NBA Jam series

NBA Jam series

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

“He’s on fire!”

The first arcade game officially licensed by the National Basketball Association, Midway’s NBA Jam let hoops fans live out their dreams of glory, taking control of the biggest stars in the NBA. Well, most of them, but more on that later.

At first, the NBA bigwigs were skittish about lending the organization's name and reputation to an arcade title, but one look at the spectacular digitized graphics and fluid gameplay changed their minds in a hurry. Digitized players had already entered the arcade sports world in an earlier Midway game, High Impact Football, but these characters bore the digitized likenesses of contemporary NBA superstars like Clyde Drexler, Tim Hardaway, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeen Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen and Chris Mullin. Unfortunately, superstar Michael Jordan had a separate licensing fee (which was understandably high), and Midway decided to full court press on without him.

The game itself was played by two-man teams (David Robinson and Sean Elliot from the San Antonio Spurs, John Stockton and Karl Malone from the Utah Jazz, etc.), all set against each other in four three-minute quarters of street ball. Gameplay actually did take place on an arena court, but the rules were straight out of the ‘hood. With no refs in sight, fouls weren’t a factor, and players shoved and elbowed anybody standing between them and the hoop. The only no-no’s were goaltending and violating the shot clock.

Up to four players could play at once, each with his or her own joystick and set of buttons—steal/pass, jump/shoot and turbo. The latter was a unique NBA Jam feature that allowed players a temporary burst of extra speed and power, which also set up one of the game’s bigger selling points: huge monster dunks.

One of NBA Jam’s other enticing features popped up when a player hit three shots in a row. With the off-screen announcer’s shout, “He’s on fire!,” that player entered a hot-shooting zone. The turbo meter no longer diminished, and every shot was much more likely to go in. The fire didn’t die out until the other team hit a shot, the flaming player missed, or the computer simply decided enough was enough.

To keep players coming back for more (as if they needed any more incentive), NBA Jam also included a customization feature. Each character on the court came complete with stats on speed, shot accuracy, etc., but the game also kept track of the players at the controls, allowing them to back up their trash talk with digital proof.

The customization passwords (initials and birthday) also helped turn NBA Jam into the stuff of legends. Lead designer Mark Turmell and several other Midway programmers, animators, player models, etc., had programmed themselves into the game, and as word of the secret spread, NBA Jam experts had one more reason to return to the machine and try the new guys out. The game was already a phenomenal hit, but the continued business inspired by the secret characters helped make it one of the biggest games since Pac-Man.

Naturally, a game this successful leaves fans begging for more, and Midway filled that hunger with NBA Jam Tournament Edition later in 1993. Rosters were updated to reflect real-life NBA changes, and teams now had three members. Only two hit the court at any one time, but at the end of each quarter, players could send in subs, tailoring their teams to fit the flow of the game.

After Tournament Edition, the NBA Jam name—which belonged to the NBA, not Midway—was sold to a rival company, Acclaim. The latter company immediately went to work on their own game, a 3-D version titled NBA Jam Extreme. Not wanting to lose one of its biggest hits, Midway simply changed the name of its next game to NBA Hangtime, released in 1996.

NBA Hangtime kept all the features that had made its predecessor such a success, then added a few more. Rosters were again updated, more special characters were added, players could now execute fadeaway jumpers, double dunks and other moves, and a special code allowed play on an outdoor court. An upgrade later that same year, NBA Maximum Hangtime, made yet another roster change and made it easier to play outdoors.

In 1999, Midway obtained another corporate license, and the result was NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC. In addition to the familiar logo and theme music, the game also sported one easily-identifiable change: it was now in 3-D. Despite the added dimension, the game was still the same NBA Jam the world had grown to love, and gamers wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Arcade Machine Release History

1993 - NBA Jam
1993 - NBA Jam Tournament Edition
1996 - NBA Hangtime
1996 - NBA Maximum Hangtime
1999 - NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC

Arcade Game Sub Categories


Machine Manufacturer


Other Arcade Game Links