens of regular season games for 48 minutes a piece, you begin to pick up on certain tendencies of the computer and learn to exploit them. In this game, an easy way to score was to get yourself isolated in the post. You would fake away from the basket, and the opposing player would go flying for the fake. Then you would spin back towards the basket and generally get an easy lay-up or dunk. I wish it didn't always become that easy in NBA games (but as you'll see in future seasons, it doesn't always).
I repeated and won the NBA Championship easily, losing only the one game, to the Bulls, throughout the playoffs.