NBA history comes face to face with the league’s current superstars each night. Night in and night out, fans are surrounded by jersey numbers hanging in the rafters. Statues and artifacts commemorating the legends of the game fill arenas. But, how close are they paying attention?
Even after leaving the stadium, young basketball fans are presented with the league’s history through the various ways that they keep up with the game. From news to social media websites, and maybe most specifically catered toward younger generations, video games.
The NBA wants its early years to have an everlasting presence. This instills that present-day moments playing out on the court can go down as a moment in history.
The question is, how can you get fans to learn and care about something that may have happened before they were even born?
Late Detroit Pistons and St. Bonaventure legend Bob Lanier served as the NBA’s league ambassador for more than 30 years. A role that enabled him to spread the game’s impact and use values that he learned through basketball to make a positive impact on younger generations.
In an interview with ExNBA.com, Lanier, who played in the NBA from 1970-1984, shared his thoughts on younger people’s relationship with NBA history when asked whether the league today appreciates the work that him and other alumni did to build the league.
“The 1970s seems to be pretty neglected, as far as NBA memories and highlights.” Lanier said.
“That’s why we in the NBA and at the players association have to do a better job of passing down the history of our game. In a way that (fans will) absorb it. Not necessarily that they’ll have to read it – it could be in a video game form, because that seems to hold interest a lot.” He continued.
The most popular basketball video game franchise is NBA 2K, which has $130 million in unit sales as of November 2022, according to Statista.
Within the franchise’s latest rendition, NBA 2K23, consumers can relive league history directly on their home screens through a new MyNBA Eras game mode. This allows gamers to begin full-season reenactments from the NBA of 40 years ago, moving through NBA history from there.
Players get a sense of what the league was like in the year that they choose to begin with. The full rosters, the uniforms, ghosts of defunct NBA organizations past and even rules that are now out of date.
On top of the ability to use NBA legends in the game, users can relive some of the league’s greatest moments through reenactments that NBA 2K presets into its product.
Nathan Frankel, 20-year-old basketball fan, appreciates the historic notes that he can take from sports video games.
“I’ve heard about players that I was too young to watch, but never really knew much about them.” Frankel said. “I’ve actually been able to learn how someone was as a player when I come across them on my Xbox.”
Historic odes may be included in the games as a form of nostalgia for older fans. However, for Frankel and friends, this allows for an opportunity to learn something new.
“Michael Jordan stopped playing before I could remember. I’ve only seen his big moments on social media and in documentaries.” Frankel said. “On (NBA) 2K, there was a challenge to play through (Jordan’s) game winning shot against Utah in the NBA Finals. I’ve seen that shot before, but didn’t know the full situation that it came in, so it was a cool basketball note to pick up when I didn’t expect it.”
The NBA 2K series is doing its part to help share basketball history in a medium mostly catered toward younger generations, even expanding past the NBA.
In recent years, the franchise has expanded to include odes to legends like Jordan’s college careers, as well as adding the WNBA and various game modes to complement the women’s league that’s ever-growing.
“It speaks to visibility and how important it is and how important the WNBA is.” WNBA superstar Candace Parker told ESPN when asked about her league’s addition to the game. “Everyone is looking at it that it’s impacting little girls, but it’s also impacting little boys and young men and young women and men and women.”
Is this something that many basketball players are widely cognizant of?
Some may having varying levels of concern compared to others. But, as time passes, video games can be a way for younger people to look to basketball history when they are least expecting.
“Everything evolves.” Lanier said. “The best thing I could say as a player is, you want to leave the game in a better shape than when you came into it. You want to leave a legacy, a better brand.”