Sports Illustrated recently put together an outstanding oral history of NBA Jam, featuring makers of the video game and its contributors sharing stories of how the arcade classic came to be.
Among the awesome stories was one about Shaquille O’Neal’s obsession with the game, which was released in 1993. Shaq was apparently so crazy about the game, that not only did he have multiple NBA Jam arcade cabinets in his house, but he would even rent them to be placed in his hotel room on road trips.
Mark Turmell (Midway Developer): After we showed Jam at the 1993 NBA All-Star Weekend in Utah, Shaq reached out to us.
Shaq: I bought a couple machines and had tournaments at my house. One of my friends was in the arcade industry; I’d call him [on road trips] and say, “I’m coming to Philly, do you know anybody?” I’d have them put the game in my hotel room. I was young and had so much money, I didn’t really care. Rent it for a night, two nights, the weekend. . . .
Turmell: Shaq told me the players would hang out and gamble on it.
Shaq: Penny Hardaway was good. I used to play as Chris Mullin or Reggie Miller all day. *All day*.
Shaq was of course a superstar with the Orlando Magic at that time. He also had a shoe deal, was about to release a rap album, star in a video game, and star in multiple movies. As he said, “I was young and had so much money, I didn’t really care.” Renting out an NBA Jam machine was probably no different for Shaq than the average person spending a few bucks at the arcade on it. And that had to be a pretty dang fun life for a 21-year-old.
Also included in Sports Illustrated’s piece was a story on how Midway developer Mark Turmell “coded the Bulls” to perform poorly at the end of games, because Turmell is a Detroit Pistons fan (and the Bulls-Pistons rivalry was huge back then):
Jonathan Hey (Midway developer): Mark [Turmell] is from Detroit. He set it so that if you were playing as the Bulls [who were dominating the NBA at the time] against his Pistons, your shooting percentage would be completely awry, especially near the end of a close game.
John Carlton (Midway developer): He says he coded the Bulls to always throw a brick at the last second. I always played as the Bulls and he always played as the Pistons, and he won most of the time—so maybe he actually did that.
That’s also without Michael Jordan even being in the game, as he wasn’t allowed to be in anything that was NBA-licensed due to opting out of the Player’s Association licensing agreement. So, it turns out that while the Chicago Bulls were the best NBA team at the time in real life, they were probably one of the worst teams in NBA Jam.