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NBA Jam: The Book

Reyan Ali • 2019

I’ll be honest, I was shocked at how good this book was. I bought it on a lark (who doesn’t love NBA Jam?) and when the name of the publisher is Boss Fight Books you go in with somewhat lowered expectations. I thought it was going to be a hundred pages of pablum and maybe some fun facts.

Instead, it’s a meticulously researched story — centered around NBA Jam but really about the rise and fall of Midway, its publisher — and a thesis on what made the game so particularly popular. The thesis is that it was a confluence of four things:

  1. The deafening howl of basketball's growing popularity;
  2. The strong marketing push, powered largely by once-in-a-lifetime licensing;
  3. A firecracker group of technical talent with strong chemistry;
  4. Arcade technology finally maturing enough to handle two-on-two.

The book is fun and I honestly would have loved to learn more about the macroeconomic factors after NBA Jam (it devoted a chapter each to Acclaim and Midway's demises and EA's rise) and less about the individual programmers involved, which is less a comment on the book and more that I'm much more interested in this overall industry's early days than I realized.

(Insane statistic, by the way: NBA Jam created $1 billion dollars in revenue. In quarters.)

12/20/2020
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Non-Fiction
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