If you are of the 1990s, you have probably played NBA Jam. You may think you know all its secrets, too -- how to unlock Bill Clinton and Al Gore, how to turn on unlimited turbo, and so forth. Even today, though, secrets are coming out about the decades-old game, and some of them are genuinely baffling. ESPN The Magazine did an interview with Mark Turmell, the lead designer of the original arcade games. The interview is a few years old, but is getting passed around again this week, and contains no fewer than four mind-blowing bits of information that we'd either never read or since forgotten:
1. Via Detroit Bad Boys, the game was rigged to favor the Pistons over the Bulls. Turmell is a Pistons fan, and when the Pistons played against the rival Bulls, there was special code engaged to decrease the odds that Chicago would make last-second shots. Turmell is a homer genius.
2. Special editions of the arcade game include Michael Jordan and Gary Payton. Payton didn't make the cut and Jordan's likeness couldn't be used for legal reasons, but the two of them insisted on inclusion after the game came out, and got their wish:
...one day, I got a phone call from a distributor out on the west coast who told me that Gary Payton was willing to pay whatever it cost to get into the game. So we told him what to do in terms of taking photographs, so he sent in photographs of himself and Jordan, saying, "We want to be in the game, hook us up." So we actually did a special version of the game and gave both players all-star, superstar stats. There are only a handful of these machines, but Jordan and Payton did end up being in one version of the game.
3. Shaq bought one arcade machine for his home. Shaq bought a second arcade machine that he made the Magic lug around on road trips and set up in each city they visited. Shaq is Shaq.
4. The home version of the game was completed and released before Drazen Petrovic's tragic death in June of 1993. Petrovic was thus mistakenly included on the Nets' 1993-1994 roster, and there were subsequent reports of mysterious phenomena within the arcade machines:
...one night we were playing Mortal Kombat and there was a Jam machine next to it, and all of a sudden the game started calling out "Petrovic!" "Petrovic!" And this only happened after Petrovic had died. Everyone started freaking out. Something weird was going on with the software, and to this day, if you have an original NBA Jam machine every once in a while it will just yell out "Petrovic!" It's wild.
Wild indeed. The whole interview is pretty wild. Those middle two things are examples of the game's massive cultural impact and hold on the league itself, the first thing is surely reopening deep-seated grudges of people who grew up in the Midwest in the 1990s, and that last thing is downright spooky. And yet, within the context of such a peculiar and engrossing game, it all makes perfect sense.