Without my mom, I would never have played NBA Jam.
I would never have even looked at it for more than five seconds. It’s one of the greatest video games of all time, and I almost missed it.
I’ve loved video games since I was about three years old, when my dad brought home an NES for the family.
My favorite genres were Action games and RPGs (Though I never had the patience to finish them as a kid…I just liked the idea of their massive scope, and that they had swords).
But not Sports Games. Oh no. Eeew.
Sports were icky.
Sports were the all the things I wasn’t doing so I could play video games instead. Sometimes my dad liked to play Golf on the NES, which I didn’t love, but I’d humor him and be the second player.
Flash forward to the nineties.
NBA Jam is destroying all its competitors at the arcade. Another Midway hit had come to crush all others under its mighty thumb.
I didn’t care at all because it was a sports game, and sports games were stupid.
I ignored it for months.
I played the fighting games and light gun games and brawlers of the day, but not that one about basketball.
I mean come on, how could that even be good?
I didn’t know how awesome it was because I was shortsighted and ridiculous. I didn’t know that it was about high flying dunks, and pushing your opponents, and basketball hoops catching on fire while Tim Kitzrow yelled things.
Then one day I was eating pizza at a locally- owned place with my mom.
While I was off, I don’t know, filling up my soda or something…she was watching the attract mode on a nearby NBA Jam cabinet. Although she never would have publicly admitted it, my mom was a huge gamer. She loved platformers and puzzle games the most. When no one else was around at the house, she would use our consoles.
She finished way more of my video games than I ever did as a kid.
She was eating some pepperoni pizza, and transfixed by NBA Jam.
I returned to the table with my soda and some quarters were plopped down in front of me. My mom pointed at the NBA Jam machine.
“You should play that game, it looks fun.”
My mouth stopped moving mid pizza bite and I looked at her with a perplexed face. “What… NBA Jam? No, it’s about basketball. I don’t play sports games.” I started chewing again.
“I know, but you should play it, it looks fun. Look, I’m giving you quarters! And you don’t have a choice in this.”
Although my mom was a gamer at heart, she rarely offered up quarters for arcade machines without even so much as a little goading. If we were at the nickel arcade sure, but this was the pizza place.
This was a big deal!
Fortunately, my tiny ridiculous brain didn’t pass up this chance a second time.
“Okay fine,” I said, “but it’s a sports game so I probably won’t like it.”
I got up and walked over and put the quarters in the machine.
I was immediately taken in by Tim Kitzrow’s voice proudly shouting “WELCOME TO NBA JAM!”
The interface for picking a team made fun noises.
The instructions popped up and told me I could knock other guys down.
The characters all had giant digitized heads of real-life players. (Digitized graphics and full-motion video were a huge deal in the nineties…at least to me).
What followed was several minutes of complete gleeful insanity. I was fully hooked. In just one short session, a game I had completely ignored for months became one of the most incredible things I had ever played.
When I returned to the table with an eager smile on my face and a ton of words to say about the game, my mom was very pleased.
“See, I told you it looked good!”
She didn’t say any more about the lesson she had just taught me, she knew it had sunk in.
I had just learned not to judge the proverbial book by its cover, and I had learned it so profoundly that I would never forget.
I spent the next several months playing NBA Jam at the nickel arcade with friends, and my dad. I eagerly saved for and bought the Genesis version, and it became one of my most-played games ever at home. I would play it for long enough that the cartridge was always hot to the touch when I took it out of the machine.
My mom never played the game…at least while anyone was around to see.
She’s gone now, but the lesson she taught me with a few quarters and some encouragement is one that has resounded throughout my entire life and I’ll never ever forget it.
If you like video games or fun things and you’ve never played NBA Jam, you should get on that! They put out a newer console version some years back that’s fairly faithful to the original, and it’s not too hard to find a machine either since they were so common.
And if you’re like kid me, and you have a resistance to something just because you don’t think you’ll like it…maybe give it a shot. I know it’s cliché to say that. But I’ve found over and over again in my life that you have to try things.