NBA Jam was one of my favourite games on the SNES. It’s 2v2, over-the-top, arcade basketball action fuelled me during the mid-Nineties, and I loved playing against friends. Back then, NBA Jam felt like a fun, fair game of virtual basketball. It turns out that was not the case.
At least, it was not the case when two specific teams played each other – and in one specific circumstance.
In a fun video interview with Ars Technica, below, NBA Jam designer and lead programmer Mark Turmell reveals the ugly truth: the Detroit Pistons would cheat against the Chicago Bulls.
(Skip to 19:44 to jump straight to the cool anecdote.)
Turmell says that, as a big Detroit Pistons fan, he slipped code into the game that would make the Chicago Bulls always miss if they took a shot on the buzzer. That’s right – the Pistons could outright cheat and the players had no idea.
“Making this game in Chicago during the height of the Michael Jordan era, there was a big rivalry – the Pistons and the Bulls,” Turmell says.
“But the one way I could get back at the Bulls once they got over the hump, was to affect their skills against the Pistons in NBA Jam.
“And so I put in special code that if the Bulls were taking last second shots against the Pistons, they would miss those shots.
“And so, if you’re ever playing the game, make sure you pick the Pistons over the Bulls.”
So there you have it: one long-running NBA Jam conspiracy theory turned out to be true after all.
The full interview is well worth a watch, by the way. It runs through why NBA Jam launched without Michael Jordan in it, how the developers created the digitised players, and why the game had its iconic “On Fire” mode.