BOOMSHAKALAKA!: In Which I Play NBA Jam

I recently had the pleasure of accompanying my friend D to that temple of geekery and consumption known as Fry’s- the magical place filled with myriad shiny toys and software. It’s one of those stores that fills you with the aspiration that consumption relies upon. Stepping over its threshold, one is filled with the knowledge that they, one, can own all manner of shiny gizmos.

I was there because D was getting a new laptop and I like to look at electronic things that I can’t really afford. While she was checking out the various computers, I amused myself by walking over to the game section, because, hey, video games.

The games that were set up were all fairly family-friendly and inoffensive. Gran Turismo and that ilk, and mostly sports. I suppose having bloody FPSs set up in an area with potential kids would not be the best PR move. I grabbed a PS3 controller and started playing the newest version of NBA Jam, a cartoony basketball game for people who don’t really like sports games.

Of course, I chose to be the Portland Trailblazers. When selecting my opponent, I chose the villainous and vile Los Angeles Lakers.

I don’t know much about sports, but I do know this: If you like the Lakers, you earn some major douchebag points. Likewise, if you are a fan of the NY Yankees or Dallas Cowboys, you’re publicly stating what prick you’re capable of being. Liking the Lakers, Yankees, or Cowboys is sort of like wearing Dockers: It’s boring and jerk-tastic at the same time. I know this is irrational, but whatever.

In my game of NBA Jam, Brandon Roy’s knees were working just fine, and he was able to outmaneuver, outshoot, outblock, and generally run circles around big-headed AI-controlled Kobe Bryant. The announcers kept shouting goofy catchphrases (BOOMSHAKALAKA! being the big one) every time my zanily-proportioned basketball dudes made a basket. I thought I was just going to give NBA Jam a try, but I ended up playing a whole four-quarter game right there in Fry’s.

I realized something about sports games: Of all of the types of games out there, they are the only genre wherein players can bring the hurt to actual, real celebrities. I have watched many a Blazer game going “NOOOO!” at the screen while the Lakers (bastards that they are) played well and scored points. While watching it with other Portland fans, we all believed that it was because the refs were biased and Phil Jackson has some kind of Nietzschian hypno-power that he was using on the officials.

Watching the Lakers win was always massively, horribly painful. Other teams, like San Antonio, never quite brought on that sort of emotion. When I watched the Spurs kick our ass I just thought, “Wow, the Spurs are really good at this basketball thing.” When I saw the Lakers do it, I filled up with rage. There was just something weird and awful about the Lakers- they were, after all, from LA. Jack Nicholson and his self-satisfied smirk goes to all of their home games. They represent a city that is everything Portland (supposedly) isn’t- sprawl, waste, stress and utter lack of culture.

Playing NBA Jam, though, made me realize how much I enjoy that rivalry and hate, how much sports really does need villains. It’s great that lots of people think LeBron is a dick- that’ll be a major boost to the drama and emotional stakes of his games. It was that rivalry that made NBA Jam so much fun. Also, I could not think of any other genre of video game where you can best actual, real media figures.

There is no game out there where I can challenge Sarah Palin to single combat, or get into a boxing ring with Glenn Beck. (Actually scratch that. Beck wouldn’t be any fun. He’d just start crying. I’d rather fight Bill O’Reilly- he’d make it interesting.) There isn’t any kind of game where I can humiliate Brit Hume or challenge Larry the Cable Guy to a lightsaber duel. Most of the time (unless you count fighting Hitler in Wolfenstein), I can’t pwn celebrities via video games.

Athletes, though, are a different matter. Dunking on Kobe was hugely satisfying not just because of the game play, but because, through the magic of video games, I was able to vent out a whole bunch of Blazer fan-rage onto cartoon Lakers. It was a nice release, and scratched an itch I didn’t know I had.

Boomshakalaka.

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