If Life Mirrored NBA Jam

May 23, 2011

Like many males currently in their mid-late twenties, NBA Jam was a staple of my media/entertainment intake from roughly 1993 – 1998. Let’s face it, there were few things that could so effectively nurture mutual respect and comeraderie amongt middle school males than a gentleman’s game of NBA Jam (admittedly, an illicitly gotten copy of Playboy was probably high on that list, if not the frontrunner). All smut aside, for the brief twelve minutes of cartoon basketball action crammed into each NBA Jam match up, you’d be willing to put aside all hatred of even the biggest weenie in your parochial school social circle. When it was time to Jam, you jammed. The feeling I had when I won a game by the skin of my 16-bit teeth is one that I cherish forever and fear that my future children will never get to experience, what with their iPads and Angry Birds and such. Palms sweating, heart racing, vision bleary, I often felt like I had just piloted a F-16. But when you lost, God-forbid if you lost, the lows were just as severe. You didn’t want to talk to anyone. You swore the game was fixed, all bullshit. Controllers were liable to be chucked across the room. But then you hit the reset button, cranked up the digitized funkiness of the soundtrack, entered your initials and off you went, shoving and blocking and dunking from the foul line.

My life has been pretty banal since those epic battles in my basement. Sure, college was fun and I live in New York City and yadda yadda, but I yearned for the days of Larry Johnson and Zo and hitting threes from the bottom corner (how this became universal knowledge still astounds me). So whereupon I returned home last Thanksgiving and dusted off my Sega to find, lo-and-behold, the system actually worked, I nearly lost my shit. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. Now the system remains parked in my apartment living room. NBA Jam might as well be glued to the console, because we rarely play anything else (of course there’s the occasional trip down memory lane with Lion King, NHL 94/95/96/97, Mortal Kombat and the like, but let’s be honest, they’re like comparing Kristen Wiig to Gisele – one would be fun, but one would be really fun). So yea, you heard that right: me and my roommates, just a handful of 27 year-olds hunkering down with some Miller High Life’s, some Wheat Thins and some monster video game dunks.

All of this got me to thinking – now that we have some life experience under our belts wouldn’t it be fun to reappropriate the NBA Jam lingo that so furiously invaded our lexicon some fifteen years ago to describe situations that we, as supposed adults, now face? Of course it would. If you had to use phrases like “Tag Mode,” “Computer Assistance,” “On Fire” and “Turbo” to describe life as you now know it, to what situations would those phrases apply? For better or worse, these are my thoughts (most of them involve drinking because, as they say, you write what you know, right?):

Tag Mode: Tag Mode was a feature whereby you were able to control both players in your lineup, not just the one with possession of the basketball. Theoretically, the feature was put in place to make teams more well rounded. Rather than being forced to choose between the munchkin-sized Tim Hardaway and the hangtime-challenged Chris Mullin, Tag Mode allowed you to have the best of both worlds. It might ruffle the feathers of some purists out there, but in the end, I think it made the game more interesting. How would this apply to real life? I think the most obvious and natural application would be the “Wingman.” Sure, some Casanovas are able to roll into bars by themselves and charm the Uggs off of unsuspecting women, but in most situations, it helps to have a wingman. The wingman proves that a) you have friends and b) you’re not a one-dimensional player (by that I mean the fact that you came out with a buddy shows you have agendas other than getting laid…of course in reality this may very well not be the case, but you get my point). To put it simply, the wingman, like Tag Mode, makes you a well-rounded threat. Where you might lack in knowledge of Mad Men, your buddy can pick up the slack. What he lacks in effortless good looks, you can more than carry your weight. With the wingman, statistical categories like points, rebounds, assists, turnovers and time outs take on a whole new meaning.

Computer Assistance: With Computer Assistance turned on, every game came down to the wire. You’re up eight with 90 seconds to go? Doesn’t matter. You’ll brick a dunk or two and your opponent will start nailing threes. It’s inevitable. With Computer Assistance off, you find out who’s superior and who’s out of their league. Similarly, when you find yourself in a social situation talking, somehow, with a beautiful girl that makes you babble like an idiot, you better hope Computer Assistance is on. This means, of course, that she’s had one too many drinks. Enough to make her tipsy to the point where she’s more willing to put up with your inanity. With Computer Assistance on, you start to think you might have a shot. You build some confidence, and who knows, you might just pull off the upset. With Computer Assistance off, be careful. It could be a massacre.

