Top Basketball Video Games
As the NBA season begins, check out these hoops titles.
With the onset of fall, change is in the air. School has started again, the leaves are falling, and of course, it’s the beginning of another season for the National Basketball Association.
But the popular sports league, which is known for stars, scoring and athleticism, is also on display in many favorite video games, from the rudimentary offerings of the 1980s to those pixel-perfect ones today. Yes, basketball gaming is nearly as illustrious as the sport itself!
Here are eight of the best basketball video games ever made.
1. ONE ON ONE: DR. J VS. LARRY BIRD (1983)
The first-ever video game to feature a licensing partnership with the NBA, this 1983 title from Electronic Arts highlighted two of the NBA’s best players. Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J, would go onto win the NBA championship in 1983 and Larry Bird would win it the following year. But in this game, made for PC and Atari, along with several other systems of the era, the two stars are pitted against each other in a one-on-one half-court battle. Beware big dunks, because they can shatter your backboard, forcing a digital janitor to clean it up. This title was so popular that it led to the 1988 sequel Jordan vs. Bird. Preview it here.
2. TECMO NBA BASKETBALL (1992)
Gamers know the name Tecmo thanks to the popular 1991 release Tecmo Super Bowl™. But just a year later, the company released its basketball version for the Nintendo® Entertainment System (NES). Featuring rosters from the star-studded 1991-92 season, this is one of the last titles to feature the trio of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson (who had retired the year prior) and Larry Bird (who retired at the end of the season). It was also the first game to be officially licensed by the NBA and the league’s player’s association. As far as the game itself, it marks an advance from the 1980s One on One series to include full-court gameplay, complete team rosters and improved graphics. Preview it here.
3. NBA JAM T.E. (1994)
The original NBA Jam came out in 1993, but the updated version, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, dropped a year later. This series was so popular that it’s still part of the lexicon now, thanks to phrases from the game’s announcer like “He’s heating up!” and “He’s on fire!” Popular both in arcades and on home consoles like Sega Genesis® and Super Nintendo®, NBA Jam T.E. offered users the chance to pick from three players on every NBA team’s roster to play in fast-paced two-on-two contests. Not only could gamers play as stars like Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp or Muggsy Bogues, there were secret characters to unlock too, like the musician George Clinton. This release was famous for big dunks, pushy defense and fun characters. Preview it here.
4. NBA LIVE 95 (1994)
This offering marks the first of the NBA Live series. As such, it features many crucial innovations, including precise in-game free-throw shooting and a turbo button for player speed bursts. Made for consoles like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, this was also the first NBA title to include the option for users to create fictional players, which gave gamers the chance to even create themselves as players. Today, NBA basketball video games are big, big business. But this was the first example of a more lifelike one, which would pave the way for others on this list like NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K24 (see below). Preview it here.
5. NBA STREET VOL. 2 (2003)
As stylish and bombastic as any sports video game created in the early 2000s, this sequel to the original NBA Street (which was released in 2001) includes skyscraping dunks, iconic legends of the game (like Larry Bird and Dr. J) and full-court three-on-three gameplay that mimics playground pickup games, but on steroids. This EA Sports™ title for Sony PlayStation 2®, Microsoft Xbox™ and Nintendo GameCube® is lavish and eye-popping, with a stellar soundtrack that includes songs from many popular artists of the era. Preview it here.
6. NBA BALLERS (2004)
Another game that depicts a hyped-up playground atmosphere, this 2004 title from Midway Sports was available for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It offers one-on-one contests that pit players against each other for a timed best-of-three series. Inspired by the flashy styles displayed in the AND 1 Mixtape street ball leagues and videos — which were all the rage in the 2000s — NBA Ballers embraced the more flamboyant side of the sport with acrobatic moves and full-throated trash-talking announcers. Preview it here.
7. NBA 2K11 (2010)
NBA 2K11 is remarkable for several reasons, most notably because it features the NBA’s greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls star even graced the cover of this title, which offered both single-game matchups and a special season-long Association mode, where players could control an entire franchise from preseason all the way through the playoffs. Longtime gamers know how rare it is to have MJ in a video game, so including him in this one makes it feel that much more special and, well, necessary. Preview it here.
8. NBA 2K24 (2023)
The most popular run of NBA video games today, the 2K series’ most recent offering is the hyper-realistic NBA 2K24, which has already become a fan favorite. Its cover features the late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who wore No. 24 on his jersey during the final years of his NBA career. Available for multiple modern consoles, including PlayStation 5®, Xbox One™, Nintendo Switch™ and others, this full-featured game offers players traditional five-on-five gameplay or immersive options like being able to manage rosters, play entire seasons, engage in online competition against opponents and more. It also offers a PROPlay mode, which incorporates real, up-to-date NBA footage into the gameplay. Preview it here.