Best Basketball Video Games Of All Time

The Elite 8 Of Basketball Games

The March Madness brackets are set and today marks the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Or at least it would have been if it wasn’t cancelled like every other sporting event for the foreseeable future, leaving a void in the heart of every college basketball fan across the globe. So to fill a small piece of that void I gathered up the Elite 8 of basketball games across the ages. Deciding on just 8 games from the gigantic list of basketball games spanning decades and covering virtually every game console and PC ever made was tough, but every selection committee is faced with tough decisions. Each one of these games is special and brought something new to the genre. Hopefully this list of the best basketball video games of all time is more accurate than my typical March Madness bracket, but let me know in the comments below if there is a game you think deserves a spot in the Elite 8.

8 – One on One: Dr. J Vs Larry Bird

  • Release Date: 1983
  • Developer: Eric Hammond of Electronic Arts
  • Platform(s): Apple II, Commodore 64, and many others

Most of you have probably never heard of this game and even fewer ever played it, but before Jordan vs Bird: One on One made its mark on the NES (1988), the rivalry of Dr. J and Larry Bird made its way to the digital world in One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. Before One on One basketball games were turrible, just turrible, boiling down to moving stick figures around the screen and launching balls at a goal. If you squinted hard enough you could almost make the pain of playing the games disappear.

Then came Dr. J vs. Bird with its half-court one on one play, something every kid that ever touched a basketball can relate to. With graphics, animations, and sound (the best version was on the Commodore 64) that were head and shoulders above other basketball games before it, JvB was the first game where it actually felt like you were on a court. Spin moves, blocked shots, fouls, and a slam dunk that could break the backboard all made it feel like you owned the court as friends battled for bragging rights. 

7 – NBA Jam

  • Release Date: 1993
  • Developer: Acclaim
  • Platform(s): Arcade, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and others

If One on One is the All-Star Game, then NBA Jam is the slam dunk contest. It has some of the best commentary of all time with iconic phrases like, ‘He’s on fire” and ‘Boom shaka laka.’ The goodness doesn’t stop there, though, with NBA Jam offering larger than life moves,  powerups galore, and everything catching on fire, making it an arcade and console staple for years. Later versions in the NBA Jam franchise were fun in their own right, but they were never able to offer what the original brought to the court.

6 – NBA Live 03

  • Release Date: October 2002
  • Developer: EA Canada
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC

With the introduction of The Freestyle Control Stick, NBA Live 03 finally put all the player’s skill moves in your hands, or thumb to be more precise. We aren’t just talking offense here, with the stick allowing you unprecedented control over your defense (something current NBA players need to rediscover) once you practiced enough to master it. The unparalleled control on both sides of the ball meant the game had balance to go along with the fast play, something that few basketball games have been able to achieve.

5 – NCAA Basketball 10

  • Release Date: November 2009
  • Developer: EA Canada
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

The sole college basketball game on this list, NCAA Basketball 10 is a bittersweet reminder that we haven’t been graced with a college hoops game for over a decade now. NCAA Basketball 10 allowed you to choose your favorite from over 300 division 1 schools, recruit high school stars to fill in your ranks, and then coach your way to a basketball dynasty that would have boosters throwing money at you for years. If Dickie V was writing this list he’d tell you, “It’s awesome baby!” It’s too bad that low sales and legal issues meant NCAA Basketball 10 would be the end of digital college hoops.

4 – NBA Live 95

  • Release Date: October 1994
  • Developer: Hitmen Productions
  • Platform(s): Super NES, Sega Genesis, MS-DOS

NBA Live 95 was the first title to carry the Live moniker after EA Sports re-branded the NBA Playoff series. Live 95 built a strong foundation for the franchise. The audio was much improved over the prior series, complete with a realistic swoosh when you hit nothing but net and a believable thunk when you put up a brick. The crowd noise was much better than the white noise maker of games past. Live 95 also replaced the side-scrolling court with a new and improved isometric camera angle that showed off the silky smooth player animations (for the mid-90s). 

3 – NBA 2k17

  • Release Date: September 2016
  • Developer: Visual Concepts
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, PC

You could put any of the NBA 2k titles from the last few years in this spot but I am going to stick with NBA 2k17. Every year the annual sports titles have little tweaks in gameplay and graphics that make it “better” than the year before but for some reason or another they just don’t live up to gamer’s expectations. NBA 2k17 was the last in the series to bring it all and leave all but the harshest of critics silent.

2 – NBA Street Vol. 2

  • Release Date: April 2003
  • Developer: EA Canada
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube

It’s pretty hard to top the action of NBA Jam but NBA Street 2 found a way to do it. And it did it with style. Featuring a great hip hop soundtrack and flashy moves, NBA Street 2 brought the flair of the street game to consoles. Just like getting dunked on during a pick-up game at the playground, getting beat by someone who knew the slick moves in Street 2 would have you walking away in shame with your head held low. 

1 – NBA 2k11

  • Release Date: October 2010
  • Developer: Visual Concepts
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 2 & 3, Xbox 360, PC, Nintendo Wii

NBA 2k11 takes the number one spot on this list for several reasons, not the least of which was the return of the greatest player to ever touch a basketball to the digital court. Sorry LeBron fans, I’m talking about Michael Jordan. 2k Sports continued to flesh out the franchise mode along with the usual graphics and AI improvements seen every iteration but the biggest hit of NBA 2k11 was the Jordan Challenge, which had you playing through the biggest moments of Jordan’s career. Playing as Jordan, as well as the addition of the other legends teams, meant players had something fresh to check out, and NBA 2k11 still stands as the pinnacle of the basketball sim genre a decade later.

Written by
Old enough to have played retro games when they were still cutting edge, Mitch has been a gamer since the 70s. As his game-fu fades (did he ever really have any?), it is replaced with ever-stronger, and stranger, opinions. If that isn't the perfect recipe for a game reviewer, what is?

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