I have always been interested in video games ever since the first day I picked up a controller.
I have very early memories of playing a NASCAR game at my grandpa’s house and my uncle trying to explain to me what the brake was. I remember playing Super Mario World and the rest of the Mario classics on the SNES Mario collection pack. Eventually I received a Nintendo 64 while still very young. Not exactly knowing that I had in my possession what would define many of my generations’ childhoods, I still played my old SNES a heavy amount. I never ignored the 64, I played it plenty. But there was one thing about it that captured my attention more than any other game in my library.
Outside of video games, I was always into sports as a child, football and basketball in particular. I didn’t exactly know what was going on but I just knew I wanted the Jaguars and Magic to win games. While my brother spent his time playing with Spider-Man action figures and legos (Authors Note: I sucked at building legos) I spent mine pretending I was the star player on my favorite teams.
I have no idea when I got the game, I have no memory of when I first played the game, I don’t even know if I had it in my library forever and just didn’t start playing it until later. But one day I got NBA Live 99 for the N64 and my short attention span was fully captured. I spent hours playing that game as all of the teams. No game would capture my attention as long as 99 Live could.
As I got older, the video games in my library expanded and moved into a new generation of consoles. GameCube, Zelda, Kirby etc. However, I still had to get my sports game fill. In this new generation it was in the form of NBA Live 2003 and NBA Live 2005.
Not only did my video game interests expand with age, my sports interests did as well. I have fond memories of my Dad letting me stay up late and watch the Lakers and Spurs in the early 2000’s battle for Western Conference supremacy. The Tracy McGrady years of the Magic are still some of my favorite basketball memories ever. Of course, there was one thing I never quite understood. My kid mind could never put together why some players in the video game were so much better than they were in real life.
I’m 21 years old now. I’m in college and I enjoy nostalgia. I still own my GameCube and yes, I still own NBA Live 2003 and 2005. There is one player that as a kid, I thought was incredible because in the video games he was. That player is Jamal Mashburn, specifically Jamal Mashburn in NBA Live 2003.
So as an experiment I decided to test just how dominant Mashburn was back then by playing a few games, and eventually a season, with him.
Just a note: realism wasn’t exactly in the game makers interests back in the day. In fact the court in Live 2003 is the court from when they were in Charlotte despite clearly saying the team was in New Orleans at this point.
The first thing I noticed as I took control of Mashburn was that he could get to the rim at will. A couple of dribble moves, push the control stick forward, and push the shoot button and it’s almost a guaranteed dunk. However, the further away I got from the rim, the more virtual Mashburn struggled with scoring consistently.
Where Mashburn wouldn’t struggle, however, was the post up game. The post up is completely broken, you can start backing down your player from behind the 3 point line and just continue until you’re right under the rim as long as the player you’re using is stronger or bigger than the defender. Mashburn was particularly dominant at this in the 1st game against the Nuggets and their small forward Ryan Bowen.
THE ANNOUNCER CALLED MASHBURN MONSTER MASH. There is no way he’s not being called this for the rest of eternity.
Monster Mash was a force when he was in the open floor. In all three games nothing could stop him on the fast break and more often than not, those breaks would end in dunks. One of the subtle things I noticed about Mashburn’s dunks was that his head never went over the rim. When players like Baron Davis would dunk, their heads would fly over the rim. Monster Mash never flew too high but the dunks were equally powerful. For instance, in the second game against the Lakers, Masburn took off from just in front of the free throw line for a one-handed slam plus the foul. He did not have a running start on this play.
Defense in NBA Live 2003 is an even more broken than the offense. I’d love to tell you about Mashburn’s defensive abilities but I honestly don’t know them. The defense is a bunch of guys running around and maybe blocking a shot. I’d say it was arcade like but I’m pretty sure NBA Jam plays better defense than this. Also, I’m not exactly sure how fouls work. I went the entire first game without a single trip to the free throw line.
By the third game it was clear that Mashburn was just as dominant as I had remembered him as a kid. It was especially obvious after I poured in 57 points with him in the second game and followed it up with another 57 point game right after that. In the third game against the Nets it became quite clear that Mashburn could score any way possible. Dunks jump shots, long-range, post ups, it didn’t matter; Monster Mash could do it all.
The box scores for the first three games were as follows:
Game 1: 37 points, 17-33 FG, 51%, 3-9 and 33% from 3, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Game 2: 57 points, 27-41 FG, 65%, 1-9 and 11% from 3, 5 rebounds, 1 assist
Game 3: 57 points, 27-44 FG, 61%, 3-8 and 37% from 3, 5 rebounds, 0 assists
We don’t even need to look at Mashburn’s real life stats to know this is far beyond what his ability as a player was. He was a solid scoring forward but in NBA Live 2003 it’s taken that to an entire other level. He can score from literally anywhere on the floor. If he had an open lane near the foul line then congratulations you probably found a wide open dunk. He never turned the ball over when dribbling in traffic and only seems to struggle when you moved him away from the basket. But he was still solid enough from three-point range that if he was open he made the shot.
So Mashburn is great to play as but I didn’t want to stop there. There’s a season mode in NBA Live 2003 as there is in any Post 2000’s sports game. Wanting to see what a simulated Jamal Mashburn was in the eyes of NBA Live 2003 I simulated three full seasons to see how Mashburn would be. (After all, have to be scientific when simming video games)
Over the course of the three seasons, Monster Mash averaged 21 points on 40% shooting from the field, 34% shooting from behind the arc, 7.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2.8 turnovers in 37 minutes per game. Funny enough, this seemed to be where NBA Live 2003 tried to keep things semi accurate.
During his real life All-Star campaign in 2003, Mashburn a, 21.6 points on 42% shooting from the field, 38% shooting from behind the arc, 6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.8 turnovers all per game on 40.5 minutes per game.
Jamal Mashburn was a solid player for his time. During those early 2000 years there wasn’t much emphasis on efficiency if you were a perimeter player, so gunning the way he did was the norm. He was also the first or second option on the team along with Baron Davis. Going back and playing through with him was a nostalgic trip. It makes me a little sad he wasn’t the dominant player in real life that I imagined him being as a kid but there will always be NBA Live 2003 to relive the memories of Monster Mash.