Book Review: NBA Jam by Reyan Ali
“He’s on fire!”
Either you know exactly what that’s a reference to, or you’re gonna call 911.
The latest from Boss Fight Books, NBA Jam centers on, well, NBA Jam. First hitting arcades in 1993, the basketball game was soon ported to pretty much every console of the time. It’s kind of a cliche to call any given video game a phenomenon– but, well, NBA Jam certainly was. I wasn’t huge into basketball as a kid (and I’m still not now), but even I got in some games of NBA Jam back in the day– even if my friend and I always argued over who got to play the Bulls.
When it comes to Boss Fight Books’ library, half of them are personal reflections on the titular games (like Metal Gear Solid) and the other half examine their subjects in a more general/historical perspective. NBA Jam falls into the latter category, given this “season” of Boss Fight Books is focused on video game production.
The great thing about NBA Jam, however, is that Reyan Ali does a great job in talking about more than just the game. His research into the technology and licensing behind NBA Jam’s creation is fascinatingly thorough. What really makes the book is how Ali ties NBA Jam into a greater context of the 90’s. There’s the rise (and fall) of video arcades, the rise (and fall) of video game companies Midway and Acclaim, the increasing popularity of pro basketball in the 90’s, and so on. It’s all written in a breezy style that’s both entertaining and educational. Ali peppers the book with various fascinating facts, like how Acclaim employees raided the office for souvenirs (and threw one of them in the Chicago river) when the company went under, or how there is a single NBA Jam cabinet out there where you can play as Michael Jordan.
Honestly, NBA Jam is one of those books that’s a little but frustrating, as there’s not too much to say about it. Ali does exactly what he sets out to do– but in that, it’s arguably the best book out of Boss Fight Books’ season 4. So if you’re a fan of video games, or basketball, or video games about basketball, go give it a read.