The Best and Worst NBA Video Games of All Time

Person playing a basketball video game with a white controller


Creating a sports game that is both realistic and fun to play can be very difficult. Sometimes the mechanics and gameplay don’t quite measure up to what we see on the court, and sometimes a game can feel almost better, and more fun, than the real thing.

The popularity of basketball, and the NBA, makes things a little bit more difficult – hardcore fans will be expecting extremely tight controls and the ability to move just like their favorite pros do. More casual fans, who might just be looking for a good sports game to play with their friends, will want something more along the lines of fun and different game modes. Catering to everyone can be a difficult task, and one that is not always possible. But what is most important with sports games of any kind, is that the gameplay looks and feels like the real thing.

Over the years there have been tons of NBA games, all trying to recreate the magic you see on the court. There have been some absolute gems that capture the essence and feel of the game exactly, and there have also been some absolute disasters that feel nearly unplayable. Here are our picks for the top 5 best, and worst, NBA games of all time.

Worst 5 NBA Games

  • NBA ACTION ’95 ‘Starring David Robinson’

Going all the way back to 1995 we try to remember an NBA game that barely existed – as it had little to no impact on the gaming world or the basketball world. Released on the SEGA Genesis, this was SEGA’s first step into the basketball world, and while it featured complete NBA rosters for every team in the game, the player models and generic animation style made the game unremarkable in almost every way.

  • NBA IN THE ZONE ‘98

Konami was next to try and venture into sports games – which was exciting after the success that they had with games like Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid – but unfortunately their success didn’t quite transfer to NBA In the Zone ’98. With the graphics being so blurry that it was often hard to see what was going on, gameplay and player movement being very rough and the AI being so poor, the game received reviews of 1 out of 5 stars, and Konami bowed out of the sports game scene soon after.

  • NBA ALL-STAR CHALLENGE

In the latter part of 1992 one of the weirdest NBA games ever was released. NBA All-Star Challenge had an NBA license, so all the All-Star players were there, but you didn’t ever get to play the All-Star game. What they did instead is give you a team of a handful of NBA players and puts you through some random competition – which payed more like a standalone game mode.

The competitions would be a series of small events such as one on one games, three-point shootouts and a free throw contest – basically a bunch of mini-games, but not the All-Star game one would expect from reading the title. This disappointed fans, understandably, and the low review ratings reflected that.

  • NBA ELITE 11

When it comes to bad NBA games, and bad video games in general, NBA Elite 11 stands out from the crowd. EA Sports, legends in the sports game genre, effectively handed the game to the 2K franchise with the release of this monstrosity.

With a rushed release putting pressure on the teams and plans to rework the controls and the overhaul the engine being part of the selling point, a demo of the game was released and was a glitchy and buggy mess. The response was so bad that the release was eventually cancelled, and EA took a bit of a break from the basketball scene.

EA sports logo in white on a black screen tablet

  • NBA LIVE 14

Having left some time to recover from the tragic release attempt of NBA Elite 11, EA finally decided it was time to get back on the court and bring out another NBA game. With enough time to properly work on the project, you would think that they would be able to develop the game that would put them back on the basketball scene. Well, you’d have been wrong.

The graphics were terrible when compared to games that were available from other publishers at that time, the presentation left much to be desired and the gameplay felt like you were dribbling in knee-high mud. Overall fans became less enthusiastic about the series and it is considered one of the worst NBA games to date.

Top 5 NBA Games

  • NBA LIVE 2005

EA didn’t always bring out disaster pieces like they did with Elite 11 and Live 14. In fact, there was a time when EA gave the 2K franchise a good run for its money – this was most evident in NBA Live 2005.

Building on what had made the previous year’s instalment such a great success, and adding a lot more, made this release one of the best there was. The addition of All-Star Weekend had friends competing in three-point shootouts and slam dunk contests for hours on end. Dynasty mode got better and had more depth to it, and new mechanics and gameplay features such as the freestyle air control system gave the game a new and fresh feeling.

  • NBA 2K14

2K sports release a new NBA game each year, and they just seem to get better and better. Just like the feature of LeBron James on the cover art of the game, NBA 2K14 proved to be the best of the best at the time of release.

The game featured smoother gameplay and player movement and control, impressive graphics and smarter AI – all coming together in the new “Path to Greatness” game mode which featured some of the best presentation and commentary in any sport game ever.

  • NBA JAM

Not all the great NBA games came out of the last few years and just because a game is old, doesn’t mean that it is bad. Midway’s NBA Jam is so much more than a classic basketball game, it is also the highest-earning arcade game, across all genres, having made over $1 billion.

SNES console

This game would influence a lot of NBA games of the future, and the two on two format has never been recreated in quite the same way. The game is extremely fast-paced and tons of fun and remains one of the greatest pop culture icons for the NBA and basketball as a whole.

  • NBA STREET VOL. 2

It is often difficult to release a sequel when the expectations from fans are so high. EA Sports BIG released their sequel to NBA Street and not only did it meet the expectations of the fans, it surpassed them. Being able to build your team of three from some of the biggest NBA players from every team, and a few legends, made the experience one of the best in NBA video game history.

NBA Street Vol. 2 featured great graphics for the time and smooth gameplay with tight controls and player movement. The “game breaker” moves were better than ever, and the soundtrack was the best it has ever been for an EA title. Though it may show its age now, NBA Street Vol. 2 is one of the best NBA games ever released.

  • NBA 2K11

Picking the best NBA game out of the 2K franchise is nearly impossible – they’re all so good for their own reasons and were all so good at their own times. But with NBA 2K11, and its focus on Michael Jordan who had been missing from video games for some time, we might just have a winner.

Michael Jordan looking up smiling

Heralded as the best NBA game in the series by a lot of fans of the franchise, 2K11 allowed you to relive and play Michael Jordan’s most iconic moments of his NBA career – which means that you could play using some of the greatest teams from the history of the NBA. The game also featured some of the best presentation in any sports game of its time, improved AI and gameplay, and impressive graphics. This just feels like the right choice for the best NBA game of all time, even if it is almost 10 years old.

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