On Fire: Everyone knows what it means to be “On Fire.” You hit three shots in a row and the golden basketball is bestowed upon you. Until the alotted time runs out, or the opposing team hits a bucket, you can’t miss. Hell, you’re even allowed to goaltend. It’s how you make runs that really put the game out of reach. When you’re twenty seven, being on fire means going out hard three or more nights during the workweek. It’s tough to do, but every so often, you pull a string of three epic nights in a row. The stories that result from such nights are better, because they’re unexpected. These are the nights that Christmas trees are stolen; that you bowl a 240 at 2am; that you run into Owen Wilson at Little Branch and tell him he’s got everything to live for. Of course, your streak can end in any number of ways. Time runs out (you spend your paycheck), the opposing team scores (your boss says you smell like a foot), etc.

Turbo: Turbo was the juice. By hitting Turbo, you put your player into another gear. The shoes lit up and man, could you scoot. But Turbo had to be used judiciously. If you rode the Turbo button, the juice would run out and your momentum would come to a screeching halt, leaving you susceptible to a violent shove, a turnover, a dunk at the other end and a barrage of obnoxious shit-talking from your opponent. In real life, or in our case, nightlife, Turbo is akin to pacing yourself. At the beginning of the night, you hit Turbo: you have a few drinks to get the mojo going. You’re ready to have some fun. But be careful. If you ride that Turbo and overdo it too early, you crash. You become the grumpy drunk on the couch that’s in no shape to go out. You become susceptible to violent shoves, spilled drinks, missed jokes and a barrage of obnoxious shit-talking from your friends. Should have used Turbo wisely.

The Nail in the Coffin: The Nail in the Coffin is the dagger that puts the game out of reach. Put a fork in you, you’re done. In social situations, the Nail in the Coffin is the shot that you clearly did not need. It ends your night and throws all hopes of frisky behavior with the opposite sex out the window. The Nail in the Coffin is the cab shot: the shot that makes you take a cab home, where under different circumstances you would be lucid enough to figure out cheaper, alternate modes of transportation. Is it the Shoes?: Is it the Shoes is the NBA Jam equivalent of Michael Jordan’s famed ‘shrug.’ MJ was in the zone to such a degree that even he couldn’t explain it. It’s as if he were saying, “Dude, I know I’m good, but I didn’t know I was that good.” For me, Is it the Shoes could mean one of two things in real life. The first is when you or one of your buddies pulls a girl that’s way out of his league, but he also makes the rest of your group better. He’s dressed slovenly: hooded sweatshirt and pants that haven’t been washed in weeks, or maybe ever. Hasn’t showered, hasn’t shaved. But for some reason, he can’t miss at the bar. He’s buying drinks, making girls laugh; he’s got that twinkle in his eye that comes maybe once or twice a year. He’s feeling it. I know what you’re thinking…this sounds an awful lot like being on fire. But being on fire is a purely offensive-minded phrase. But your buddy is buying rounds, he’s making assists, he’s boxing out guys that are trying to steal your thunder. He’s being a team player in every sense of the word. All you can ask is, “Dude, is it the shoes?” The other application of Is it the Shoes is strictly literal. You’re sitting around the living room with your friends when all of a sudden a noxious odor begins to circulate. As far as you can tell, no one farted and you just took out the trash. You look around, puzzled, and ask your grungiest buddy, “Is it the Shoes?”

Boomshakalaka: Boomshakalaka was perhaps the most ubiquitous phrase to emerge from NBA Jam. It meant, to put it bluntly, that you’re kicking ass. As such, it can apply to a whole host of real life scenarios. You get a raise? Boomshakalaka. You win at Blackjack? Boomshakalaka. You sign off a conference call? Boomshakalaka. There are however, a few situations where you definitely should not use the phrase. Vomit at the bar? Bad idea. Fall asleep on the subway and wind up in East New York? Bad idea. In bed with your girlfriend and about to make the “O” face? Bad idea.

So there you have it. Use these terms as you wish. And if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to play.

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