If only a hoops game the caliber of NBA 2K9 could have been released in the heyday of pro basketball: the 1980s.

Publisher: 2K Sports
Genres: Sports
Price: $59.99
Multimedia: NBA 2K9
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PC
Number of players: 1-10
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Visual Concepts
US release date: 2008-10-07
Developer website

Playing NBA 2K9 on Xbox 360 made me a little upset. That's because I was indulging myself in the unfulfilled fantasy of a hoops game the caliber of NBA 2K9 that could have been released in what I consider the heyday of pro basketball in the 1980s. At a time when legendary players like Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley and others were ruling both the hard courts and the hearts of many sports fans, most of the best basketball games weren't even based on real players. Nintendo's popular Double Dribble for the NES featured make-believe teams like the "Boston Frogs" and the arcade game made console port Arch Rivals had cartoony 'street' players with no grounding in reality. If you wanted real NBA action, you had Jordan Vs. Bird, a simplistic one-on-one game in which the highlight was slam dunking hard enough to break down the backboard and watching the janitor sweep up the shattered glass.

That's why a single tear nearly dripped down my cheek after playing my first game of NBA 2K9. It's a deep, visually stunning game with a near inexhaustible supply of options, but I'm just not as attached to the current players in the NBA. My favorite players of this generation -- Shaq, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, and Kevin Garnett -- are aging or on the decline, and I just don't find the LeBron Jameses, Carmelo Anthonys and Dwight Howards of the world all that compelling.

But fear not my friends, for I have not come here to condemn NBA 2K9 through the lens of my own personal biases. I am here to praise it.

The aspect of the game that immediately jumps out is the slick presentation. The team at Visual Concepts has basically created an experience that makes you feel like you're playing a television broadcast of the NBA -- especially in the striking, realistic way the players look, move, and behave from the motion captured animation of Kobe Bryant's gliding fadeaway jumper to the disgruntled scowl A.I. usually has on his face. To add to the realism, players can be seen fighting through screens, diving across the floor for loose balls, and will occasionally come flying out of nowhere to dunk a rebound. There are also a lot of small little touches like the shimmery reflections of the arena lights on the court and the colorful mascots that hop around on the sidelines.

This year's gameplay remains good as well, if a bit on the complicated side (It's a pretty clear clue that's it's gotten to be a little too much when the instruction manual refers you to a more detailed online manual for all of the controls). There's lots of different moves you can do like changing your dribble on the fly or altering shots in midair, but you'll sometimes find yourself having to press more buttons than you'd like. Luckily, defense is much improved from last year. Lockdown defense is back again, but it's been upgraded from previous years when Dikembe Mutumbo could face guard Dwayne Wade simply by hitting the left trigger.

Dual player control is also now pretty integral to the gameplay. It allows you to tell your teammates to screen for you, pop out for an open shot, or cut to the basket. In addition, your players also make solid cuts off the ball if they notice a defender is overplaying them on one side, though sometimes if you move around too much, your teammates will stand around and not make themselves open.

I also can't help but love the new timeout system because it further adds to the realism. Basically, when you call a timeout in NBA 2K9, you can now actually coach your team by substituting players, adding double-teams, and telling your team to switch into a full-court press while the ticker showing how much time left in the timeout is shown at the bottom of the screen.

I could spend about 10,000 words going into the game's many modes and features, but I'll just hit the highlights. NBA 2K9 features what it calls "Living Rosters", which in addition to updating player ratings and roster updates, they are promising that player animations and their tendencies will be modified intermittently throughout the season (I haven't seen this in action yet, but I will say it unfortunately adds to the long load time when starting up the game).

The Association is also back and it's an all-encompassing game mode that lets you control a franchise from the on-the-court action to hiring assistant coaches, assigning specific roles to players, and scouting college talent. Thankfully, you have the option to automate the minutia that you might not care about. There's also a "Blacktop" mode that lets you toy around with playground games like '21', and a dunk contest that controls more like a fighting game than a sports title.

The brightest highlight, however, is perhaps the Total Team Control mode which lets you play online with nine other players for true 5-on-5 basketball. It's an incredible experience to play with flesh and blood teammates instead of relying on computer controlled players and it feels more like a real basketball game than anything I've ever seen. You simply owe it to yourself to try it if you're a basketball fan; though it's always best to play with people you know and trust because some online players love to ballhog.

My quibbles with NBA 2K9 are few. The menus are confusing and difficult to navigate, the aforementioned load times, and the framerate can get choppy sometimes, especially during instant replays.

Otherwise, NBA 2K9 is a near perfect rendition of a professional sports league. It's too bad I'm controlling Deron Williams on the 2008 Utah Jazz instead of the short-shorts wearing 1987 version of John Stockton I remember fondly from my youth, but you can't have everything.






Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.